SA Mens: Tokyo James AW16 samples Arewa, doesn’t quite soar

More than any of the other Menswear designers invited to show at the South African Menswear Week, Nigerian brand Tokyo James had a lot of prove. Green around the ears, with only one collection to its name and riding on the somewhat polarizing fame of its creator and creative director Tokyo James’s career as a stylist and magazine editor, many wanted to see what he would do with this new collection.

Tiokyo James

His first collection, while a delight to photograph, hadn’t translated from the magazine pages to the retail stores. That and rumors that the label had been advised to enter for the Fashion Focus programme in lieu of a proper showcase slot at LFDW 2015 hung over its head. So there was a lot riding on this second cycle; a bigger stage, a bigger platform, a bigger chance to sink or soar.

What Tokyo eventually sends down the runway is a very mixed message.

There are many elements evident in Tokyo’s showcase, the styling is a not so subtle reference to Rick Owens, jackets worn as skirts, oversized knit vests layered under slouchy jackets. He also showed knitwear, a seeming menswear trend in Nigeria (three of the four invited Nigerian designers who showed, had knitwear pieces in their collections.) There were shiny suits, matte suits, iridescent suits, two piece ensembles made from tan print material contrasted by an electric yellow jacket, with little to connect them other than the fact that they were all being shown on the same runway.

Tokyo James continues his irrational obsession with fur in this collection. His first collection, a summer collection for a brand based in Africa constituted more than one faux fur jacket. In this collection he goes overboard, with pastiches of fur every where he thought he could get away with it. The effect is jarring, and acutely symbolic of a problem many young African designers struggle with; creating clothes that are completely impractical for the continent they have chosen to run their brands from.

Then there was the curious case of the embroidered ArewaThe Arewa symbol, a superellipse crossed diagonally by two curved rectangles is a symbol of Northern Hausa/Fulani unity and is a centuries old emblem of Hausa royalty. To see it tacked thoughtlessly onto Tokyo James’s clothes, without any references to it’s history or the people it represents felt almost like cultural appropriation. That singular emblem, more than anything else was truly indicative of the Tokyo James label’s growth or lack of it.

Suffice to say, the only truly impressive aspect of Tokyo James’s new collection is the tailoring work on his pieces and his cache of jackets. While the jackets don’t exactly escape James’s jack of all trades approach to design (he shows a yellow trench in velvet, a mauve snakeskin coat, a two felted fur coats, a leather biker jacket with oversized detailing that looks great in photographs and three print trenches with embroidered fur patches) each jacket is well cut and visually intriguing enough to get a second and third glance. It is somewhat sad, that he doesn’t bother to explore the possibilities of any one style or fabric choice.

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