Of Place and Wind 6: In-season fashion

Tetsuya Kaida takes a plunge and discusses about seasonal Japanese fashion and its metamorphoses.

I’ll take the plunge here and talk about fashion. Why does it feel like taking a plunge? Honestly, because I am not so confident about it (laugh). Having said that, I would like to venture a few comments on fashion based on my limited experience and personal opinions.

I’ll be brief. Allow me to start with the example of the young people I see every day here in Nagoya, who have a unique and outstanding fashion sensibility. They almost make me want to cheer for them. Words just cannot do justice to their talent at choosing and combining individual clothes and accessories in ways that turn them into works of art and design. What they wear are veritable ‘masterpieces’, infused with seasonal moods more subtle and transient than even the music we just discussed.

Because each of these young people is simultaneously the author and performer of the season, fashion industry firms need to be working day and night in fierce competition to supply them with the broadest imaginable array of fashion articles, from clothes, caps, shoes, mufflers, scarves and accessories to cosmetics, hair and nail care products, perfumes, bags, mobile phones and mobile phone accessories. The store and boutique clerks are amazing in themselves. And so are the ingenuity and taste that go into creating the interior decoration and atmosphere of the stores, the sample ‘masterpieces’ displayed on mannequins and the point-of-purchase advertising. The clothes selection process enacted between the ‘customer as author’ and the ‘sales clerk as coordinator’ is a sort of creative session, in which the clerk strives to grasp the situation and state of mind of the customer, merging with her or his psyche to co-produce the ‘best seasonal mood’.

Such seasonal creation takes place along the axis of the passage of time. “Last month I was playing with deconstructionist styles, so now that it’s getting colder I guess I’ll experiment a little with cute elements”. And so on and so forth.

That’s the way it goes. As she tunes in to the customer’s mood flow, the clerk provides advice and coordination on the coming season. And at the same time, she alludes to the prospect of ‘another season’ that distinguishes itself from the objects and materials of the past.

A similar type of subtle and intricate communication unfolds on a daily basis in hair and nail salons. Every haircut experience I have had abroad has reinforced my conviction that Japanese hair salons are distinguished not only by outstanding levels of comfort and hospitality, but also by the special care to create hairstyles that take into consideration each client’s uniqueness.

The routine at a hair salon that I have tried recently in Sakae, Nagoya’s downtown district, follows the below steps:
- First, you wait for a few minutes in the silence and comfort of the lounge.
- Then, they lead you to a chair in front of a mirror where you have an enjoyable conversation with the stylist on what mood you would like your new hair style to convey.
- Next, you step into a semi-enclosed space, filled with dim lighting and soft relaxation music, to have your hair shampooed. The person who washes your hair also gives you a head massage, occasionally checking that the pressure applied and the water temperature feel comfortable.
- Finally, you are taken to a different room, which looks down over the beautiful townscape and, as you nestle cozily into the chair, enjoying the light conversation and the ambience, the cut is masterfully brought to completion.
- As you start wondering if you have just experienced a dream travel, you discover your new self in the mirror, radiating an entirely different mood.
- You go back to the dimly lit room for more shampooing and massaging.
- In the end, you return to the chair in front of the mirror by the window, to have your hair styled. There, the stylist explains the concept behind his work of art, its distinctive features and the basic maintenance rules you need to abide by to get the most out of it.

Logically enough, during the one hour and a half spent at the salon, there was no single moment when products got into my eyes or when I felt any other discomfort. Both the stylist who cut my hair and the other three staff members with whom I interacted in some way or another were indescribably considerate and kind, with endearing smiles. I walked away from the salon with a lingering sense of gratitude and a feeling that I wanted to return and entrust myself in the hands of the same people. What do you think of Japanese hair salons, after this brief overview?

Of course, such scenes are not uncommon abroad in the world of celebrities. In showbiz, they probably occur at dramatically higher levels of intensity. But in Japan they are part of the natural, commonsensical order of things. I wonder if there is any other country where such fashion masterpieces are crafted in the course of everyday life and within the realistic confines of one’s wallet.

I have chosen Nagoya because it is where I live, but every city, from Tokyo to Osaka and from Fukuoka to Kyoto, not only has its own characteristic ambience but is also divided into zones with different profiles. In Tokyo, the most representative zones would be Ginza, Shibuya, Harajuku or Kichijoji. Individual personality and preferences play an important role in choosing a residential area. Narrowing the focus further will reveal that even at street level you encounter a diversity of atmospheres and human configurations that never lets you get bored with observing the town.

As we keep zooming in, I feel the urge to discuss fashion in relation to activities such as eating and drinking, taking a walk or the sale of goods.

Assuming that seasonal fashion has ‘masterpiece’ value for the young person who is its creator, the crucial questions are where and under what circumstances it is exposed to others’ gaze, how time is spent and in what kind of company. The season becomes complete only with the staging of such a personal show. The moments spent at a restaurant or taking a stroll down the street are integral components of the ‘seasonal package’ of fashion. Of course, there are times when the package does not function as planned, giving rise to unexpected encounters and scenario changes, but that is precisely what makes it so much fun.

Hmmm. What would the young people in question think about all this? Chances are they just let every day flow by in a perfectly natural manner, with little concern for such details. And yet, it is this transient sophistication of everyday life, embodied in fashions, hairstyles, makeup styles and nail art, that creates the various secondary markets for the tools, ingredients and maintenance ensuring its survival.

Fused together into the strong wind of fashion trends, the products of this transient sophistication cross the sea to the young people in neighboring Seoul, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Bangkok and Singapore. And there they grow further into a wind that blows across oceans and continents.

That’s the way it goes. Seasonal fashion and its metamorphoses. I would like to wish here all the best to Japan’s young people and thank them for coloring every day of my life.

I guess they would be happy to mock and scoff at the irrelevance of my arguments (laugh).

By Tetsuya Kaida

(This article originally written and published in 2010.)

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