East Meets West

Japan has long stood at the crossroads of the East and the West. At once thoroughly modern and deeply traditional, the country honors its rich heritage while paving the way for the future. Amid this crisscrossing clamor, Japanese designers such as Hiroko Koshino and Mint Designs’ Hokuto Katsui and Nao Yagi manage to combine their varied cultural influences to create a whole new voice.

As one of Tokyo’s most prominent designers for more than 50 years, Koshino fuses meticulous attention to detail with designs inspired by Japanese Kabuki theater and Asian culture as well as French art and European Japan-ism. The 71-year-old Koshino has spent the last 15 years focusing on the domestic market, but she now returns to the international arena with the relaunch of her Paris collection.

Koshino’s international and historical inspiration is evident in her spring/summer ’09 collection. The stunning line features uniformed half-sleeve tops that flay at the waist like wilting lotuses as well as a darker procession of evening gowns interspersed with dramatic assertions of inky reds and grays.

Educated in London, Mint Designs’ Katsui and Yagi have an important grasp of Western business practices but don’t share many peers’ Francophile inspiration. Last summer’s “Flying Girls 1808″ collection, for example, alluded to the early days of aviation, featuring models draped in loose balloon-etched dresses and adorned with real balloons on their heads. This line referenced a past when invention really meant originality, while illustrating that all roads do not lead to Paris.

Mint Designs’ mantra “dame ni ikeru” loosely translates to “slacker” or “outsider,” which is the type of person they are trying to reach. It is this distinction that gives their line a warmer side, featuring causal dresses and tops in strong colors, while focusing on complementary materials that promote a chic but not overtly trendy look.

Available in Tokyo’s youthful Parco store in Shibuya, Mint Designs also has a line of lifestyle items, umbrellas and bags. Though not yet international, their highlight show at Japan Fashion Week this March will prove that they may be outside the pack, but they are far above it.

—David Stuchbury

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