Of the many independent brands showing at the digital-only Paris Fashion Week event, four are Japanese brands angling for a global breakthrough. AURALEE, kolor, sulvam and Yoshio Kubo are all certified successes in Japan and have explored the runways of Paris in previous seasons to find an international audience. For Spring/Summer 2021, each imprint delivered its own online-only presentation, abetted by additional content to round out the digital packages.
Generalizing designers by nationality can be dangerous territory, of course; regardless of heritage and home, each brand director brings a different perspective to the table, meaning that there isn’t a unifying thread tying the companies together besides being from Japan. “I’m not very happy to be classified as another Japanese designer,” Rei Kawakubo, founder of COMME des GARÇONS, told WWD back in 1983. “There is no one characteristic that all Japanese designers have.” Indeed, these four designers don’t possess a throughline tying their designs together.
That being said, AURALEE, kolor, sulvam and Yoshio Kubo’s collections yield a steadfastness in the face of global upheaval. Their SS21 collections are wholly distinctive, with plentiful stylistic codes exclusive to each brand. Yet there’s clearly a sense of optimism driving each designer’s output. The new items are showcased with creative photography and styling that highlights the creative process while the press releases hint at a bright future, offering a sunny contrast to society’s proclivity towards doom-mongering. “Imagining people enjoying fashion,” reads Sulvam’s release. “Nobody knows what is going to happen, but one thing for sure is you have to keep your head up and keep on walking.”
One of Japan’s most exciting young labels, AURALEE is beloved by the country’s tastemakers for its clean silhouettes, uncompromising quality and minimalist styling. SS21 holds true to established tenets, serving up tonal trench coats, sack jackets, shirting, slacks and accessories, all realized in lavish fabrications. Stunning cotton gabardines, loosely-woven knits and glossy silk reinforce the brand’s organic motif, while more New Balance collaborations create a sporty contrast to the sleek loafers and barefoot sandals.
Junichi Abe’s kolor is one of Japan’s best-loved brands, though it hasn’t found equal international success to sacai, founded by his wife, Chitose. Nevertheless, Abe’s skill as a patternmaker and textile expert, honed during his tenure under Junya Watanabe, shines in kolor SS21, highlighting his passion for playfully patchworked garments that hybridize familiar silhouettes. Showcased in detail via Yusuke Tanaka’s stop motion short film below, the clothing fuses bombers with coaches jackets, cardigans and crewneck sweaters, peacoats and varsity jackets, a tremendous visual tour de force that starkly juxtaposes wildly different colors and patterns. Elevated by equally imaginative Frankenstein sneakers and sandals, it’s up to the deceivingly complex double-layered shorts and relaxed trousers to anchor the provocative designs.
A hybrid of Japanese heritage and sporty staples informed Yoshio Kubo’s SS21 range. Taking cues from ninja and Noh theater, Kubo created a series of sleek, single-tone looks that sneakily tweak recognizable shapes. For instance, the wide sleeves of boxy military shirts can be removed via zipper for quick transformation, while fine wools normally used for suiting are used to create traditional Japanese layering pieces, even emblazoned with ancient kimono patterns for extra visual impact. Technical parkas, jackets, shirts and trousers straddle the line between the ninjas of yesteryear and today’s technical tastes while retaining classic elements of design, like elastic one-size-fits pants inspired by hakama.
With a ferocious deconstructionist bent, Teppei Fujita’s sulvam is a challenging entity to succinctly pin down. For instance, the former Yohji Yamamoto patternmaker opted to fall back on familiar silhouettes for SS21; for any other brand this would mean hearkening to convention but for Fujita, familiarity is ragged tailoring, see-through jackets and workwear staples recut with dynamic proportions. Even with camouflage/voile gown and bow-legged slacks, however, sulvam SS21 is a more accessible entry point to Fujita’s vision, thanks to monochrome base layers, reversible blazers, coats cut with raw, exposed lining and overshirts enlivened with contrasting patterns.