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Simons does fittings before Esprit Dior Tokyo

Christian Dior first presented a couture show in Japan in 1953, and the label has long drawn on the country for inspiration. In his first pre-fall show for the house this week, Esprit Dior Tokyo, Raf Simons focused on the architectural lines of traditional dress and Tokyo’s idiosyncratic street style. He unpicks the collection’s details.

Why did you want to come to Tokyo for this first pre-fall show?

There is an audience, and appetite, for fashion in Japan like no other. It goes beyond the history of the house—although there are close links to Japan (Dior dressed royalty). It’s something you are so aware of and grateful for as a designer. The Japanese buyers and consumers take risks and, as a menswear designer with my own label, I pretty much owe my career to them. I think Mr Dior had the foresight to see fashion as a global industry, to see it as the thing it is today. The Japanese audience is an essential part of that and so it seemed only natural to stage a show in Tokyo—particularly as I wanted to push the collection further.

From left: a Japanese-themed event in 1950 with Christian Dior (standing right); Japanese delegation at 30 Avenue Montaigne in the 1960s

Was this collection inspired by Japan?

I was inspired by the attitude of the Japanese towards fashion and this collection is a spin on the sartorial style of Tokyo. I wanted to bring together the extremes; to look at the glamorous, the practical and the architectural in clothing. I wanted to focus on the attitude and structure of the clothing.

Japanese-inspired fresco in Christian Dior’s childhood home

What is your own personal relationship with Japan?

Tokyo constantly inspires me— I admire the liberties people take in how they dress. There is nowhere else like it; the freedom of styles, the architecture of clothing you can see in the street as well as in its design history . . . 

Japanese fashion is a terrific synthesis of traditional and modern—is this reflected in your own designs?

I think it’s reflected both in my own design work and in the history of Dior. Mr Dior was very influenced by the styles of the Belle Epoque for the New Look (which he unveiled in 1947)—what could have looked conservative was actually shockingly modern.

Details of Raf Simons' new collection

New kimono collective

Sacai

Designer Chitose Abe has created a distinctive aesthetic with her quirky mashed-up fabrics, trompe l’oeil tricks and innovative pattern techniques (pictured below). Take her sharply pleated tartan kilt with navy vinyl panels or spring’s silk blouse, quilted green jacket and pencil skirt, which turns out to be one piece not three. “[The collection] riffs on the theme of uniform, inverting and subverting the familiar,” says Abe, who launched Sacai in 1999 after eight years at Comme des Garçons. Abe was named designer of the year in 2009 by the Fashion Editor’s Club of Japan. But it wasn’t until her first Paris catwalk show in September 2011 that her label hit the mainstream; Paris’s Colette and other leading shops now stock her clothes, and Michelle Obama, Katy Perry and Gwyneth Paltrow have all worn her composite, delicate designs.

Kolor

Junichi Abe, another Comme des Garçons alumnus and husband of Sacai’s Chitose Abe, is behind Kolor, which cleverly combines sporty silk and nylon fabrics and detailing with sharp silhouettes. It is nine years since he launched his collection with menswear and womenswear for spring/summer but 2012 cemented his status as a rising star when he won Japan’s prestigious Mainichi Fashion Grand Prix following previous winners Issey Miyake and Yohji Yamamoto. His womenswear collection for S/S 2015 imbued a sporty look with a more feminine feel. “I am trying to combine the positive and active image of sportiness with chic and elegance,” he says.

Noir Kei Ninomiya

Black is the new black again, thanks to Kei Ninomiya, the latest graduate from — yes, you guessed it — the Comme des Garçons family. The former pattern-cutter has been designing his punk chic collections under the label’s auspices since October 2012. Innovative, deconstructed details and technical wizardry are seen on laser-cut dresses with intricate folds, while midnight-black gothic pieces are carefully structured with layers of experimental fabric, from tough vinyl to sheer overlays. “The clothes are based on simple patterns but use techniques other than sewing [such as taping] to create depth and dimension,” says Ninomiya. For spring, studs and pearls adorn everything from leather jackets to dresses.

Suzusan

“We are not a usual fashion brand,” says creative director Hiroyuki Murase of the label that has evolved from a fifth- generation family business which used the ancient handcrafted shibori tie-dye technique to make kimonos for more than 100 years. Launched in 2008, Suzusan adapts shibori fabrics into colourful print scarves and dresses. “It takes two days to produce one scarf and three days for clothes, so there’s not so many [items] produced,” he says. Experiments with new fabrics happen each season: first alpaca, now cashmere, and a handmade woven cotton. Belgian designer Christian Wijnants snapped up its designs for a limited-edition range (tops from £180) out this month, and Suzusan is one of this season’s Net-a-Porter “finds” highlighting emerging designers. Melanie Abrams

Photographs: Philippe Schlienger; Sophie Carre

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