Navigating the fashion industry landscape in Japan isn’t particularly easy. It’s a country which takes fashion extremely seriously with a spectrum of street zoku (tribes) and geographical areas which take pride in having their own distinctive look, concept or visual identity. Stroll around Koenji, Aoyama, Harajuku, Shimokitazawa and Tomigaya and you’ll find more variety than pretty much any other city in the world. Colorful, experimental and exciting, fashion in Japan continues to grow and inspire. Here we look at some of our favorite brands which are either based in Japan or have a Japanese aesthetic identity.
With an anonymous global creative team and creative direction from cerebral Japanese design office Kleinstein, Biéde styles itself as “a label of genderless uniform which creates all products from dialogues between people across borders and different generations.” The brand also strives to embrace a subtle and beautiful harmony balancing craftsmanship and the latest technology. Artisanal handbags are Biéde’s speciality with inspiration coming from novels, disparate texts and an international set of creative collaborators including upcoming Chinese lensman Quentin Shih.
Not strictly a Japanese brand, Novesta originally hails from Slovakia and is ostensibly a heritage sneaker brand. Since 2017, however, the much sought-after label has been under the creative direction and design concept of Kleinstein (also heads of Biéde). Novesta’s very stylish sneakers are available from some of the world’s top boutiques and select stores including Dover Street Market, Beams and The Library. Notorious rock frontman Liam Gallagher is a fan and the brand also recently teamed up with Japanese fashion giant Comme des Garçons on the super desirable CDG Star Master sneaker which will undoubtedly sell out very quickly.
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Designed and owned by former Comme des Garçons protège Chitose Abe, Sacai has been a major force in Japanese fashion for a few decades. It was, however, the label’s collaboration with American footwear giants Nike that put it firmly on the style map. Collaborations are important to Abe and Sacai regularly teams up with other brands including A.P.C., Dior, Tomo Koizumi and Cartier. Showing at the Paris collections, Sacai can count a huge celeb fan base such as Pharrell Williams, Gwyneth Paltrow and Michelle Obama.
Noir Kei Ninomiya
TW’s March 2022 feature was the story of Kei Ninomiya who designs his label Noir Kei Ninomoiya under the Comme des Garçons umbrella group. Ninomiya, who’s fond of using black, is an Oita Prefecture-native who has exploded onto the global fashion scene in recent years due to his striking and experimental designs. He’s a designer known for thinking outside the creative box. Brilliant, humble and quiet, his oeuvre is a reflection of the inner workings of his artistic mind.
Junya Watanabe Comme des Garçons
Another design genius from the Comme des Garçons stable is Fukushima-native Junya Watanabe. He presents regularly in Paris alongside the other CDG brands and is known for his use of advanced and technological textiles and collaborations with New Balance, Carhartt and Supreme. A master of both menswear and womenswear, Watanabe is at the top of his design game and keeps pushing his aesthetic principles and vision for what fashion can achieve.
Y. & Sons
With a store in the capital and a recent addition in Kyoto, this understated but superb fashion brand is renowned for creating kimono and other traditional Japanese garments for the 21st century. Blending modern textiles with elegant design, Y. & Sons is leading the way in the manner in which the global consumer perceives Japanese design. With a presence, and dedicated fan base, at menswear showcase Pitti Uomo in Italy, Y. & Sons is spearheading its way into the future by redesigning and rethinking the past.
Other Noteworthy Mentions
One of the most acclaimed emerging Japanese menswear brands, Daiwa was originally a fishing brand which has recently transformed into one of the hottest outdoor labels in the fashion industry.
Designed by Keijiro Komori, Comoli is the favorite of many a fashion insider. Extremely hard to get your hands on, this brand’s collections fly off the shelves and have become veritable collectors’ items. Very cool and expensive but with top-of-the-range materials, Comoli is a real style gem.
Under the helm of Japanese streetwear legend Nigo (of BAPE fame), Kenzo is being heralded as a major player in the luxury fashion market. Anything Nigo touches seems to turn to gold so keep your eyes out for the meteoric rise of Kenzo.