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Sunday, October 12, 2014

Newport International Runway Group Tokyo Fashion: Meet the 8 Anti-Diva Design Stars Who Are Transforming Fashion Now

The fresh green shoots of fashion are gathering in a baking New Jersey cornfield for their generational portrait. Joseph Altuzarra and Danielle Sherman, creative director at Edun, have driven out from their studios in New York City. From London, Simone Rocha, Peter Pilotto, and his design partner, Christopher De Vos, are blinking in the blinding sun. Their London compatriot Jonathan Anderson of J.W.Anderson is looking dazed after landing from Tokyo, direct from the opening of a new outpost of Loewe (his new gig). Anthony Vaccarello has arrived from Paris, Marco de Vincenzo from Rome.

Though it’s up in the 90s out here on the farm, there’s no sign of anyone wilting or complaining. Hanging in the shade of the location truck, they’re behaving true to peer-group form—being sociable, joking, keeping one another going. They’re happy to be here, this hardy crop. They’re the anti-divas, the grounded ones. The children of the crash.

Their background stories could make an economist’s mind boggle. All eight began slap-bang in the carnage of the global financial crisis, sending out their delicious micro-varieties of clothes—colorful, individualistic, well made, and expertly targeted things—into a fashion world that had turned dull and conservative. “What happened with our generation?” Altuzarra is trying to explain how things went right. “We really had to sell those clothes. Because we’ve built these brands during a recession, there is a pragmatic approach to clothing. You have to be unique—be your own brand.”

It’s been less a style movement than a careful infiltration by fresh, creative, business-sensible minds coming from behind the scenes and out of cupboard-size studios in New York, London, Paris, and Rome. Altuzzara vividly remembers starting up in his Manhattan apartment in 2008. “I was at Givenchy, and I thought that if I wasn’t going to do it then, well, when? We opened selling the day after the market crash. Which”—he laughs—“was awesome.”

A fearlessness came into it. Vaccarello says he didn’t feel a moment’s angst when he left Fendi and gambled his livelihood on a tiny collection of five jackets and five swimsuits in Paris in 2009. “It was the perfect time!” he insists. “I’d saved up—I never wanted to borrow from a bank like designers did before—and I knew my customers were waiting.”

What counted vitally was a laser-like instinct for knowing whom you’re speaking to—whether that means Vaccarello and his talent for sexily sliced tailoring or someone like Sherman, his polar opposite, who started her career with Ashley and Mary-Kate Olsen as the perfectionist designer of T-shirts at The Row. “Everything I do has to be quite functional and have an integrity and honesty,” she says. A fabric geek, Sherman took a route behind the scenes, where she learned to work closely with local factories, and then to Asia with Alexander Wang. (“I was his twelfth employee!” she boasts.) She’s now quickly upgrading Edun to a polished designer level for New York Fashion Week while building the collection’s ethical production to 85 percent–made in Africa status.

Now aged between 28 (Rocha) and 37 (Pilotto), these crash babies have become adult professionals attracting all kinds of fashion attention amid an upsurge of sponsorship, mentorship, and prizes that arrived to support young designers in the mid-2000s. Altuzarra benefited from winning the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund in New York; Peter Pilotto, Anderson, and Rocha from London’s NEWGEN sponsorship; Peter Pilotto, meanwhile, also won the BFC/Vogue Fashion Fund in London. In France, Vaccarello took both the Hy√®res prize and the Paris ANDAM prize, and in Italy, de Vincenzo emerged through Italian Vogue’s Who Is On Next? competition. It’s made them all much more open to building relationships than the designers who went before. As independents, they’ve been meshed into the culture of publicity-generating collaborations—most recently, Anthony Vaccarello x Versus Versace; J Brand x Simone Rocha; Altuzarra for Target. With Instagram and Web video, they’ve moved even faster.

Rocha, with her sweet-but-tomboyish dresses and Lucite-heeled brogues, and Peter Pilotto, with its mesmerically textural colors, have quietly gathered customers from across the globe—a far cry from the fate of London’s lone-wolf indie designers in the nineties. They get out and travel, learning to calibrate their collections for different climates and cultures—and they’ll never boast about just how successful they have been. Pilotto practically has to have his arm twisted before he admits, “Well, we sell to 200 stores on six continents. There’s only one we don’t sell to—Antarctica!”

This serious, savvy generation has even transformed the attitudes of major luxury-fashion conglomerates, which are suddenly in a flurry of competition to sign them up. Altuzarra is in expansion mode, designing in a renovated office after negotiating a minority investment from France’s Kering group. “Having a partner like Kering, who are able to fold you into their manufacturing capabilities, is something that makes a huge difference,” he says. Anderson, with a new minority investment from LVMH, has moved out of the unheated basement in Shacklewell Lane where he and his stylist Benjamin Bruno froze in the winters; now he’s in a three-story building with an e-commerce studio. In Rome, de Vincenzo is turning out his beautifully elaborate, streamlined clothes with a different kind of LVMH backing: He’d worked as a highly rated Fendi bag designer for ten years before telling the company he was desperate to start his own collection of clothes. “Silvia Fendi was brilliant,” de Vincenzo says. “She said I could stay and have my own studio. I think it is a unique arrangement.” LVMH, Fendi’s parent company, smartly got to keep its star bag designer—and to bet on his future in ready-to-wear on the Milan runway.

Now their talent and knowledge are beginning to be almost as highly valued by the fashion establishment as Premier League footballers are in sport. The analogy works for the 30-year-old Anderson: As he shoulders the dual responsibilities of managing his own brand and being creative director of Loewe, he talks about it in sporting terms. “My dad was an Irish national rugby player. He’s always drilling it into me: ‘It’s all about your team!’ ”

What’s really different about this generation, though, are the family, friends, and loyal stylists around them. “I like growing with the people who know me and support me,” says Vaccarello. Rocha’s mother, Odette, is her business partner. Anderson’s brother, Thomas, is his HR director. Altuzarra’s mother, Karen, is chairman of the board, and Altuzarra’s words stand for the whole group: “I believe in creating this like a family—one that has worked together from the beginning. To me, that’s a beautiful thing.” If there is a common denominator among all these disparate talents, the thing that has taken them all past survival to the point of flourishing, it is their normality, their loyalty. They’re rooted.


Friday, October 10, 2014

Newport International Runway Group Tokyo Fashion - The Shiny Uniqlo Empire Has A Dark Side

I’m a snob about Japanese fashion. After living and shopping in Tokyo for a couple of years, I could no longer go shopping in the US — I had no patience for it. The styles, silhouettes, creativity, and perfection of fashion in Tokyo just don’t exist anywhere else in the world.

You might be thinking I'm a pretentious snob, right? But I promise I’m actually on decently sound footing here.

Valerie Steele, a fashion historian at the Fashion Institute of Technology and director of the school's museum, is with me. "In Tokyo, you have access to so many really brilliant designers," she says. "I think shopping in Tokyo is the best shopping in the world.”

Apart from the creativity, she says, ”Japanese are very concerned with quality and with attention to detail — much more than Americans who really wouldn’t know a good garment from a bad one for the most part. ... But the Japanese are looking very carefully at every detail, the material, construction, etc. and have very high standards of what qualifies as good, well-made clothing.”

Uniqlo, Japan’s largest apparel retailer, opened a store in New York City in 2006. I was over the moon. Finally, I could get Japanese clothing in the US.

In Japan, Uniqlo isn’t exactly considered "fashion." It sells relatively cheap, well-made basics. But basics cut in a Japanese style, with that attention to detail? Here in the US, that is a kind of fashion. And Uniqlo has become really popular.

”The key example I think of is the little puffer jacket that Uniqlo launched," Steele says. "Now you see everybody wearing it, everyone from kids on the street, housewives, workers, to the trendiest fashion people.”

And with their special "techno-fabrics" and collaborations with well-known designers, Uniqlo has become a mainstay in the retail and fashion worlds. This fall, Uniqlo nearly doubled the number of stores it operates in the US, opening new branches from Los Angeles to Boston.

There’s also been a lot of appreciative gushing over Uniqlo’s Japanese-inspired customer service. Employees are taught to present and take customer credit cards with two hands, in formal Japanese style.

“You greet the customer always smiling, perfect posture, things like that," explains Delese Baker, a store supervisor at Uniqlo’s Soho store. "At meetings, everyone’s supposed to stand feet apart, hands in the front — always have your badges, notepads.”

There are even "Six Standard Phrases" that every Uniqlo employee has to memorize: phrases they chant to each other at store meetings. There are a lot of rules, and expectations are high. "These shirts right here that are button-down, you’re supposed to be able to fold seven in a minute,” Baker explains cheerily.

It all makes for a pleasant shopping experience. But all the nitpicky rules, rigorous standards and emphasis on perfection have also generated some flack.

Japan is known for its rigid work culture, where long hours are the norm. But even by Japanese standards, Uniqlo has a particularly bad reputation. 

Fumihito Matsuo, a former Uniqlo store manager in Tokyo, says the working environment at Uniqlo was just bad — strict enough to be the military. “In Japan, Uniqlo is known as a 'black company,'" he says.

"Black" or "evil" companies are ones that exploit their workers, harrassing them and forcing them to work excessive hours and unpaid overtime. Some ex-workers in the US have said it’s worse than the military — it's more like a slave ship.

And it’s not just a few people complaining. In 2011, Japanese journalist Masuo Yokota published a book called the "The Glory and Disgrace of the Uniqlo Empire." The book alleges almost slave-like treatment of Uniqlo’s factory workers in China and store employees in Japan. Uniqlo sued for defamation, but lost both the case and the appeal. They’ve now taken the case to the Japanese Supreme Court.

Matsuo thinks things may have gotten somewhat better since he quit a year ago, but he insists the book tells it like it is.

Larry Meyer, Uniqlo’s US CEO, points out that perfection has trade-offs. “Retail is not for the lazy. We are a team. Our brand is a function of how well our team represents our brand. To that extent, it’s not a free for all," he says. "If you want to be an individual artist, I’m fine with that; you don't have to work for me.”

He says there are mechanisms here and in Japan to ensure that people are treated fairly and are properly compensated.

And even Matsuo points out that working for the company had its upsides. For a 23-year-old only a couple years out of college, he had a lot of responsibility and opportunities to advance.  He wouldn’t want to work there again, but he still shops there.


“As a brand, I still like Uniqlo," he says. And, of course, so do I.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Newport International Runway Group Tokyo Fashion Review: Moshi Moshi Nippon at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium


Offering non-Japanese people free entry to Moshi Moshi Nippon was a risky move on the part of Asobisystem, but it seemed to have paid off.

Nearly 15,000 punters showed up for the Sept. 28 event at Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium, and organizers say that 7,000 of them were non-Japanese.

Speaking to some attendees, the main draw was a chance to see Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, the Asobisystem management company’s star act, for free. She played a lineup of hits: “Fashion Monster,” “Ninja Re Bang Bang” and, of course, “Ponponpon.”

Likely motivated from Kyary’s overseas notability, the Moshi Moshi Nippon has sought to draw in like-minded fans of Harajuku’s kawaii brand of culture. This has included TV shows, websites and events in France, England and the United States.

A long line of non-Japanese, including teenagers and 30-somethings, wound its way outside the site and reception was pretty smooth. Translators, marked with their job description in green font emblazoned on black T-shirts, wandered around the venue in case of questions. Moshi Moshi Nippon looked less like a music festival and more of an Asobisystem showcase.

A viewing area was roped off near the front of the stage and labeled “foreigners only,” which caused some people on social media to wonder if the special treatment would ostracize them from Japanese fans. They needn’t have bothered, though, because the non-Japanese attendees seemed to be more interested in the antics of the Japanese fans than what was on stage.

Hard-core idol fans were out in full force, with acts such as Silent Siren and Dempagumi.inc playing the main stage and other stages catering exclusively to up-and-coming idol acts. They performed otagei, specially rehearsed cheering dances, everywhere — even outside the venue at the DJ-centric Matsuri stage.

The smaller and busier Nippon Stage even offered non-Japanese and Japanese alike the chance to learn more about the idol subculture they likely only know via megastar groups such as AKB48. Nearly 30 new groups, such as drop, Camouflage and Cheeky Parade performed there and the audience was filled with dedicated fans.

Those fans were what really made the Nippon Stage entertaining. They screamed out lyrics during the performances, and dance moves looked as if they were influenced by martial arts at times — many non-Japanese stood in the back and watched with fascination. Not bad for a free ticket.


Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Newport International Runway Group Tokyo Fashion: Zen-Loving CEO Rewrites the Rules of Retail




On a gray spring morning in Paris, behind the facade of an 18th century building on the Place Vendome, a flying insect has somehow made its way through an arched doorway, past a limestone courtyard and into the headquarters of Comme des Garcons International, where it is now buzzing around the head of Chief Executive Officer Adrian Joffe.

Not for long.

As Joffe sits at a glass table in his office, calmly discussing the relationship between artistic integrity and profit, he suddenly raises his right arm and executes a rapid swatting motion reminiscent of an Andy Roddick first serve. In a split second, the fly is gone and Joffe continues speaking, making no acknowledgment of the interruption aside from a barely perceptible grin.

To those who aren’t familiar with Joffe -- a seemingly mild-mannered executive with a background in Zen Buddhism and linguistics -- this matter-of-fact extermination of another living being might seem surprising. But as Bloomberg Pursuits magazine reports in its Autumn 2014 issue, those who know him well would recognize one of his most-marked qualities: not a killer instinct exactly but, rather, a clean efficiency, a knack for swiftly removing distractions so as to focus on what’s important.

Innovative Brand

Comme des Garcons, founded in Tokyo 45 years ago by the reclusive designer Rei Kawakubo -- Joffe’s wife since 1992 -- is perhaps the most enduringly innovative fashion brand of modern times. From the start, Kawakubo’s goal has been to rise above market forces to freely create new things, be they jackets with three sleeves or androgynous, abstract garments that upend standard notions of clothing, gender and beauty.



Despite its renegade bona fides, Comme, as its devotees call it, is also a business, and it’s up to Joffe to help keep it profitable. At a time when the art-commerce balancing act is a daunting challenge for many creative companies, Joffe, who has no formal training in either art or commerce, has become an unlikely master of juggling both. His ideas often seem uncopyable -- until they’re widely copied. Such was the case with Comme’s guerrilla stores, one-off, limited-run boutiques that served as the prototypes for today’s ubiquitous pop-up shops.

Creativity

Pharrell Williams -- whose new unisex scent with Comme puts him in an esteemed club of fragrance collaborators that includes the design firm Artek and London’s Serpentine Gallery -- says that creativity remains Joffe’s top priority, with commerce running a very close second.



“Money doesn’t make ideas; ideas make money,” Williams observes. He describes Comme des Garcons as a kind of brilliant biosphere, with Joffe as the curator who gives Kawakubo’s creations their essential context. “If Comme is like a snow globe, Adrian is the water,” Williams says.

Joffe certainly doesn’t fit the standard profile of a 61-year-old CEO -- and not just because he dresses in head-to-toe black, often with a pair of graffitied Doc Martens on his feet. The shoes are a limited-edition Comme collaboration adorned with slogans by his wife, including, significantly, “My energy comes from my freedom.”

One of Joffe’s many tasks at the company is to act as interpreter and gatekeeper for the resolutely private Kawakubo, who speaks little English and shows no interest in making herself understood to the outside world.

“That’s the worst part of my job,” Joffe says. “It’s hard to explain her, and I don’t really want to. But I am somewhat of a realist, and for business, you have to try.” Continue reading...




 
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Newport International Group Runway

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