There are few designers that really plunge and delve deep into a teenage girl's psyche, coming up with nuances and observations that manifest themselves in a collection. On a pragmatic level, why would they? Teens are hardly the primary market for splashing out on dresses over £300. However when designers do make it their obsession to infiltrate this age-specific mindset, making references to a collective memory that people of all ages can relate to, the results are memorable and highly distinctive in today's fashion landscape. Jenny Fax, designed by Shueh Jen Fang, gets me excited precisely because she taps into those memories. Take her initial moodboard for her S/S 13 collection - youngish Leonardo di Caprio and Hanson - relics of 1996-7 that for some reason, a wildly dispirate group of people remember - from those aged 15 to 45. The Rookie readers of this era will feast on Fang's work but likewise, those older can appreciate her references and thus the fruits of her labour. Typical nineties teen relics aside, the real root of this S/S 13 collection was a nineties manga adapted into a TV drama called Tokyo Love Story. I vaguely remember it although at the time, I was embroiled in Hong Kong TVB dramas that were of the same ilk. When the collection was presented in October as part of the Shibuya Fashion Festival in Tokyo, the models trooped out and arranged themselves amongst ye olde TV screens playing the drama. I may not have seen Tokyo Love Story but the themes and certainly the attire are familiar. A neat little waistcoat, a button-up shirt and a pencil skirt was the standard ensemble for women going to work in the early nineties in junior office positions, something that I didn't witness in real life but saw through the filter of crap TVB dramas. Of course Fang's big shouldered jackets and waistcoats are put through her own personal strange unexpected filter.
When I went to see it in the showroom, you had to burst out in laughter at the embroidered satin fabric normally seen in tacky Chinese souvenir shops, rendered into "sexy" cheongsam outfits or little floopy purses. Fang introduced Cabbage Patch kid-esque dolls into this cheesy satin context just to throw you off course. On sexy slip dresses, she prints old fashioned cake recipes. Pinafores, nubbly grannyish knits and chintzy padded jackets - it's a mixed bag of referencing of women at different stages in their lives as well as all the female tropes that we might get trapped into. The woman as the housewife, the little girl playing with her dolls, the "career" woman breadwinner. All of this comes to mind in an insane package that ends with Fang presenting a group of demented brides. Decorative chocolate box brides wrapped and suffocated in heavy bridal fabrics. It recalls Comme des Garcons S/S 12 bridal collection but in an even more literal and purposely ludicrous way. One bride came out with a cardboard axe rammed into her head. Cinematic genres always flurry around a Jenny Fax collection. Black comedies like Heathers immediately spring to mind. The brides at the end though are part of a show narrative and really, it's the clothes doused in childish motifs, pastel hues and nineties TV drama retrogazing that really endears you to Jenny Fax, especially when it's all broken down into separates. Knitted apron/pinafore dresses, shirts with sweet collars and funny t-shirts have become like staple items for the brand. She doesn't yet have a website which is little frustrating but I'm told it's only a matter of time before a teen dream world on the web is unleashed.
Part of that teen dream, has got to be Fang's husband Mikio Sakabe, who I remember from his graduate collection from Antwerp Royal Academy back in 2006. Sakabe has spent time in London, Paris and Antwerp and now his business is firmly based in Tokyo where along with Fang, they can collectively indulge in clothes that in some ways are very specific to Japanese culture and subculture. Samuel of Tokyo Telephone relates the collection to the way butch masculine archetypes in Japan are broken down as a new generation of guys emerge, obsessed with manga, introvert and somehow "demasculated". So Sakabe's very effeminate clothes (which can be both mens and womenswear) are presented on guys who come ambling onto the stage at the show, lounging around reading manga with a heavy side coloured parting partially obscuring their faces. Organza robes and matching shorts, pearl-adorned knitwear, ditzy florals, unicorn embroidery on pastel button-down shirts - they're for the guys who are rejecting traditional "masculine" attributes as well as for girls to dip into, should Jenny Fax's clothes fail to satisfy their pastel cravings. Together, this husband and wife duo - Mikio Sakabe and Jenny Fax - compliment each other's work and it's the first time they have presented their collections in a way that feels like they could be building a Tokyo fashion mini empire where subculture, offbeat referencing and teenage dreams (both of teens and adults) are at the core of their brands.