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East Meets Vest

Author Kenji Hall Illustration Graham Roumieu


Inside an arena in Yokohama, the fashionistas are screaming for Nozomi Sasaki. A spotlight has just fallen on the doe-eyed Japanese model, who appears in a loose crochet shirt and cutoff denim shorts. Sasaki walks the runway, waving as techno music throbs. “Kawaii!” (“Cute!”) squeals 23-year-old Sae Hosaka, who is standing with a friend near the raised platform.

The Tokyo Girls Collection, a biannual fashion show now in its fifth year, has attracted 25,500 spectators, most of them teens and young women. Some have traveled for hours by train or overnight bus, despite the fact that there isn’t a single big-name designer represented. The outfits on display can generally be purchased for less than $250, and fun trumps pretense. As Cole Porter blares from the loudspeakers, the models blow kisses, dance and toss stuffed animals from the runway—a far cry from haute couture. Tickets for the eight-hour extravaganza, ranging from $55 to $80, sold out in hours. Recently, the Tokyo Girls Collection went on the road to Beijing and Paris. “But it’s the opposite of the Paris runway show,” says Fumitaro Ohama, head of the organizing committee, who also runs the fashion site www.Girlswalker.com.

Around the venue, staffers carry gadgets that can transfer web links to a cell phone just by touching it, enabling attendees to purchase the items they’re viewing before the models have even left the stage. Within a day of the show last September, online sales of clothes and other items topped $600,000.

But Ohama sees the event less as a fashion show than as a festival. The crowd screams when Japanese pop stars Miliyah Kato and Kumi Koda appear, and whoop for a model in a skimpy version of a flight attendant’s uniform, actually a paid ad for a travel agency. At booths near the entrance, reps hand out samples of gum, perfume and mascara, as well as cellphone straps with pink teddy bears covered in crystals. “The economy is still hurting,” says Ohama, “so why not try to brighten things up with a little fun?”

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