SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Cook is fashion editor of the Japan Times

Japanese designers, showing their spring collections last fall, made one thing clear. Their focus is on color, with extra attention to pastels. Fantasy, ethnic inspiration and glitter are other dominant themes.

* Color: Norihisa Ota of C'est Vrai and Kyoko Higa are known for playful yet wearable collections energized by vivid hues.

Ota's memorable creations for spring include Barbara Cartland pink harem pants paired with a bustier top and a floral-patterned lace top worn off the shoulder.

Higa showed fitted jackets with knee-length orange cycle shorts and Spanish-style ruffled blouses and sexy short shorts in tomato red or black.

Masatomo Yamaji for Masatomo's strong menswear collection featured tangerine, lilac, raspberry and peppermint silk suits. Even bolder was a suit of black-and-white geometric patterns that echo recent menswear by Gianni Versace.

Masatomo will have its first Paris menswear show next month. In Los Angeles, H Lorenzo carries the line.

* Fantasy: Junko Koshino inhabits couture's outer space with her weird and wonderful shapes. Her lampshade and bubble-shaped dresses, in off-white or bottle-green, look as if they were painstakingly folded by an army of sculptors. But their fragility makes them a no-no on the Tokyo trains at rush hour.

* Glitter: For men, Yoshiyuki Konishi included jeweled, headed and sequined outfits for late day that are nothing less than works of art.

* Ethnics: Konishi's sweat shirts for men are decorated with primitive Aztec-style drawings of humans and fanciful, long-necked llamas and armadillos.

Two of Japan's best-known designers, who also show in Paris, made waves in Tokyo this season. Rei Kawakubo pulled out of the Council of Fashion Designers, and Yohji Yamamoto canceled his show, saying, "It became impossible to hold it where I wanted to."

Otherwise, Japanese fashion carries on in the same way. No new designers and, except for Masatomo, no one who is serious about the American market.

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