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Tokyo Fashions Have Eclectic Twist

June 2, 1999

TOKYO (AP) _ It’s a typical scene for Harajuku, the fashion capital of Japan: a pair of teen-agers with lip studs and bright orange hair stand outside the show window of French designer Jean Paul Gaultier’s boutique admiring _ what else? _ a gold and black kimono-style robe.

Strains of Japan in Western fashion. Western fads invading Japan. It all comes together in what designers call ``the Tokyo trend,″ a flow of fashion in and out of this once-isolated country, a trend that is borderless, post-Western.

And famously eclectic.

``This is where East meets West,″ says designer Pamela Mori, creative heiress to the Hanae Mori fashion empire, which has its head offices in Harajuku.

``Fashion here moves very fast,″ she says. ``People are more trendy here. They are very concerned about being up on fashion, and they are more into fads.″

Right now, many of those fads are similar to what one might expect in any large city in Europe or the United States. The hippie ’70s look is in. Platform soles are big. Tattoos _ once reserved for gangsters in Japan _ are hot, and usually erasable.

But there are important indigenous elements as well.

Japanese have traditionally tended to shy from bright colors. Rei Kawakubo, for example, shook up the fashion world in the 1980s with her bold use of black, a trend that continues to be popular in Tokyo and remains a factor in Paris designs as well.

On the high end of the fashion scale, Tokyo designers have been both lauded and slammed for their intellectual, non-intuitive approach to Western design. This often involves an emphasis on loose, wrap-style clothing, a remnant of the kimono tradition. Fullness of body is also often replaced with flatness, another reminder of the kimono.

Designers have been known to go to bizarre extremes of flatness _ one this season plastered models’ hair to two-dimensional squares.

At the other fashion extreme _ street chic _ is the ``tribal look.″ The Japanese social stress on the importance of belonging to a group is unmistakable: Once something takes off, such as the current craze of leg warmers for high school girls, virtually everyone does it.

To designers here, the mix of East and West is evidence that the Japanese have come of age, that while imitation and assimilation remain, they are being gradually replaced by a more mature emphasis on creativity and innovation.

The resulting neo-Japonisme, they say, is both a growing force in fashion here and likely to be more of a factor abroad in the years to come. Japanese street fashion brands such as Ebisu Jeans and Hysteric Glamour are developing a lucrative following abroad, for example.

Not that the Japanese aren’t a fashion factor already.

Hanae Mori in 1977 became the first foreigner admitted into the governing body of French fashion, the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture.

The designer favored by the Japanese, Saudi and Thai royal families, Mori continues to give her otherwise orthodox creations an unmistakable touch of Japanese chic.

For the finale of her recently unveiled fall-winter 1999 collection, she presented a line of silk kimono-style robes in bright colors _ and worn mostly by foreign models.

Mori, now 74, is not alone. Other Japanese who have since established themselves as leaders on the international fashion stage include Issey Miyake, Kenzo and current star Yohji Yamamoto.

But the neo-Japonisme coming out of the younger Japanese designers is more subtle, and _ deliberately _ doesn’t necessarily look very Japanese.

``If anything, Japanese designers have been too preoccupied with giving their clothes a Japanese feel,″ says Hiromichi Nakano, one of this country’s most popular designers. ``I don’t see that as important anymore.″

Neither do many of his colleagues.

``I grew up in the clothes of the West. To me, that’s what clothes are. The distinction is meaningless,″ says up-and-coming designer Yuichi Kuroda, who is 34.

So, instead of trying to win over the world with a new and improved kimono, young Japanese designers are more likely to make themselves felt by applying the Japanese esthetic to the West’s fashion milieu.

``This is something the Japanese are really good at,″ says Pamela Mori, who is Hanae Mori’s daughter-in-law. ``They can take a trend and expand upon it, do things others wouldn’t think of.″

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