TOKYO • Wood fashioned into lace and sculpted into evening dresses: the Hanae Mori Manuscrit label led the way this Tokyo Fashion Week in showing the world the original craftmanship that helps set Japan apart from the crowd.
Dresses of persimmon wood lace paired with soft falling black fabric, designed by Yu Amatsu for the brand's autumn/winter 2017 collection, were the star of the show that left fashionistas giddy with excitement.
Discs of chestnut and walnut were used on a dress of interlocking triangular panels, an homage to Issey Miyake's iconic Bao Bao bag, while wood was fashioned into sleeve ties and delicate butterfly hair pieces.
Japan is famous for high-tech and speciality fabrics, which not only supply the likes of Chanel and other celebrated couture houses, but also inspire home-grown designers.
Ms Misha Janette, a Tokyo-based stylist, creative director and blogger who has lived in Japan since 2004, said Japanese fashion is often less about entertainment and more about "amazing" material.
"They're really, really keen on working with young designers to create new fabrics... that sets them apart," she said. "Each little village has its own special kind of fabric."
Amatsu said the theme of his collection was "combine" - combining fabrics to create something that is both different and beautiful.
The persimmon wood was originally very hard. "Even the sewing machine needle couldn't go through it," he said. So he stripped it down to a width of 0.14mm and bonded it with fabric to make it stronger.
He then stitched it into a lace butterfly pattern. "It's quite heavy, so when you move with the dress, it makes a 3D silhouette," he added.
He was careful throughout to preserve the colour of the wood, making it look almost like pencil shavings or delicately processed tree bark. There are also belts and statement bags in the same material.
Inspiration comes from the world at large. "I'm always looking around to find something interesting which can be key for new designs, like the movies, music, architecture and so on," he said.
Wood was far from the only innovative fabric on the runway at Tokyo Fashion Week, which showcased the work of 52 designers.
Husband-and-wife label Roggykei, known best for dressing American superstar Lady Gaga a handful of times, is based in Osaka to be close to specialist fabric factories.
Designers Hitoshi and Keiko Korogi have no plans to relocate, recognising that their "made in Japan" heritage was a big boon when they exhibited in Paris in 2012.
Their fabric is 50 per cent polyester and 50 per cent wool, which makes it more supple, they said.
They also use some processed fabrics, which they dye and wash.
There is a stole made out of a special cashmere, which is woven from Mongolian yarn in Japan's Nara and coated to make it washable, yet prevent pilling.
The designers presented tie-dyed and indigo-dyed stoles too.
They also used discarded pieces of cloth and mixed natural material and chemical fibre.
But at least one Japanese designer with an emphasis on cutting-edge fabrics admitted to shopping elsewhere.
Takuya Morikawa offered a highenergy, Americana-inspired collection for label Taakk, which he set up in 2012 after working for Issey Miyake.
"All the fabrics are originals," he told reporters. "The jacquards were made in Japan, but I had the embroidery made in China and India as it would have cost a lot to do in such good quality here."
He said: "Of course Japan has good technique, but I am not too hung up on it. I'd rather use good things from everywhere in the world."