Trends in Japan

Earthy Shades Are In Again

DECEMBER 27, 1996

Fashion magazines are showcasing clothes and accessories in earth tones.

Since around autumn, brown has been the color of choice among fashionable urbanites. The least frequently sported of the five basic colors of Japanese fashion is back, after seven years in the shadows.

Not only are people sporting brown suits and coats but are also opting for earth-tinted stockings, shoes, bags, nail polish, and even lipstick. Some department stores have repainted over 60% of their ladies-wear sections in brown.

The other four traditional basic fashion colors are white, black, navy blue, and grey. The bubble economy was at its peak when brown last dominated the sidewalks. Almost as an antidote to the money-driven climate, ecology-consciousness was championed, and earthy shades were embraced by the mavens of fashion.

The tint at the center of the current revival is slightly different, however. In 1989 the preference was for beige, camel, and other shades that connoted warmth. This time the browns are cooler and clearer, the preferred shades being dark to the point of outright blackness. "Chocolate brown" is one of the fashion industry's names for it.

The Color Market
So why is it back? Some cite the psychological desire of consumers, concerned and dissatisfied with the present state of the economy, to escape to happier times.

The real driving force behind the latest boom, though, may have more to do with marketing than mind-sets. Most companies in the fashion business are members of the Japan Fashion Color Association, which conducts research into and supplies information on color trends. JAFCA and similar organizations in 19 countries that make up the Paris-based International Commission for Fashion and Textile Colors (Intercolor) meet twice a year to determine what colors are likely to be popular two years in advance. Most national organizations then make announcements six months after each meeting to choose the "in" colors for the domestic market after taking local conditions into account.

The current focus on brown can be traced to an autumn 1994 Intercolor meeting, where a revival of bold, vivid colors was heralded. Last spring, JAFCA announced a list of trendy colors consisting of 4 basic color categories and 25 specific shades. Brown was one of the 25, but there was no declaration that "brown is in." Companies in the fashion business were left to decide for themselves what colors to use for their products.

It is critical for companies to gauge market trends and consumer sentiment closely. If they focus on the wrong segment of the color spectrum, they risk being left with mountains of unsold stock. For this reason, companies nearly always end up more or less backing the same horses. It is thus hard to know whether consumers are choosing what colors to wear of their own volition or are getting the colors chosen for them.

Trends in Japan

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