Earlier this June, news broke that a Japanese designer by the name of Masayuki Ino, founder of fashion label, doublet, nabbed the prestigious LVMH Prize for emerging designers — this marks the first Asian designer to be recognised by the award. The 14-strong jury, which included fashion luminaries such as the designer Karl Lagerfeld, Nicholas Ghesquiere, Marc Jacobs, and Maria Grazia Chiuri justified the decision, saying that Ino's work responds to the current fashion landscape that is heavily influenced by social media.
On his win, Ino thinks that his nationality did not matter. When asked if his win might pave a way for more Asian designers to be recognised, he objected. "We are all on the same path," says Ino, referring to both Western and Asian fashion designers.
While reports have cited that Ino's win was attributed to his knack for tuning into the current fashion landscape unfolding on social media, Ino thinks otherwise. "For doublet, it is not so much about social media. And Instagram is not so important to me, neither do I get influenced by it," Ino explains. For doublet, his clothes are more about reinventing the quotidian clothes that he personally wears — T-shirts, jeans, down jackets, sweatpants and so on — with a touch of humour, fun, and sometimes nostalgia. They come in the form of a massive sling bag deceptively shaped to look like a flat, skateboard, sweatpants made in customised fabric such that the wearer looks as if he were wrapped in hamburger foil, lenticular fabrics that reveal two images when viewed from different angles, and tin cans containing high-pressure compressed T-shirts which customers have to add water to unfold — similar to the squashed towels that one buys from Muji.
Yet, he agreed that the reigning culture of fashion is indeed unfolding on Instagram, especially in Japan. To him, the locals are getting their dose of fashion trends and news from Instagram, which has been a driving force that has come to define the current state of fashion in Japan.
The 39-year-old Japanese designer is a tall, lanky man with a frazzled head of long hair tied back in a ponytail. He walks with an air of calm around him, and is soft spoken. Yet, the subject of Instagram and its impacts on the homogenous fashion landscape in Japan ruffled him. "Because of social networks like Instagram, people can get so much information. And the Japanese they can tap into so many fashion styles so easily — be it celebrities from the US or other parts of the world," says Ino. "I think it's quite a dangerous attitude and direction that people can get influenced so easily by the information they get from social media."
To him, the Japanese man now looks exactly like the man strutting down a New York or Los Angeles street, and this global homogeneity may not necessarily be a good thing. It is, after all, a Western streetwear style, and not one that is unique to, or one that speaks of contemporary Japanese society.
Ino calls back to the early 1970s in Japan, "At that time, vintage clothing was very popular in Japanese fashion." It was a huge movement which stemmed from the airings of American television dramas, and it challenged some deep-seated cultural values and societal status quo. "To be honest, Japanese didn't like to wear second-hand clothes back then. But after the big movement, from the television drama series, I think people started wearing vintage clothes," he recalls. The movement earned the name "Amekaji," which is translated to mean American casual wear. It contributed to local Japanese fashion culture today, where vintage stores are rampant and designers such as Ino himself, still draw inspiration from.
Later, in the '80s, "people moved into more stylish clothing like black suits," Ino quips. The movement was largely powered by a wave of Japanese designers who made a splash in Paris — amongst them, Yohji Yamamoto, Issey Miyake and Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garcons. While their fashion vocabulary was considered avant-garde, challenging the hierarchies of high fashion, the latter's work was largely likened to a canon for gender neutralisation and equality, especially for women.
Fast-forward to the 2000s, Ino notes that Japanese fashion spoke strongly about minimalism — clean, pared-back, basic and functional clothes. It was an influential movement that coursed through Western countries in the decade that followed. "The trend at that time was super basic," Ino recalls as he laughs. "But it was so boring, so boring!"
And today, the current fashion zeitgeist in Japan mimics the Western streetwear culture that is on Instagram. The danger of this situated is not only found in the fickle-mindedness and gullibility of people in general, but the identity of Japanese fashion. If the current state of Japanese fashion were borrowed from the Americans, then what is contemporary Japanese fashion?
It could be down to the current crop of fashion designers like Ino to actively redefine this.
Ino explains that he speaks his own fashion language, and has never quite subscribed to these influential Japanese movements, save for the Ame-kaji and Japanese avant-garde period. In his younger days, he wore shirts with dinosaur-like spikes jutting out from the back, Ino recalls as he pulls up a picture on his iPhone and dishes it over. It looked crazy, but it made heads turn, drawing laughter or cynicism from passers-by. It made the wearer feel alive and excited, it was humorous, and to him, it is how Japanese fashion should be.
Subscribe to our newsletter