By Timothy Coghlan
On a Saturday afternoon earlier this year the biggest fashion show ever staged in Japan, and quite possibly the world, took place in Yokohama Arena. This was by far no ordinary fashion show, it was more like a pop concert with its thousands of screaming fans, incredible visual effects and, to top it all off, simultaneous interactive shopping. This is the new cutting edge fashion show: TOKYO GIRLS COLLECTION (TGC).
TOKYO GIRLS COLLECTION is a biannual affair following the fashion tradition of Spring-Summer and Fall- Winter collections. Whereas most fashion shows are closed, industry or invitation only type affairs, this show was open to the public. Not for free mind you! Tickets ranged from JPY3000 for grandstand seating to JPY10,000 for premium seats adjoining the runway. The arena holds upwards of 20,000 people and the event was sold out well in advance. Lucky I had my press pass!
Upon exiting the closest station I was a bit disorientated, but I soon caught on and followed the throngs of young ladies in their clopping heels, short skirts and black knee high socks just around the corner to the Yokohama Arena. By the time I arrived the show had already started (of course it’s fashionable to be late to these type of affairs), and when I heard the thumping music emanating from the arena before I had even entered the foyer, it began to dawn on me that this was a sizeable event.
The atmosphere inside the arena is difficult to describe, but by envisioning an enormous 109 style shopping mall turned night club you might get the idea (the 109 building in Shibuya is the most famous shopping icon for young women in Japan). Jutting out into the arena was a very long crucifix shaped-runway made of fancy tiles that lit up in specially sequenced patterns. Above, the runway was complimented by mirror balls, disco lights and lasers all programmed to accompany the thumping pop music soundtrack and live visuals displayed on five massive screens flanking the runway entrance.
The grandeur of the runway, cinema screens, lighting and lasers alone were plenty for the eye to behold but that wasn’t enough! There was also a constant stream of Japan’s top female models strutting and posing their way along the flashing runway for the joy of the 21,900 shoppers/fans, and the swarm of cameramen with their telescopic lenses that would make NASA jealous.
In total 25 brands debuted their spring and summer looks over the entirety of the afternoon and well into the evening. The event was MC’d by famous TV personalities and during the fashion show interludes, Japanese and American pop artists earned their own screams with exciting performances. SoftBank, who sponsored the event, also had a fashion section where each model came out clad in colors to match the pantone range of phones they were holding.
If all this excitement wasn’t enough add in the fact that all the fashion items featured in the shows were available for purchase via your mobile phone as soon as they were debuted on the runway. So, if you take a fancy to the red and white CECIL McBee dress that the third model was wearing, you can buy it instantly on your phone and have it delivered the next day, therefore being on the absolute cutting edge of Tokyo Fashion.
This new age commercial venture is the brainchild of Xavel Inc, a company that has experienced incredible results, yet seemingly little attention for its unique form of multimedia commerce. Xavel was founded seven years ago and initially provided horoscopes and other such information as well as selling clothes through mobile sites. Xavel now primarily focuses on TGC and mobile fashion retailing through a series of mobile and PC sites that boast over seven million readers (the site is treated like a magazine) and over 1.4 billion page views per month.
All the fashion items featured in the shows were available for purchase via your mobile phone as soon as they were debuted on the runway.
Fashionwalker.com is the main online shopping site run by Fashionwalker Inc, one of Xavel’s group companies. The webpage is laid out like a shopping mall with seven floors and even a basement level which closely resembles the design of Shibuya 109. Each floor has its own distinct mix fashion brands and you can browse through floors and individual brands just as you were strolling through a real mall. You can also search by magazine to find that special skirt you saw in this month’s edition of CanCam, or even read entire online versions of fashion magazines exclusively edited for fashionwalker.com
Once you have bought something, you can click on over to www.stylewalker.com and tell everyone about your latest shopping escapade on the site’s blog. Www.style-walker.com is a community based website that allows users to represent themselves through an avatar or what the website labels as a ‘doll’. Each user can mix and match their own doll’s appearance by dressing the doll in various fashion items and by choosing hair styles and accessories and so on. This gives each user their own identity (and consequently emotional attachment to the site), but also allows members to experiment with different combinations of clothes and accessories to see what they look like before buying them. Of course all the fashion items that you can dress the dolls with are also available for purchase.
When asked about avatars, Christopher Billich who works as an analyst on the Japanese mobile industry for Tokyobased Infinita Inc, which advises carriers, media companies and advertisers worldwide commented, “Most people that hear about people dressing up avatars think, ‘That must be a small niche of users who’ve got nothing better to do,’ Think again: some of Japan‘s most successful mobile sites, operate on a model of a social networking site with avatars that represent the users. One site, mobagetown, even lets you buy fashion and accessories for avatars with real money, which means people are actually starting to spend cold, hard cash on virtual fashion. How cool you look online can have a significant effect on what kind of people you will be able to connect with, and users are willing to pay for this.”
Billich added that, “Mobile commerce is a very big business in Japan, with the value of physical goods sold via mobile online shopping alone totaling JPY258 billion in 2006. The most popular mobile shopping sites are operator-independent ones like those operated Xavel or online retail giant Rakuten, which already generates 25% of its turnover through mobile sales. For the carriers, there is good money to be made from the increased data traffic on their networks, and since teenagers access the internet from their phones much more than from PCs these days, for fashion retailers a mobile presence is absolutely vital to staying competitive. By far the most active group of mobile shoppers are young women, which results in fashion items being the most popular category— more than half of mobile shoppers in Japan bought clothes or accessories via their handset last year.”
The popularity of online fashion and accessories shopping is sprouting several other websites that sell fashion online and through mobiles. Another company that launched earlier this year that is also rapidly gaining popularity is Fantasia (www.fantasiastyle.com) which specializes in glamorous dresses imported from Europe and the US. These sexy evening dresses, usually reserved for cocktail and other fancy parties (which there is no lack of in Tokyo) are hard to come by in stores as Japanese retailers tend to stick to conservative and less revealing attire. Moreover, Fantasia has many customers including hostesses who work at night, sleep all day and have trouble finding time to shop.
Fantasia owner Mio Nishitani says fantasiastyle.com was a “hobby turned business” as she loved shopping overseas for the dresses she couldn’t find in Tokyo. The website, when combined with Fantasia’s monthly Glamorous Night parties at the swanky Velours nightclub in Minami Aoyama go a long way in providing more than just a shopping experience. “The parties offer ladies a classy setting and a proper reason to show off their beautiful dresses and to feel glamorous,” says Nishitani. Xavel is also looking beyond just shopping and is trying to create a lifestyle platform for their customers by collaborating with top designers to create boutique cafes and a luxury yoga studio in trendy Daikanyama. In this way Xavel is trying to cover everything a young woman in Tokyo could ever want and need—an impossible task but you have to give them credit for trying.
Both Xavel and Fantasia are benefiting from the growing numbers of women who are prepared to buy clothes online. One of Xavel’s competitive advantages is that it is focused on mobile commerce. By doing this they are able to gain a large customer base of young women who are not accustomed to using a PC. Although it could be said that shopping is one of Japan’s national pastimes, with such long working hours and perpetually crowded shopping areas, it’s no wonder people are being lured online to shop from the comfort of their living rooms or during the commute home.
As for the future fusion of mobile technology and fashion, TGC is so unique and has become so popular that Xavel plans to make it the center piece of their business; especially seeing that it combines the fashion, shopping, and fun all into one special festival that also attracts advertisers, sponsors and growing international attention. TGC has already been showcased in Paris and Beijing and it’s about to be tied into a Korean supermodel contest. Xavel’s mission is to supply real clothes to the real world by taking the catwalk to the streets and to popularize Japanese fashion abroad. At this rate it may not be too long before you can purchase fashion and accessories that you see on TV, billboards or adorning other people simply by registering the item on your phone’s ‘fashion reader’ and making a few swift clicks.
Timothy is a freelance fashion writer in Tokyo.
He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org