Kanako Sakai hadn’t intended to do a runway show this season, to say nothing of opening the Tokyo Fashion Week schedule. Only two years into her label, it was much too early for a show, she said, but after winning the JFW Next Brand Award 2024 in June (which finances two shows for the winner), she was coaxed into it with only two months to prepare. Smiling anxiously as she came out to speak to reporters afterwards, her first words were “How was it?”
The important thing to know about Sakai is her knack for innovative textiles, which she travels the length and breadth of Japan to source and create. The last two looks of this collection, for instance, featured iridescent fabrics Sakai had woven from crushed seashells in a technique known as raden-ori. It was inspired by a childhood memory: “When I was in elementary school, I did mother-of-pearl inlay for my summer homework and I thought it was beautiful. Then recently I found out about shells that are from the Sea of Japan in Tango, Kyoto. Previous generations used them to make textiles because they wanted to take the charm of the sea from their hometown and make it into a fabric,” she explained.
Sakai puts her identity as a Japanese citizen at the forefront of her work, and this yields some unique results; particularly impressive were the hexagonal patterns of silver sequins, inspired by kamon, or samurai family crests, that glinted like armor on tops and skirts. Elsewhere, tank tops descended into fringed flapper dresses that swished in intense blue or silvery gold, while pink lace peeked out from beneath smoothly slashed tailoring.
As fresh as the colors was the casting; Kanoko Sakai is a womenswear brand, but half of the models she used this time were male. “Rather than a woman’s image, there is a human image,” she said, adding that her male friends often buy her clothes. “I was thinking of using about three men’s models, but the casting department sent me 150 people, and after using the criteria of simply looking good and being cool, half of them ended up being male models.” It worked well, and speaks to the forward-thinking designer that Sakai clearly is.
So, how was it? In a word: promising. In a few more: You don’t often see a debut runway show as well-executed and confident as this one. Sakai had chosen the word “welcome” as her theme, “as a way to let everyone know the spirit and attitude of the brand.” That spirit came straight out of the door swinging, and kicked off the Tokyo season with a bang.