JIN-345 -- Japanese Searching for Their Place on the Catwalk

T H E J @ P A N I N C N E W S L E T T E R
Commentary on the Week's Business, Technology and Cultural News

Issue No. 345
Saturday November 12, 2005 TOKYO

+++ VIEWPOINT: Japanese Searching for Their Place on the Catwalk
1.Competition from Korean and Chinese Models
2. "Anime"/"Manga" Heroines as Paragons

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+++ VIEWPOINT: Japanese Searching for Their Place on the Catwalk
1.Competition from Korean and Chinese Models

Paris, Milan, New York--in the centers of fashion the catwalk
is narrowing for Japanese. Until recently Asian models
strutting the world's premier runways had been almost
exclusively Japanese. But Japanese mannequins are facing
a challenge from Korean and, with modeling schools
mushrooming in China, from Chinese models as well.

Today only two or so Asian models are selected for brand shows
in Paris, Milan and New York. That is partly because the classic
look, now in vogue, envisages Caucasian models. Competition for the
shrinking number of Asian slots on the catwalk is intense. And the
Japanese are losing.

SACHI, a Japanese veteran of Hermes and other shows in the
Paris collection since 1998, has noted the change. "Over the
past two or three years the twentysomething models from
Japan participating in the Paris collection have declined
in number," SACHI told the "Asahi Shimbun," a major daily, "while
the number of Korean and Chinese models auditioning has become
conspicuous." When SACHI first went to Paris, she auditioned
for more than 10 shows a day on the eve of the opening of the
collection. Today she only auditions for five or six.

What's more, Korean and Chinese models are powerful rivals of
the Japanese. "Many Korean and Chinese models live in the
States," says SACHI. "And they are also spiritually tough."
Stateside residence gives them the facility in English to
understand designers' instructions. Mental toughness enables
them to endure treatment that can smack of racial prejudice.

Of particular note is Hai Park, a Korean model who has been
much in demand in New York since last year. She has been
selected for super-brand shows in the spring-summer collections
2006 in Paris and Milan besides New York. Then there is the
Shanghai-born Soni, a recent addition to the bevy of
models at IMG, a NYC-based global agency. IMG anticipates
growing demand for models in China with the launch of a
Chinese edition of "Vogue" magazine this year.

In contrast, Ai Tominaga and recent runway debutante Kyo
seem to be the only Japanese models active in the international
fashion scene

According to the Tokyo-based Don Hai Agency, which handles
Chinese and Southeast Asian models, liberalization of China
has spawned modeling schools in various provinces. Fashion
is hot in the Middle Kingdom. The agency reports top models
have begun to come out of China.

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2. "Anime"/"Manga" Heroines as Paragons

Do Japanese models have a future on the runway?

In demand have always been Asian models conforming to the concept of
Oriental beauty--sloe-eyed women with long black hair. However, Noriko
Okubo, a makeup artist at Shiseido, the mammoth Japanese cosmetics
manufacturer, who has watched the Paris collection from behind the scenes
for more than a decade, holds up the casually dressed made-into-"anime"
Japanese pop idols "Puffy" and "Duo" as paragons for would-be
Japanese catwalk queens. "Japanese should escape the thrall of
Oriental beauty and exploit the present atmosphere so they
can be just as they are," she tells the "Asahi." "That would
create a fresher impression."

RILA, a NYC-based Japanese model, dyed her black hair, a symbol
of Asianness, blonde. She had been working as a photographer when
she decided to assay whether blondes had more fun. She, for one,
did, exulting in the freedom following her break out from the
mold in which she had been cast as an Asian woman. She felt she
was herself for the first time. As a blonde she has appeared in
a perfume ad for Calvin Klein, the New York collection, and

Haute fashion is a stepchild of freedom and money. Popular
models are emerging from Russia and Eastern Europe as those
regions liberalize--the latest wave in the globalization of
the market for models. That suggests Japanese models must
more than ever before express their difference.

One approach for Japanese models to recapture their place on
the catwalks of the collections would be to cultivate the look
of "manga" heroines, the superpower-endowed saucer-eyed lasses
that save the world and are now capturing an increasingly global
readership. It is a look that is unreal and at the same time
a real facet of Japan today.

--Burritt Sabin

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Written and edited by Burritt Sabin (editors2@japaninc.com)

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