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The problem with any road to a resurrection is the uphill struggle to the tipping point from victim to bold renaissance. In the case of Fukushima Prefecture, so cruelly devastated by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami eight years ago this month, there has been a cultural shift as the resources poured into tourism and agriculture have borne fruit domestically. Even so, the areas directly affected still occupy more sober political discussion.
That may be an odd way to introduce the glitz and glamor of a fashion show, but this year, at Amazon Fashion Week Tokyo, Fukushima was posed as a label in itself, and it showed that it has the power to help revive the area — not as an ongoing apologetic opportunity for individuals to proffer charity when they buy local groceries, but as a successful brand story in its own right.
Looking back to 2011, when Japan Fashion Week in Tokyo (as it was known then, before Mercedes-Benz and now Amazon became its sponsor) officially canceled, one of the key issues, aside from the timing, that beset many brands was that their samples and textiles for collections were made in Fukushima. As one brand representative who had garments ready for the showrooms noted back then, “We can’t take orders without knowing when the factories are up and running.”
Such stories, however, felt like a fragment of distant history at this year’s Fukushima Pride by Junko Koshino show, held on the first day of Amazon Fashion Week Tokyo for autumn/winter 2019.
The legendary designer who made her international mark as a mainstay of Paris fashion week throughout the 1980s and ’90s offered a “wind-swept isle-” themed show of extreme contrasts for the debut of her new brand, which hailed Koshino’s return to the runways of Tokyo after an absence of 12 years.
Her cast of models were like bold warriors, pounding the runway in sturdy boots, protective corsets and, in a nod to her ’90s club kids fans, worship-me domme PVC dresses. Standing tall, the models walked the runway twice — a throwback to classic couture shows — pausing to make sure viewers got to see everything. It was a dramatic display of Koshino’s hard-earned veteran confidence in the fashion industry.
As an examplar of women’s fashion with an edge, the show was Junko Koshino through and through, but the new label placed a stronger emphasis on the Fukushima roots of the brand.
The first looks, made in collaboration with members of Okuaizu Amikumi, an association of Fukushima artisans, offered yama-budō (wild-grapevine) hand-woven skirts and bustiers, with the unparalleled craftsmanship of the pieces almost stealing the limelight from the garments as a whole. Considered a traditional kōgei (artisanal craft), yama-budō weaving is usually used to create basket bags, the kind often carried by an older and affluent kimono-wearing generation who are willing to pay extra for hand-crafted goods with the knowledge that they age well and last a lifetime.
Kōgei handicrafts are defined as such by their function in traditional Japanese lifestyles — something that most fashionable Tokyoites only get to appreciate when they visit their parents’ houses. By incorporating artisans’ skills into clothing, Koshino proposes a new function for kōgei that not only highlights their exceptional qualities but also breathes new life into their purpose.
The collection that followed played out as a salute to various other Fukushima crafts and textiles — swirling layers of silks, fans of washi (Japanese paper), bags of horse leather. In addition to the work of artisans with centuries of history to their crafts, contemporary metalwork featured in the details. The show even ended with the Fukushima Governor Masao Uchibori welcomed to the runway to take his bow with Koshino at the finale.
“I wanted to breathe new life into Fukushima” said Koshino of the collection, which followed two years of collaborative work with local craftspeople. “For Fukushima, it must feel new to be engaging, so I interpreted the kōgei crafts through my medium of fashion.”
Adding her own perspective as a designer, she continued: “Even if materials are beautiful in and of themselves, they become normalized without reinvention.”
Whether Fukushima Pride as a fashion brand continues into the future is unpredictable. After all, fashion a fickle thing. But as a cultural ambassador for the Fukushima area and its crafts, the collection marks a new beginning and another step away from dwelling on the past.
By Samuel Thomas, The Japan Times