Monday, 10 March 2014

FRONT ROW/BACKSTAGE: TALLAWAH gets a lesson in Japanese fashion — and witnesses their singular sense of style

GARDEN DELIGHT: Elegant kimonos, like the one pictured above, figured heavily in the runway show.

On a post-rain cool Saturday afternoon at the Ranny Williams Entertainment Centre, Tomoko Uemura is schooling TALLAWAH in the fine art of Japanese fashion. "Nobody has better style than us," she boasts, laughing. We are a few minutes away from the start of a 20-minute runway show that will highlight a collection of simplistically cool designs (traditional and modern), and backstage is a bustle of makeup artists painting faces, stylists sorting out the looks, and student models being fitted ahead of hitting the catwalk. 

"The two segments we are doing will show different types of Japanese wear. There's the yukata, which is traditional clothese and casual kimono, and there's the animé costume play, made up of models dressed as characters," explains Tomoko, her English heavily accented by her native tongue. Showtime, and it all comes together seamlessly. A curious mix of lights, camera and legwork. Though the majority of the models are Jamaican students presently studying Japanese at UWI Mona, UTech, and private institutions, they all jauntily make the geometric prints and whimsical patterns come to life. 

Then, to the utter delight of everyone, the ever-fashionable gents of dancehall's hottest group (T.O.K's Alex, Flexx, Bay-C and Craigy T), make their entrance as the show's "celebrity models" and go on to make the wardrobe (a set of day-perfect brownish-grey kimonos) entirely their own under the brilliant stage lights. 

Tomoko tells me she's been living in Jamaica since 1994, and is beyond pleased that her embassy finally opted to stage such an event to offer Jamaicans an expansive window view into their dynamic way of doing things, including their rather unique sense of style. "The first time I came to Jamaica, nobody knew about things like geishas, kimonos, sushi and saké, and that was in the nineties," reports Tomoko, a woman in her 50s but is the very essence of laid-back campus-cool in a white tee, jeans and an orange sweater wrapped around her waist. "But now Jamaicans know more about these things. So slowly and slowly it's been catching on here."

I also chatted briefly with another co-organizer, the very busy Yasuko Ishige of the Japanese embassy, who conceded, "A lot of Jamaicans don't know the real Japan. That's why we're having this here today. And, as you can see, it's such a big success."

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