More than 30,000 fashionistas flocked to Japan's largest fashion event, the Tokyo Girl's Collection -- or TGC this weekend -- a bi-annual show that combines the country's top fashion brands with popular music acts.
Now in its sixth year, the six hour show has established itself as the epicenter of Japan's "kawaii," or cute culture, a culture that has gained a global following in recent years.
On Saturday, the Saitama Super Arena, just outside of Tokyo, looked more like a cross between a concert and circus than a fashion show. Popular models strutted their looks down the runway, as adoring fans screamed their names, while other show-goers crowded booths featuring everything from makeup to a foot massage. In between, the TGC stage featured a mini ballet performance, and an appearance by Cirque de Soleil.
"Our goal is to create festival like atmosphere, that celebrates fashion," said show producer Maki Okuda.
Consider the TGC the "anti-fashion" show where the focus is on accessibility and tech-savvy shopping, not just cutting edge fashion. Unlike New York and Paris fashion shows, where big name brands unveil high-priced looks on the runway months before they reach retailers, outfits featured at the TGC can be purchased immediately, for an affordable price.
H&M and American Apparel Join Tokyo Girl's Collection
"TGC is not about how many buyers come or who sits in the front row," said Okuda. "Any girl, as long as they buy a [$60] ticket can go and enjoy the fashion show."
The idea for TGC was born out of mobile phone site "Girlswalker.com," which featured fashion trends and horoscopes. Okuda says the site organized a fashion show to mark its fifth anniversary six years ago, to feature what she calls "real clothes" or casual, everyday wear. Success of the initial show led to a larger event the following year. Today, the show is held twice a year in Tokyo, with separate shows in Nagoya and Okinawa. It has also taken its event abroad, to Paris and Beijing.
The show's tech-savvy marketing has helped elevate its success. Looks on the runway are sold online, so audience members can purchase the clothes from their smartphones instantly. Booths that exhibit at the event come equipped with a cell phone "reading" machine. Consumers must tap their cell phones on the machine in order to get freebies. In return, companies get immediate access to consumer information including email addresses.
"Because TGC is such a major event, there is a real value in setting up booths to help with business," said Hiroshi Ito, who handles marketing for a small spa.
While the event mainly draws on domestic brands, foreign companies are starting to take note. Swedish retail giant H & M, as well as American Apparel set up booths at the show for the first time this year. American designer Jill Stuart has become an annual participant, not only showing her collection but setting up a makeup booth, allowing girls to test out the products, and walk away with free samples.
For attendees, the TGC offers a chance to get up and close to popular models, who enjoy celebrity status in Japan. The event also gives the fashionistas an opportunity to get a taste of modeling. Hair care companies set up mini-salons, where attendees can get their hair done, with the latest products. H & M set up a photo studio, so people could try on their latest looks, while getting a free photo taken on a set similar to the one featured in the brand's catalog.
"I felt like an actual fashion model and this was really fun," said 12-year-old Saki Shingu.
Event organizers dedicated this year's show to victims of Japan's triple disasters, with the theme "Smile for _,," a fill-in-the-blank effort to not only lift the spirits of a reeling country, but revive a retail sector that has struggled, like the rest of the country, in the aftermath of the disaster. TGC models also participated in volunteer activities, charity auctions, and live streamed the fashion show to towns along Japan's ravaged coast.