It goes without saying that Tokyo Fashion Week is the best place to pick out the most established names from the current fashion crop. But many forget it’s also a great chance to find out which up-and-comers from the fashion student population you should be keeping an eye on.
The most important event of all is the Tokyo New Designer Grand Prix, now in its 31st year. The list of competition winners reads like a who’s who of Japanese fashion, with many of the biggest acts from the official Tokyo Fashion Week schedule having been past winners.
The real battleground is the amateur category, which this year saw a vast 7,295 applicants—all presently enrolled in fashion institutions across Japan—whittled down to a mere 24 for the final cut. Getting that far usually guarantees a place in the fashion industry upon graduation. But of these 24, a further five will win workmanship prizes for sheer craft, one will be awarded the Prize for Excellence for extraordinary overall finesse, and the winner of the most coveted Grand Prix Award is generally selected for conceptual depth. Among past winners is Chiharu Sugimoto, whose kaijū monster-themed collection will be familiar to Metropolis readers.
All entrants get a chance to take their creation to the catwalk this season at the Hikarie building, usually occupied by the biggest names at Tokyo Fashion Week. But it’s worth remembering that they’ve already gone through a grueling audition system that makes America’s Next Top Model look like a walk in the park. Entrants must present an oral defense in front of a notoriously difficult judging panel that includes Mikinori Kojima, editor-in-chief of Soen magazine.
This year, Sae Okamura of Nagoya Mode Gakuen won the top prize with a “Burst Out Laughing”-themed ensemble that initially looked like a sprawling hand-knitted jumper, but up close, yielded a number of laughing faces that made up one giant face when worn. It was a winner very much in line with the current fashion times, which, instead of prizing pure cold technical proficiency, are looking to more humanistic aesthetics as judges praise the hand-knitted charm and sense of warmth. This wasn’t fashion that aimed to be cool or chic, but it did make you smile. The winner herself explained her work simply by saying, “I like to laugh, and I wanted to make people laugh through fashion.”
Elsewhere, previous winners in the professional category took to the runway to show what the students can go on to expect. In a fashion show that included gun-toting, bikini-clad wrestlers walking the catwalk to a metal soundtrack played live by a light-up armor-wearing band, wrestling-themed fashion brand Yukihero Prowrestling announced a high-profile collaboration with Tower Records set for later this year.