Tetsuya Doi

A/W ‘23 | Tokyo


By Jee Young Park

“Time, like hope, is an illusion,” says Lumalee, a star depicted as a blue flame, in the new Super Mario Bros. movie. While the other prisoners lament over lava nipping at their feet from inside a bubbling volcano, Lumalee appears ecstatic. In his glee, he even momentarily swings past his cell bars, suggesting prisonbreak is as easy as 1–2–3. In a movie made for kids and nostalgic adults, Lumalee’s nihilism is a savvy acknowledgment of our recent brush with absolutes. We’ve just emerged from a state of limbo steeped in mortality and unlike more predictable eras, we’re sensitive to time’s subjectivity. No matter how small the detail or how complicated current affairs may be, fashion, like entertainment, has a responsibility to play to our feelings. RequaL≡ ’s founder and designer, Tetsuya Doi remains faithful to his craft by successfully capturing the mood of today in his latest collection.

One of the most obvious ways Doi plays with our perception of time is through destruction. In this season’s iteration of a RequaL≡ staple, coffee stains dotted the distressed, cream, cable-knit sweater and matching scarf. Accompanying the outfit was a tote with green lines suggestive of a ubiquitous coffee chain. Watching the model pound the pavement on Doi’s outdoor runway, I imagined she could be the heroine of a Groundhog rom-com: After downloading a mysterious app, she finds herself stuck in a time loop, having to live through the same hectic workday, bumping into an office crush on her morning coffee run. The heart-racing interaction ending with a large spill. Her only proof of having lived through the same day (yet again!) would be her dirty sweater. Each stain, marking a separate occurrence. Turns out, the app messed with her smartphone clock. She had passed through her usual workweek. The monotony of modern salaried life was the real culprit all along.

My dismal movie-making aspirations aside, the point is: Doi seems to care about how most of us feel, even if the people who claim to own a good chunk of our time (read: bosses), don’t. Throughout the collection, he shows great empathy for how technology has warped our sense of time and space. The same technological advances that promised more freedom have failed to change systems that keep us stuck, albeit at an accelerated pace. While other designers may be keen to show models using technological props, their collections rarely show an eagerness to inhabit and reflect on the interiority of our collective experience. It’s worth noting, Doi did show models walking with smartphones in hand as a part of his collaboration with Docomo, too. But they wore split jumpers and reversed hoodies, delightful Frankenstein-like creations out of casual streetwear, and walked around in circles, their attention clearly split as well.

In another example, which showcases Doi’s capacity to transform the common into the avant-garde, the weaves of a denim ensemble have been undone to the extent that individual threads gather like a feathered jacket. The bottoms have been similarly treated, the warp preserved at various points to form an enlarged, ribbed weave pattern, giving the impression of something thicker and more luxurious. Next to a youthful face, the signs of accelerated aging were arresting. She had the glamour of someone who had seen the future but escaped its effects, youth intact. Maybe in some ways, she has. Research shows that technology has sped up our perception of time. We can do so much, so much faster, that we often mistake more time has passed when using technology than when we pass time without. Or maybe she’s taken an unauthorized joyride on the Concorde, traveling faster than the speed of sound. Time dilation = the new youth serum?

RequaL ≡ has multiple references, one is to “recall,” another, on a ribbon affixing the label on his clothes, “Name, it is meaninglessTime, how long I am with you, this is essential. Reunits of time/Always ≡ equal = RequaL≡.” The “R” features what looks like a tribar or a triple equal sign, denoting definition or identity. Most recently, his Instagram bio reads, “Always equal to the unit of time = Already different =.” These messages articulate Doi’s philosophy toward fashion design, where you can see upcycling and recursiveness, pointing to the cyclical nature of fashion and the cultural artifacts the industry leaves behind as waste. Our perception of time may be an illusion but the ravages of it are very real.

The real effects of time are most apparent in Doi’s mirrored works. This season, he showed a pair of flared-leg denim jeans, both sides front-facing, and in S/S ’23 a mirrored polo. While it can be damning of the industry’s wastefulness to see so much repeat clothing, Doi’s mirroring creates a sense of expansiveness. It highlights the function of clothing to reflect the times and by placing them together, he evoked the endless reflections of an infinite mirror and the power of the present moment. If we want to make a change, now is all we have.

By juxtaposing nearly identical items of clothing and keeping their origins intact, Doi momentarily breaks through the “fourth wall” of fashion theater and what makes the performance desirable: the conceits of newness, uniqueness, and exclusivity. With all this self-referencing though, he is mindful to keep his tone playful and optimistic by offering us a few magic tricks. A pair of loafers, one with its heel lifted up and stacked on top of the other, a chimney hat, its brim far above the wearer’s head as if stuck in cartoon-like motion, a small tote in the shape of a button, mufflers imitating neckties, collars on overcoats that disappear on one side and reappear on the other, or a second set of shoulder seams.

The trick is Doi’s artful handling of such outlandish details, so in more staple items, they are enough for a double take but not enough to inspire gawking. Well, relatively speaking. But in all seriousness, you can get away with wearing the tie-neck “neck-tie” blouse or the bow-embellished jacket with ease, all the while enjoying a RequaL ≡ moment. Take a look for yourself and maybe you’ll find a Fibonacci spiral among the easter eggs I’ve missed.
Video Source: Rakuten Fashion Week Tokyo, YouTube