[The mall is a modern architectural and aesthetic marvel; Roppongi Hills pictured above]
Looking back at only a month ago, I still can’t believe that I was in…JAPAN! It truly was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had in my life, and the way that I view its culture, and in a larger scale, the world, is forever changed. There’s so much I’d like to share from my trip, and short of saying “you really just need to check it out for yourself,” I’m going to zero in on the fashion and beauty aspects that struck me most profoundly during my 16-day visit.
Here’s 10 of my observations, when it came to fashion and beauty in Japan, during March of 2016:
[From a Geisha performance in Kyoto during the spring festival]
The kimono is still often worn – and it’s stunning
I thought that on a rare instance I might see some ladies wearing kimonos while in Japan, but on the contrary – I saw dozens upon dozens of women wearing them, particularly at Jotaro Saito’s fashion show. Until seeing so many, and close up, I began to train my eye for the small details and nuances that shifted from one to another, picking up on which ones might be of higher quality and more costly. It was graduation week while we were there (in Japan, it occurs in later March), and as a result, we saw young men decked out in suits, and women dressed in kimonos, as their attire for this formal occasion. I really wish there was a US equivalent to this kind of traditional dress, and my appreciation for it grew ten fold after our visit. In historic districts in cities like Kyoto, you can even rent one for the day, and pay a la carte for accompanying services like hair and makeup.
As a side note, tabi boots still have a place in Japanese culture; the split-toe look was definitely spotted by rickshaw drivers (or runners, rather) in the historic districts, and occasionally on hip Japanese in eccentric prints and colors (see some by my new favorite brand, Sou Sou Kyoto), but we saw the most often on…construction workers!
[One of many unexpected American brands spotted in Japan]
Odd, Sporty 90s brands are back in popularity
It’s true that classic Americana — Levi’s, work wear, and all things generally found on Huckberry.com are majorly trending in Japan, however I saw an amusing addition- 90s sportswear brands that have fallen out of popularity here, such as Starter, Champion, Dickies, and Fila, have revamped and re-branded themselves into top tier street wear looks once again. Very curious indeed was this discovery, but it seems like cross-culturally, this tends to happen with brands. It really brings the whole concept of fashion context and relevance under scrutiny…
[See this bright coral red lip? Forget about it!]
Good luck finding bright lipstick!
Honestly, no one wears it. After I few days, I wiped it from my lips and resorted to exclusively wearing my favorite Marc Jacobs Beauty Enamored Hi-Shine Lip Lacquer in Uproar. As much as I love my bright corals and pinks, it made me feel (and look) more like a tourist (I mean, like I was fooling anyone, anyways!). I also didn’t see a single person with red hair during my stay in Japan, so you know that I was definitely sticking out!
[Backstage nail painting during fashion week]
The nail art ship has sailed
I was so disappointed to discover this, since it was at the top of my bucket list to try while there, and stateside, “Japanese nail art” is such a constant reference. Something that I learned in sixth grade and should have stuck to is “assume nothing;” I just assumed that it would still be big in Japan. Alas, I saw WAY more bare fingernails around Tokyo than painted ones, and the painted ones were uniform in color, with an almond shape at its tips.
[A traditional tabi sock and sandal look, paired with a kimono]
Socks with heels, flats, wedges and platforms are so…cute!
I was trying to figure out what made this look appear to be so effortless and cool, as I saw many women wearings dresses, skirts and pants, at all times of the day, pair their heels with socks. It comes down to the height, the possible uniformity of fold, and stiff quality of the sock that makes the difference. Tabio is a Japanese brand of ultra hip socks that really stood out in this category, and I agonized over what pair to purchase, as they are were just so stylish. Coming soon: a personal style post with heels and socks!
[Runway shot from the Nguyen Cong Tri fall 2016 show]
New York Fashion Week should take many ques from Fashion Week Tokyo
I was so fortunate to attend shows during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week TOKYO, and each one was quite varied in its design aesthetic but one thing across the board was noticeable: it was orderly, organized, and ran on time! In my 13 years of attending New York Fashion Week, I can confidently say that these attributes are the exception, rather than the rule, here. Nguyen Cong Tri, Jotaro Saito, Johan Ku Gold Label, and Junhashimoto were some of the shows that I attended, and with each collection, my appreciation for fine details, superb tailoring, and fashion as art was further restored.
[Design face masks at Tokyu Hands Department Store in Tokyo]
Face masks as a beauty treatment are quite ubiquitous
Everything from venom to snail residue to green tea was found in eye and face masks, available in every department, drug, or even dollar store I set food into during my trip. A staple of Asian beauty regimens for years, they are only beginning to gain traction here in the USA. You can even purchase ones with cartoonish details on them to make you look like a cat, or wearing a kabuki mask (see here for a recent post reviewing face masks).
[A runway look from the Nguyen Cong Tri fashion show]
The current fashion silhouette in Japan is 100% different than the one in the US
I consider myself a reasonably, perhaps above stylish person, and having dedicated my entire career to working in fashion, I should know a thing or two about trends and shapes, and by a bit ahead of that curve. Turns out, in Japan, they are wearing, and have been wearing for some time, the opposite silhouette of what is currently popular here. I should have known that runway trends would be so widespread and clearly implemented across this fashion forward society, as baggier silhouettes in dresses, skirts and pants, which have been found largely on the runway for several seasons, is all over Japan. Both men and women have adopted the shapes, which are a clear antithesis to our skinny and tight aesthetic normality. I tried a few pieces in this newfound look that fought with my western sensibilities that I tried to suppress; in the end, I decided on a pair of pajamas pants and think that I’m going to get a pair of gaucho-style work pants soon…
[Inside Isetan Department store in Tokyo]
The mall is alive and very, very well, thank you
In practically every city or town that we traveled to, the mall is at the epicenter of life. Most had several layers of basement levels, oftentimes stretching into the subway exits, merging commuting and shopping into one in the same thing. They were always busy, featuring interesting in-store installations and displays, bustling food courts, restaurants, and markets, and a slice of retail life that we’ve forgotten about – leisurely spending the day in one place.We strolled the aisles of book and magazine floors, gardening, stationary sections, and designer handbags, and although the composition of the store wasn’t that much different than our own (for example, cosmetics at the entrances of the ground level, followed by small leather accessories and handbags), the vibes completely was foreign. Many people were actually making purchases, and the most expensive of designer labels were easily accessible and not intimidating to approach. I hope the next trend in retail to hit the US borrows the Japanese department store’s model.
[It’s scrunchie central in Japan!]
Jewelry isn’t trending in Japan, but hair accessories are HUGE!
In practically every boutique or department store I popped into, I searched for some jewelry to purchase for myself, as its my “signature” souvenir that I always pick up while traveling to a new destination. I failed to complete the mission on this trip, as there really weren’t many dedicated jewelry sections and when I thought I spotted one, when I drew closer I realized that it was in fact hair accessories instead! If I did come across jewelry, it was bit a whisper of a piece, no large, statement pieces to be found anywhere, and the jewels were definitely of the finer variety. I returned empty-handed, and once considered substituting my jewelry quest with something for my hair, but then I quickly realized that upon my return, they would have the same fate as my shell lei necklace from Hawaii, and just collect dust…