Japan has long been one of the cornerstones of the fashion industry, presenting to the world some of the most unique and cutting edge styles and new trends, many times years before they catch on in the rest of the world. For that reason, there are a number of popular brands on the market today and many more coming up through the ranks regularly.
In the 1980s, Japan’s fashion scene burst on to the international scene thanks in part to the work of a small handful of designers and their cornerstone brands. The likes of Rei Kawabuko’s Comme des Garcons, Issey Misake’s Misake Design Studios, and Yohji Yamamoto’s self named clothing line all presenting something starkly different to the world than what the 1980s were developing.
To date, Misake, Kawabuko, and Yamamoto remain three of the most influential names in Japanese fashion, presenting new lines each year and now presenting their protégés and in Yamamoto’s case, their children to the world as the next generation of designers.
While these three brands cannot be categorized directly together in how they make clothing, their staunch refusal in the 1980s and early 1990s to change from single colors and clean lines as well as the development of a wide array of new styles in the 1990s such as Misake’s A-POC and Kawabuko’s Lumps and Bumps collections that have remained in the market place for years.
Japanese Street Fashion
The advent of the Tokyo Street style can be in part sourced to the rise of certain fashion brands from companies like Onitsuka Tiger that have been around since the 1950s designing new styles for shoes or A Bathing Ape, a brand that rose quickly through the ranks thanks to its popularity among hip hop stars from around the world. Other brands have grown in conjunction with the popularity of Nigo’s A Bathing Ape brand including Billionaire Boys Club – a joint venture between Nigo and Pharrell Williams, the American hip hop artists and producer.
Subsets of street style fashion including screen print t-shirts have grown as well with companies like Graniph becoming world famous for their constantly rotating supply of t-shirt designs. Utilizing new artists and working in collaboration with artistic talents from around the world, Graniph and other screen tee companies produce hundreds of new shirts every month.
Another recent brand that has been very popular in the street fashion scene is W)Taps, started and operated by Harajuku fashion scene pioneer Tetsu Nishiyama or TET. The brand integrates military designs and silk screening to produce street influenced t-shirts, bags, and denim that has grown in popularity throughout Harajuku and Tokyo at large.
KIKS TYO is another recent success story for street wear. Cultural icon Shinichi Izaki started and designs for the company, producing a line almost entirely consisting of streetwear and shoes. Side projects such as the Sneaker Love Project which integrated fashion photography and Tokyo landscapes have spread the relatively new KIKS TYO name around rapidly.
High End and Style-centric
While the youth streetwear of Harajuku and Shibuya is well known and has garnered something of an international audience of onlookers, there are other brands that have strived to combined the Western styles of sleek, high fashion with Japanese aesthetics.
Brands like N.Hoolywood have become well known for taking old concept such as overcoats o tuxedos and reworking them with modern stylistic flairs for modern, clean cut clothing for men. Other brands such as Satoru Tanaka have integrated the same concepts, utilizing what is essentially a stale concept to create something new by changing what people perceive in the products. European menswear is often a popular target for these designers.
Women’s designers like Cecil McBee provide a wide array of clothing designed for women in their early twenties up into their thirties. As one of the most widely known such brands in Japan, Cecil McBee carries a huge amount of different brands, including its own, marketed toward young women in university or just starting in the working world while its sister brands – Fabulous and Cecil Line – have recently been started to market to a wider audience.
Samantha Thavasa is another well known brand that has quickly become famous for its handbag designs and its use of international models to promote those handbags. Paris Hilton, Victoria Beckham, and Beyonce have all promoted these products and a lower price point than many European designs has made them popular in Japan and increasingly in the international community.
Fringe Tokyo Styles
Japan’s most outrageous styles are often the ones that many people will consider when thinking of what the country provides the fashion industry and a lot of pioneering has been done in certain fields.
The Gothic-Lolita brands are probably the best example of an entirely unique fashion trend that has developed with brands like Angelic Pretty and their long running production of popular Lolita style dresses and accessories. More extreme brands like h.Naoto have developed a harsher, gothic style that has become popular both in and outside Japan for stepping away from the Lolita influences.
Punk styles have also been integrated into many Japanese fashion brands, including in the denim of companies like Studio d’Artisan and Skull Jeans. Diet Butcher Slim Skin has grown in recent years for its integration of punk and streetwear styles, combining slim fits and 70s inspired fashions with modern developments. Sex Pot Revenge is an almost entirely punk influenced brand that has grown dramatically recent years to sell everything from bags and jackets to band inspired and designed t-shirts and clothing.
What’s Next In Japan?
Knowing what might come next from Japan’s fashion industry is hard. There are dozens of new brands at any given time and designers who are interested in expanding their creativity and trying new things. The breadth of designers discussed here is only a scratch on the surface of what Japan has offered in the last three decades and barely a glimpse of what the country’s eclectic fashion scene might offer in the decades to come.