Japanese fashion is unique, wacky and elegant. The world noticed its uniqueness and high quality in the 1980s and since then there is a cult following. Japanese street fashion, for example, has even become a reason for us to travel to Japan, heading straight to Harajuku and Shibuya. There is more than Harajuku, of course, and we are going to get the essence of Japanese fashion in three minutes today.
Know three names – Issey Miyake, Rei Kawakubo, and Yohji Yamamoto. They built Japanese cornerstone fashion brands in the 1970-80s and they remain most influential to date. Steve Jobs’ trademark fashion, the black turtleneck short, is designed and made by Miyake. Kawakubo founded Comme des Garcons with her husband Adrian Joffe. Yohji Yamamoto has been awarded numerous medals, including Chevalier of Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, Medal of Honor with Purple Ribbon, the Ordre national du Mérite, the Royal Designer for Industry and the Master of Design award by Fashion Group International.
Japanese Designers Gone Global
Apart from the three musketeers, a number of Japanese designers have gone global. Yayoi Kusama, for instance, is an internationally acclaimed designer and artist, well known for her signature polka dot design. Kusama recently collaborated with Louis Vuitton. Having opened her first shop in Paris in 1951, Hanae Mori already is still the only Japanese woman to have presented her collections both on the runways of New York and Paris. Junko Koshino is one of the most highly respected designers, and her rival (they graduated from the same school in the same year), Kenzo Takada, has also enjoyed a huge commercial success in fashion as well as cosmetics and accessories. Takeo Kikuchi is another international success in industrial and fashion designs, with vintage look glass frames and chronographs in addition to clothing. Other major Japanese designers you should remember include:
- Kansai Yamamoto
- Jun Ashida
- Junko Shimada
- Ichiro Kimijima
- Takao Ikeda
- Yuki Torii
Japanese Street Fashion
Tokyo is home to various street fashion and it constantly evolves. Most vivid street fashion districts include Harajuku, Shibuya, Shinjuku, Odaiba and Akihabara. Lolita is the most famous Japanese unique street fashion you should know and there are various versions:
- Lolita: Street fashion based on Victorian and Edwardian clothing
- Gothic lolita: Lolita combining the Eastern and Victorian Goth style
- Sweet lolita: Lolita with childlike accessories such emphasising innocence
- Punk lolita: Lolita with a heavy influence from punk
Importantly, following street fashion that are famous overseas are almost, if not already, extinct:
- Ganguro: Black faced youth with vivid colored clothes
- Bosozoku: Japanese delinquent motorcycle groups with distinct, often handmade, uniforms
- Kogyaru: Japanese school girls reinvent school uniforms, typically extremely short skirt, long, loose socks and heavy makeup.
- Decora: Bright colored clothing worn with a heavy amount of unusual accessories
Global Japanese Retailers
Japan’s biggest fashion retailer is Fast Retailing Co. Ltd. which owns UNIQLO. FR is the 4th biggest fashion company in the world after Gap, H&M and Index (Zara). Other Japanese retailers who have gone global include:
- BEAMS: Clothing brand that first developed in Harajuku
- GU: Sister company of UNIQLO
- Onitsuka Tiger: One of the oldest shoe shops in Japan
- A Bathing Ape: Popular brand among hip hoppers around the world
- MUJI: Retailer and manufacturer of lifestyle products including clothes
- Samantha Thavasa: Women’s handbag company, made popular by Paris Hilton and Victoria Beckham
- Wacoal: Lingerie manufacturer headquartered in Kyoto
Fashion with an Attitude
There are literally tens of thousands of other Japanese designers and retailers. While giants such as UNIQLO and GU are in the drawers of every Japanese household, fashion labels with unique backgrounds are also gaining ground. Yaccomaricard, for example, was founded by three Japanese hippies in Harajuku in the 1980s and their handmade pintucks and Japanese silk products have a cult following particularly among movie stars, artists and other professionals. Sou Sou in Kyoto quietly redefines Japanese tradition and offers contemporary kimono-like fashion that continues to wow Japanese and international clients.
Must-Visit Department Stores
If you have little time to shop in Japan, department stores are the best place to purchase Japanese clothes. High end must-visit department stores are Isetan (Shinjuku), Takashimaya (Yokohama, Shinjuku), Mitsukoshi (Nihonbashi, Ginza) and Matsuya (Ginza). Other major department stores include Keio, Odakyu, Daimaru and Seibu.
In sum, Japan is the must-visit place for everyone in the fashion industry. Check the schedule of fashion shows in Japan before you start planning your trip.