There are moments when one city will punch above its weight when it comes to style. Recall the buzz around the “Antwerp Six” in the mid-1980s, or those two Bronx upstarts with the surnames Klein and Lauren who emerged from New York a decade earlier. Right now, though, it’s Tokyo turn – and what’s inspiring is that there isn’t just one trend. Look to the achingly hip streetwear of Neighborhood, whose Americana with attitude is so well crafted it would look at home in an Indian Motorcycle poster from the 1950s; the beautifully indigo-dyed farm wear of Blue Blue Japan, whose shirts, jackets and jeans are re-engineered for city life and will look better every day you wear them; or the surf-inspired classics of Remi Relief, whose hoodies and washed-out tees, updated with modern fits, have a vintage feel so authentic you’d think they were dug out of a Malibu attic. Today, Tokyo’s designers are reinventing multiple menswear archetypes (the outdoorsmen, the Ivy Leaguer, the surfer dude) – and their near-fetishistic attention to detail reminds us why we loved them the first time around.
There’s something uniquely Japanese about how the men we met on our recent trip to the Japanese capital remain as forward thinking as they are respectful of heritage – and this has a great deal to do with the Zen koan that is Tokyo itself. With 35.8 million people it is the world’s most populated metropolitan area – yet arguably its most tranquil. The immediacy, the mass consumption and the chaotic neon signs can overwhelm you, but you’d struggle to think of another city that takes as much time to quietly contemplate the turning of the four seasons. It is arguably more Westernised than the West, yet resolutely holds on to its Eastern traditions – with ancient cedarwood shrines standing shoulder to shoulder with the austere, concrete masterpieces of Mr Tadao Ando and co.
So, what did the men we met have to say about life in the city? That family matters, that no commute is ever too long, that a brand is much more than the sum of its parts – and that the surf’s always up come Saturday…
The Outdoorman’s Outfitter
Mr Aizawa in the White Mountaineering office, Daikanyama
After graduating from Tama Art University in 2001, Mr Yosuke Aizawa, 37, worked as an assistant to Mr Junya Watanabe. A lifelong passion for outdoor pursuits including mountain climbing, snowboarding and fishing led him to create White Mountaineering in 2006. The brand’s use of heritage and technical materials, from corduroy and tweed to Gore-Tex and Windstopper fabrics, soon established Mr Aizawa as one of Japan’s new fashion innovators – his streetwear creations being as wearable in the city as they are in much harsher environments. “A fusion of outdoor style and fashion is what I aim to express,” he says.
The Ivy League Made Cool
Mr Nakada relaxes at the Beams Plus store, Jingumae
Beams, founded in 1976 in Tokyo’s Harajuku district, is one of Japan’s most successful and respected fashion empires with around 140 stores spread right across the country. The Beams Plus line was started in 1999 as a purveyor of American heritage clothes, producing both rugged workwear and Ivy League-style classics. Mr Shinsuke Nakada, 37, started out part-time on the Beams shop floor in 2000, and in less than 15 years worked his way up to the Beams Plus director and Beams chief buyer positions. “The Beams Plus line specialises in American casualwear from the 1940s to the mid-1960s, which [in style terms] was America’s golden era,” he says. “Since I started working for Beams Plus my everyday life has been influenced by American culture. One of the reasons I chose to live in Kamakura is for the surfing, and I also collect American mid-century furniture and home wares.”
Americana by Way of Harajuku
Mr Takizawa in his office, Sendagaya
Take a look at Mr Shinsuke Takizawa’s Instagram feed and it’s easy to see why Neighborhood, which the 47-year-old founded in 1994, is known as one of Tokyo’s coolest streetwear brands. Mr Takizawa’s love of custom vintage motorcycles and cars, rare Paul Newman Rolex Daytonas and subversive Americana seem to run through every stitch of the clothes he designs; the distinctive printed tees, impeccably constructed workwear and premium jeans are as notoriously hard to find outside of Japan as they are long-lasting. Or as he says, “My brand varies from season to season, but my basic aim is to make people’s lives fuller with my clothes. Fashion trends are interesting and reflect the events of the times; I hope that my clothes exist in another category – but not in a negative way.”
Blue Blue Japan
The Indigo Dye-Hard
Mr Tsuji outside the “Okura” store, Daikanyama
Blue Blue Japan is a brand totally rooted in Japanese culture, and its clothes are so comfortable you’ll want to wear them every day. With a focus on traditional construction techniques, natural fibres and the richest indigo hand-dyeing methods, the garments embody wabi-sabi (an appreciation of natural imperfection) and will develop a unique patina the more you wear them. Mr Kenji Tsuji, 38, joined Blue Blue Japan (Seilin & Co) in 2002 and has been designing and managing production since 2006.
Of Blue Blue Japan’s approach, he says, “Our brand is based on indigo and old farm workwear, called noragi. Taking good care of things is essential and I think this stems from the Japanese sense of beauty. For example, traditional Japanese farm workwear items were mended with cloth from the inside, with the hand stitching seen on the outside. If you turned a garment inside out you’d find several different materials. Using something for a long time and looking after it maintains its beauty and this is what we focus on. It’s also important to use colours and materials that relate to Japan’s four seasons.”
Hanging Ten at Shonan
Mr Goto inside the store he founded in 2007, Meguro
Mr Yutaka Goto’s love of surfing pervades everything he designs for Remi Relief, the casualwear brand he founded in 2007. The distinctive worn-in, faded look it has become famous for is specifically inspired by California’s sepia-tinted surf and skater scenes of the 1960s and 1970s; and such is Mr Goto’s meticulous pursuit of that authentic vintage feel that he set up his own factory in Okayama Prefecture – the home of Japanese artisanal manufacturing.