Often the perception of Japanese fashion is focused on the outlandish. Just take a look at two of the country’s widely celebrated luminaries: Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons or Yohji Yamamoto and his eponymous label. Geniuses of their own stripes, these revered design figures are undeniably influential. One glance at their creations, and you can immediately tell of their distinct avant-garde roots, which seem somewhat hereditary in the Japanese DNA. Yet, simply defining Japan’s fashion scene with the word “outlandish” undermines its rich topography.
Case in point: Japanese menswear. While it has always championed a certain cult appeal, it wouldn’t be where it is today without the mix of underground polymaths behind it. And these creatives are now having their moment in the limelight: Earlier in January, Jun Takahashi’s Undercover and Takahiro Miyashita’s The Soloist were invited to show as Pitti Uomo’s special guests. While Facetasm and Kozaburo Akasaka were recently among the finalists of the esteemed LVMH Prize, it’s only sooner or later before they go more global than they already have.
Below, get yourself acquainted with the five labels that are giving new, diverse meanings to Japanese menswear.
(Main and featured images: Kozaburo Akasaka)
Who’s behind it: Founder-designer Kozaburo Akasaka is a rare gem. He practices an individualistic design approach, working on piece by piece himself. The Central Saint Martins and Parsons alumnus had his graduate collection snapped up by Dover Street Market, before going on to win LVMH Prize’s Special Prize for his Spring 2018 collection.
Specialty: Fusing tailored finesse and subcultures which Akasaka encountered growing up in ’90s Tokyo. He implements upcycling techniques, applying the Japanese maxim of mottainai — which means “waste nothing” — in his work, i.e. textural trousers are made from strips of scrapped vintage jeans, studded berets are perfectly patina-ed by hand. In Kozaburo’s universe, artistically weaved stories take form as wearable art masterpieces.
Who’s behind it: Tokyo native Hiromichi Ochiai honed his skills at the city’s (and one of the world’s) leading fashion institute, Bunka Fashion College. Debuting his menswear and womenswear line Facetasm in 2007, Ochiai’s label quietly appeared on the international radar before getting selected by Giorgio Armani to show at Milan Men’s Fashion Week in 2011 and eventually becoming an LVMH Prize finalist in 2016.
Specialty: Time and again praised as the perfect distillation of Tokyo style and culture, Facetasm’s cut-and-paste approach to luxe streetwear is refreshing. From meshed compositions of pinstripe suiting and camouflage prints to raw denim and twill trousers, the label splices a myriad of garment genres into a uniquely unexplainable one it calls its own.
Who’s behind it: The brainchild of former J-League football players Keiji Ishizuka and Atsuhiko Mori began as a sartorial by-product of the duo’s music-booze collaboration for their trendy bar, Rock Steady (which is also their showroom now). It grew into a mega cult brand churning out basics with a rockabilly edge.
Specialty: Menswear pieces from your vintage shop wet dreams — Japanese souvenir jackets, camp-collar shirts on acid, leopard blazers — amped up with a devil-may-care ‘tude.
Who’s behind it: Former VJ Tatsuro Horikawa’s early beginnings in the mid-’90s started with techno scene t-shirts. Soon enough, simple tees weren’t enough of a vessel for Horikawa to fully express his vision, hence the birth of Julius in 2001. The Tokyo-based menswear label now shows in Paris.
Specialty: Being darkly poetic, rugged, and gothic all at the same time. Unlike most Japanese labels, Horikawa positions Julius as the antithesis of nostalgia. Instead, he influences his design with personal musical preferences. His latest collections were bubbled out of Berlin’s dynamic club scene.
Who’s behind it: Takahiro Miyashita, one of Japan’s design visionaries, is Americana-obsessed. His first label, Number (N)ine, rose to prominence in the early noughties for its twofold allure — part-cultural narrative and part-avant-garde beauty, the two threads that’ll tug at any menswear fan’s heartstrings. Miyashita left the brand in 2009, and introduced a new project that would more accurately reflect his personal style, dubbing it The Soloist. Consider it the reincarnation of Number (N)ine, but elevated.
Specialty: Since its inception, The Soloist takes cues from musicians and Western Americana. With a penchant for sombre hues, asymmetric proportions, and conceptual themes, Miyashita’s pieces are so aesthetically intimidating they’re almost daring you to pull them off. Think: Close-fitting jackets and trousers styled to dandified perfection, or military-edged outerwear offsetting time-tested wardrobe staples.