Global dreams, local brands at Tokyo fashion week

TOKYO (Reuters Life!) - In Japan, they are known as “U-turners”: young Japanese designers who trained abroad and are now returning home to build their brands.

But it isn’t easy to lure customers in one of the world’s biggest luxury goods markets as Japanese consumers are famously brand-obsessed and big European labels such as Gucci, Prada and Louis Vuitton rule the roost.

Japan once wowed the world with its own big names, such as Issey Miyake, and designers at Tokyo fashion week hope to nurture new talent that can compete on a global level as well as appealing to local shoppers.

“I’m trying to attract more Japanese by pushing the pop culture one step forward,” fashion designer Mikio Sakabe told Reuters before his 2008-2009 autumn and winter show.

“It’s not just kawaii (‘cute’) but more of a strength within the cuteness,” he said.

Sakabe is one of the many Japanese designers seeking a new platform in Tokyo after several years of fashion experience in Europe. His doll-themed collection has already been introduced in Paris and Milan.

Sakabe and his co-designer have built their brand image based on Tokyo’s futuristic pop culture. The new collection includes a combination of almost uniform-like shirts and skirts.

The two also emphasized Japan’s sense of modesty by covering up most of the models in thick winter clothes.

“Big brands and street wear used to dominate fashion in Tokyo, but more young Japanese designers have started to gear their brands toward the locals in recent years,” said Shigeto Ichikawa, a writer at a fashion newspaper in Japan.

However, many Japanese fashionistas complain that the best designers in Tokyo eventually leave Japan for catwalks overseas.

Editing by Sophie Hardach