Takeji Hirakawa

Fashion critic
01 May 2008
An interview with Japanese fashion critic Takeji Hirakawa.
Journalist Takeji Hirakawa is one of Japan's leading fashion critics and now teaches fashion criticism at universities in both Japan and Europe. Although Hirakawa has 25 years of experience in traditional collection coverage, he has now turned his eye towards looking at fashion as a way to peek into the social fabric.

How much time do you spend in Tokyo every year?

I spend half a year in Tokyo and half a year in Paris. I go back and forth between the two once a month. I've been doing that for 23 years now. Originally, I was working freelance, just trying to keep my eye on interesting fashion. But now that's turned into 23 years going back and forth.

I am a fashion critic, but I also teach at fashion colleges in Tokyo and in Europe, based on my experiences as a fashion critic. I don't teach what the current trends are. Instead, when I see a show, I start collecting clues to the entire trend structure, almost like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Then I bring together those pieces, and I can see how the new "fashion scenery" next year will unfurl.

For example, at the end of the 1990s and the beginning of the 21st century, I came up with the fashion concept "protect/protection" as a keyword. This meant underwear, sportswear, and bondage gear found at sex shops. I predicted that these items would be brought into the fashion system and made into casual wear, because I saw evidence for this in the shows.

I first started paying attention to fashion, because I thought that "mode" was the best way to view the "surface" of our era. From viewing the latest fashion, you can understand the upcoming values of our era and of our society.

How would you define what is and what isn't a "trend"?

First of all, I believe that fashion is not an "art." Aesthetic ideas and techniques are used in its production, but the final product — a jacket, for example, is a jacket. Companies make consumer goods, meant to be consumed. So obviously fashion brands want to sell a lot rather than a little.

Second, fashion designers do not create trends. Fashion designers only "design" trends.

So who makes the trends? There are a few big syndicates of textile and material makers, who get together a year before the designers make collections, and decide what they should make for the next year. For example, the Paris textile show Premiere Vision that they do twice a year. University professors, cooks, and artists are contracted to Premiere Vision and come together to talk and brainstorm about things like where they vacationed over the last six months, what they think is visually attractive, what films they liked, what exhibitions were interesting. They talk about these things and put them up on the blackboard. They then organize these words into blocks and look for keywords within those blocks. Then they try to imagine particular colors from those blocks. In this process, the textile makers create trends as a "frame" for what to produce the next year.The textile makers make the frame, and within that frame, fashion designers go and purchase fabric from those manufacturers and then design trends that reflect their individual personalities. So designers design trends, but fabric manufacturers make the trends.

Then the media turns the fashion shows into an informational resource. And from that, everyday people start recognizing the trends: the colors, prints, or jacket sleeve for next season.

Last autumn, color tights were a huge trend for young women in Japan, and all the magazines — almost on cue — provided information about color tights at the exact same time. Where did the magazines get this unified information?

Magazines picked that up from the collections in Paris, Milan, London, and New York. Recently, there are also shows in Barcelona and Tokyo. Fashion journalists and magazine fashion editors go to Paris, Milan, London, and New York, and they see shows where designers have designed personal takes on the trends, within the frame created by the material makers.

After everyone goes to the shows, they start to categorize everything they've seen. So for that season, lots of designers used color tights in the Paris collection, which means they starting showing up in magazines.

Looking at the latest collections, the trend of using gradation coloring will probably start showing up in Japan about a year from now. This may not become a mass trend, but the magazine people — those at the top or those at the cutting edge — always are taking up the next next trends. There are mass trends, and then as a "second trend," there will be mass trends that have continued from the previous season. The newest trends exist as a "second trend" that will continue within the mega trends and become the next mega trend. There are also always a few trends that create an opposition to the spirit of the mega trends.

Next season, I think there will be amazing play with the idea of modernism: I call it "new mechanism" — like a machinist ethic that 30 year-olds will take on. But there's also an "ecology" trend in opposition to that.

There is always opposition: small trends that fight against the big trends. Concurrently, however, there is revenue competition between the big trends in decline and the sub-trends that become the second trends of the next season. But all of the competition happens within the fashion system. The fashion industry makes a frame of multiple trends within which they basically can't lose: "Hey, if you don't like that, try this!"

Seeing a show makes it easiest to grasp the trends. Those who can't see the actual shows can now see them at Style.com.
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