FASHION IN JAPAN: HISTORY, JAPANESE DESIGNERS, POOR MARKETING AND BRAND-NAME MANIA

FASHION IN JAPAN

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Japanese model
Ai Tominaga
Japanese fashions are known for being playful and kawaii (“cute”). The Japanese themselves are known are being obsessed with clothes, gadgets and accessories. These days there is a very active street fashion scene in Tokyo, Osaka and other cities. Fashion trends in Japan are closely watched by young people in Hong Kong. South Korea and Thailand and to some extent by young people in Europe and North America.

French designers like Marie Callot Gerber, Madeline Vionnet, Coco Channel and Yves Saint Laurent were all influenced by Japanese traditional clothes and prints.

Tokyo has a lively fashion scene. It hosts fall and spring fashion shows---Japan Fashion Weeks in March and October---like Paris, Milan and New York. In recent years these shows have attracted about 60 or so designers. Japan Fashion Week is supported by both the government and private industry with the aim of popularizing Japanese fashion around the world. The Autumn/Winter Japan Fashion Week, held in mid-March, displays autumn and winter clothes for upcoming year The event is centered around the neighborhood of Nihonbashi in Tokyo with shuttle bus service between the tents. One of the main goals of the event is to spread the word of Japanese fashions to the rest of the world. In the 2008 show, 45 brands displayed their clothes, and 201 journalists and buyers from 20 nations showed up.

Bunka Fashion College is Japan’s most important fashion and design center. Headquartered in a 21-story glass-and-concrete building in one of Tokyo’s most fashionable areas, it has 70 branches and ties with Central Saint Martin in London and Parson’s Design School n New York. It publishes popular fashion magazines and organizes Japan’s biggest fashion competitions. Students work hard under a series exacting deadlines and never have trouble finding work. Among its alumni are Yohji Yamamoto, Hiroko Koshino, Tokio Kumagai, Hiroaki Ohya, Keoth Maruyama and Limi Yamamoto. Good Websites and Sources: Good Websites and Sources: fashioninjapan.com ; Japanese Fashion Week in Tokyo jfw.jp/en/index ; Style Arena Blog style-arena.jp/en ; Fashion Trends web-japan.org/trends/fashion ; Issey Miyake isseymiyake.co ; Yohji Yamamoto yohjiyamamoto.co Upscale Shopping Areas of Tokyo: Omotesando Omotesando site omotesandohills.com ; Omotesando Map paperlantern.net ; Ginza Wikipedia Wikipedia ; Wikitravel Wikitravel ; Ginza Concierge ginza.jp ; Tokyo Essentials tokyoessentials.com ; Japan Guide www.japan-guide.com Ginza Map: Japan National Tourism Organization JNTO ; Among the well-known names found in Ginza are Christian Dior, Hermes, Cartier, Emilio Pucco, Coach, Dunhill, Tiffany’s and Gucci.

Links in this Website: JAPANESE CLOTHES Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; JAPANESE SILK Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; KIMONOS AND JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ;KAWAII, GOSU-RORI, AND STREET FASHION IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; HELLO KITTY, JAPANESE FADS AND JAPAN COOL Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; JAPANESE GIRLS AND YOUNG WOMEN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; JAPANESE TEENAGERS AND YOUNG ADULTS Factsanddetails.com/Japan

History of Fashion in Japan

After the beginning of the Meiji period (1868--1912), Western-style uniforms were adopted for persons serving in the military services, for policemen, and for postal carriers. This provided a particularly strong impetus to the great changes that occurred over time in Japanese dress. However, in the early Meiji period the kimono predominated. For formal occasions men typically wore haori (traditional waistcoats), hakama, and Western-style hats, while some women, otherwise dressed in Japanese style, took to wearing Western-type boots. This mixed Japanese-Western style of boots with kimono may still be seen today among young women attending university graduation ceremonies. By the beginning of the Showa period (1926--1989), men’s clothing had become largely Western, and the business suit was standard apparel for company employees. Western clothing was also often worn by working women and many women also began to wear Western clothing even in the home. [Source: Web-Japan, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan]

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fashion designer
Rie Kawakubo
The 1940s: With the end of the Second World War, women discarded the loose-fitting pantaloons called monpe that had been required wear for war-related work and began wearing skirts. At that time most of the fashions that entered Japan were from the United States. From the late 1940s and into the 1950s, women were fond of the so-called “American style” with narrow-waisted long skirts flaring out at the bottom and wide belts. To a certain extent, Paris fashions were also introduced by way of the United States. In 1947, Christian Dior made his debut with his Paris Collection, and a considerable amount of information about Dior’s new look made its way to Japan, via the United States, the next year. Japanese women were caught up in a flurry of interest in this “new look” that was becoming popular around the world. [Source: Web-Japan, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan]

“The 1950s: In an era when overseas travel was still out of the question for most people, movies were a major source of information on overseas fashion. Many foreign films were shown in Japan, giving the Japanese people opportunities to see European and American fashions and daily life. Numerous fads were born as a result. When the English film The Red Shoes was screened in 1950, red shoes immediately became popular among young people. When the film Sabrina, starring Audrey Hepburn, was screened in 1954, young women became fond of toreador pants and “Sabrina shoes.” After the screening in 1956 of Taiyo no kisetsu (known in English as Season of Violence), based on Ishihara Shintaro’s Akutagawa Prize-winning novel of the same name in 1956, many Japanese imitated the fashions of the characters in the film that became known as “the sun tribe” (taiyo-zoku). In summer men took to wearing T-shirts, aloha shirts and sunglasses, while women were seen on the streets in colorfully patterned short pants. [Ibid]

“The 1960s In this period young people became the uncontested arbiters of fashion. It was a time of transition from up-market haute couture to lower-cost ready-to-wear fashion items referred to in Japanese by the term puretaporute (from the French prêt-à-porter), and from the formal to the casual. The miniskirts exhibited in the Paris Collection in the spring of 1965 were immediately introduced to Japan. The mass media objected that miniskirts were not suited to Japanese women’s physiques, but after the visit to Japan in 1967 of the English model Twiggy, who was known as the “miniskirt queen,” these items became very popular. Miniskirts were adopted first by younger women and then by older women as well, and they remained a well-established fashion item widely worn until around 1974. In the case of men’s fashion, some big changes came after the mid-1960s. In particular, there was the appearance of the “Ivy style,” which paid homage to the supposed fashions of students in America’s elite “Ivy League” private universities. This style took up the traditional fashions of America’s elite class, and though it went through several minicycles of popularity and decline, it spread from young company employees to the middle-aged. In contrast to the fashions popular among young people, the suits worn by company employees tended to be conservative dark tones of grey, with the result that Japanese company employees came to be referred to sardonically as dobunezumi-zoku (the gutterrat tribe). [Ibid]

Fashion in Japan in the 1970 and 80s

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Issey Miyake's Clothes
Around the middle of the 1970s, fashions which developed in the port cities of Kobe and Yokohama came to be referred to by the terms nyutora (new traditional) and hamatora (Yokohama traditional). These were basically the female equivalent of the traditional American Ivy League fashion for men. Catchwords used to identify the nyutora style originating in Kobe were onna-rashisa (appearing feminine) and otonappoku mieru (looking adult). Typical of the nyutora style was a plain shirt-blouse worn with a semi-long skirt covering the knees. By contrast, the hamatora style originating in Yokohama was characterized by kodomopposa (childlike quality), and sweatshirts bearing insignia of designers or sales outlets often had fold-down collars similar to those of polo shirts. In the latter half of the 1970s, “surfer fashion” became popular among teenagers. [Source: Web-Japan, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan]

“In the 1980s, when Japan rushed into the socalled bubble economy, there began a boom of what was known as DC burando, meaning “designer and character brands,” i.e., brands of clothing with insignia or other design concepts which clearly identified specific fashion designers. Japanese designers like Takada Kenzo, Miyake Issey and Yamamoto Kansai continued to take an active role in the international fashion world and won high praise for their work. A sort of cultlike popularity was won by the fashions of Yamamoto Yoji, of the design group Y’s; and by the dark-colored and idiosyncratic styles of Kawakubo Rei, of the design group Comme des Garçons, which gained attention by being exhibited in the Paris Collection. Attention was also drawn to the fashions of Kikuchi Takeo and Inaba Yoshie, of the design group Bigi, and Matsuda Mitsuhiro, of the group Nicole. [Ibid]

“In the latter half of the 1980s, women’s fashions branched out in two directions, one known as the bodikon (body-conscious) style, emphasizing the natural lines of the body, and the other known as shibukaji (Shibuya casual), originating among high school and university students who frequented the boutiques of Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward shopping streets. Around this time the “body-conscious” clothing worn by increasing numbers of women seen dancing in Japan’s discos became a frequent topic of conversation. The basic concept behind the popular shibukaji style was simplicity and durability. Even among the company employees previously known as “gutter rats,” younger people increasingly began to wear fashionable brand-name apparel. Today, the concepts of “plain” and “sober” are still characteristic of the basic uniform of Japan’s salaryman. On the other hand, there have been some changes in ideas about the sorts of clothing that are appropriate for business society. For example, many companies allow their employees to come to work dressed in casual clothings, prior to weekends. [Ibid]

Fashion in Japan in the 1990s and 2000s

Following the collapse of the “bubble economy,” fashion, like so many other things in the 1990s, may be said to be in a period of confusion with no clear outlook for the future. Some commentators have detected, in the latter half of the decade, elements of orientalism or romanticism. But fundamentally the late 1990s may be called an era of the coexistance of many kinds of styles without any single predominating trend. Perhaps most noticeable in the 1990s has been the phenomenon whereby fashionconscious high school and even junior high school girls have taken the lead in setting fashion trends. A common sight on the streets are groups of young girls with, for example, long dyed-brown hair; darkly tanned skin; miniskirts or short pants that flare out at the bottom; and loose, baggy socks that are deliberately allowed to lap over the tops of their shoes. [Source: Web-Japan, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan]

“In the first decade of the 21st century, the deflation which started when the bubble of financial speculation burst in 1990 and the ensuing long economic slump in Japan spread to the world of fashion, as well. There have always been mass-produced, low-priced products available, but the new trend is for products that incorporate the very latest styles with high quality. Known as “fast fashion,” well-known Japanese manufacturers are also expanding overseas. Overseas manufacturers who created the concept of “fast fashion” also broke into the Japanese market, opening shops in large commercial facilities. At the same time, luxury foreign brands targeting the wealthier classes continue to expand into Japan with shops opening in and around Ginza in Tokyo in a phenomenon which is the opposite of "fast fashion." In addition, the “Tokyo Girls Collection,” a Fashion show targeting girls and young women in their teens and 20s, started in 2005 and has been growing in popularity each year. They are constantly trying new approaches.

Inability of Japanese Fashion to Make Money and Have International Success

Despite Japan’s strong interest in fashion, textile exports only account for 2 percent of the value of its exports, compared to 149 percent in Italy and 50 percent in France, Germany and South Korea. In 2008, Japan’s clothing and apparel-related exports came to a mere $416 million, dwarfed by the $3.68 billion exported by American apparel companies, and a tiny fraction of China’s $113 billion. The ratio of apparel imports to exports in Japan was around 60 to 1.

Meanwhile, Japan’s domestic apparel industry is on the decline. It shrank 1.3 percent to 4.37 trillion yen ($48 billion) in 2008 and is expected to post steeper declines in the future as recession-weary young consumers and an aging population cut back sharply on spending.

Japanese fashion still has not made much of splash abroad.. Hiroko Tabuchi wrote in the New York Times, “Japan Fashion Week remains a relative nonevent filled with relatively obscure designers like Motonari Ono and Kazuhiro Takakura. Ambitious young designers hoping to follow in the footsteps of Japanese greats like Issey Miyake, Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo may have to do what they did: pass over Tokyo’s shows for those in Paris.” [Source: Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times, January 1, 2010]

“What Japan’s fashion industry needs is more concrete help in marketing and setting up shop overseas, experts say. The government could also play a larger role helping Japanese labels protect their intellectual property rights, they say.” “Japanese fashion might be considered cutting-edge, but overseas markets have been largely elusive,” said Atsushi Izu, an analyst at the Nomura Research Institute in Tokyo. “Japan’s fashion industry is very fragmented, and most companies lack the resources and know-how to bring their brands to foreign markets.” [Ibid]

Promising Signs for Japanese Fashion?

Hiroko Tabuchi wrote in the New York Times, “There are some promising signs. With government support, the start-up Xavel, which runs fashion shows that let women order outfits in real time using their cellphones, has opened shows in Paris and Beijing.” [Source: Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times, January 1, 2010]

“Fast Retailing, which sells the Uniqlo brand, has also been flexing its muscles overseas. Uniqlo, Japan’s answer to Gap, has roots in suburban outlets and does not have the level of respect among young fashion fans that many of Japan’s hipper brands do. But with ample funds and aggressive pricing on its fleece jackets and shirts, Uniqlo has expanded, with 92 stores worldwide.”

Tadashi Yanai, chief executive of Fast Retailing, has said he hopes to build it into the world’s biggest apparel company, with sales of 5 trillion yen in 2020. “We are part of a global economy,” Mr. Yanai said at a recent forum. “We cannot look inward.”

Tokyo Fashion Week Shifts to Shibuya in 2012

Tomonori Takenouchi wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun: “From 2012, the main venue of Tokyo fashion week, which was held October 13-20, shifted from Roppongi to Shibuya in Tokyo. The change was part of the organizers' strategy to boost recognition of the event as well as to provide a bigger stage to show Japan's fashion to the world. [Source: Tomonori Takenouchi, Yomiuri Shimbun, October 26, 2012]

At the big intersection known as a "scramble crossing," in front of the iconic bronze statue of Hachiko at Shibuya Station, four gigantic monitors mounted on tall buildings simultaneously displayed commercials for Tokyo fashion week accompanied by music. The main venue where many of the fashion shows was held was Hikarie, a retail and cultural complex that opened in April. The 34-story glass-walled building with four basement levels houses boutiques and food shops as well as galleries and an auditorium. [Ibid]

"To get more people interested in the fashion show, we chose Hikarie as a venue because the building currently is the most popular spot in an area well-known for fashion," said Kenji Yamazaki, JFW Organization senior director. The goal of the organizer was to turn the event from a mere business function to a fashion event for the public, hence JFW Organization singled out Shibuya, a fashion hub bursting with department stores and retail shops. About 40 percent of the design studios in Tokyo are centered in Shibuya Ward. [Ibid]

Tokyo fashion collections are crucial in setting trends for the following season. Those invited to runway shows are usually retail buyers and media, not the general public. In other fashion capitals, such as New York and Paris, various events targeting general consumers have been organized during their fashion weeks, allowing a wider range of people to enjoy the once-exclusive extravaganzas. [Ibid]

The Shibuya Ward government regards fashion as its indigenous industry and expects a knock-on effect from the event. During the recent event, about 300 boutiques in the area extended their opening hours, launched discount sales and held free fashion shows for their customers. The ward government supported financially struggling young designers by investing start-up capital or renting them studios at a discount. "We'd like to come up with ways to support the Tokyo collections that would eventually revitalize the area as a whole," the ward's commercial and tourism section official said. [Ibid]

Japanese Fashion Designers

The works created by Japanese designers are often described with adjectives like poetic, complex, purist and intellectual. The Japanese designer Noguchi designed the costumes for a 1944 abstract ballet choreographed by Martha Graham and composed by Aaron Copeland.

Japanese designers emerged in the 1970s. Famous ones include Issey Miyake, Jun Ashida, Rei Kawakubo, Kenzo Takada, Hanae Mori and Yohji Yamamoto.

At Comme des Garcons, Issey Miyake, Rei Kawakubo, and Yohji Yamamoto made wearing layered, oddly shaped clothing fashionable in both Japan and the West. Kenzo Takada's clothes were known for their bold colors and inspiration from world culture.

Issey Miyake

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Issey Miyake is Japan's and Asia's most famous fashion designer. Known for his flamboyance and precision, he has produced clothes that are wild but focused and have attracted admirers around the world. His fashion shows feature explosions and performance art but manage to maintain and sense of elegance and refinement so they come across like the opening of a fabulous new art gallery rather than a throbbing discotheque.

Julie Dam wrote in Time, "In his three decades of design, Mikaye has worked at the intersection of art and fashion, nature and technology, innovation and tradition, and notably, East and West." Fellow fashion designer Kenzo Takada said, "Issey changed the concept of clothing. He has a Japanese side to him, but it's very modern, very simple, more futuristic."

Issei Miyake spells his name Issey on his fashions. Born in Hiroshima in 1938, he is survivor of the nuclear blast. He was riding is bicycle to school at the time of the explosion but escaped serious injury. His mother was badly burned, because no medicines were available, raw eggs were placed on her wounds. She died four years later. Miyake developed a bone marrow disease as a child that was unrelated to the bombing.

Miyake told the New York Times in 2009, when the atomic bomb was dropped, “I was there, and only 7 years old. When I close my eyes, I still see things no one should ever experience: a bright red light, the black cloud soon after, people running in every direction trying desperately to escape---I remember it all. Within three years, my mother died of radiation sickness.”

“I gravitated toward the field of clothing and design, partly because it is a creative format that is modern and optimistic...I tried not be defined by my past. I did not want to be labeled as the designer who survived the atomic bomb.” He said he always deflected questions about the bomb because “they made me uncomfortable.”

Issey Miyake’s Fashion Career

Miyake developed an interest in fashion through looking at his sister's women's magazines. He graduated from the Tama Art University in Tokyo in 1965 and moved to Paris in the late 1960s, studying there at the Syndicate de la Couture school and working for the French couturiers Guy Laroche and Hubert de Givenchy.

Miyake didn't like the rigidity of haute couture and moved to New York to work with Geoffrey Beene. He showed his first collection in New York in 1971 and did his first Paris show in 1973. In Tokyo, he opened the Mikaye Design Studio to create new fabrics and clothes.

In 1978, Miyake published a summary of his work, East Meets West. In the late 1990s, he turned over his designer collection to longtime assistant Naoki Takizawa and has let younger designers take over his brand. Miyake is currently creating a museum of Japanese fashion at the new Tokyo Midtown complex in Minato Ward in Tokyo. The museum is designed by the architect Tadao Ando and has a roof made of one huge metal piece inspired by Miyake’s concept of using one piece of cloth.

Issey Miyake's Clothes

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Mikaye's early designs were strongly influenced by traditional Japanese clothes. In 1976 he broke away from the Eastern style with his famous "Twelve Black Girls" show in Tokyo and followed this up with tatoo-printed body suits and avant garde designs.

Mikaye became in famous for his unwearable, work-of-art clothes but was also praised for his very wearable fashions such as those featured in his 1993 Pleats Please collection. Commented on clothes at this show, fashion critic Laurence Benjamin wrote: "They spread out; one moves, rolls the cloth...runs his hand over Pleats, as if he were stroking someone's hair. It's almost as if the room changes size to allow them space to move around."

Mikaye has made clothes from molded silicon, nylon monofilmants as well as aburagami traditional, oil-soaked hand-made Japanese paper used to make umbrellas) and sashiko (a traditional Japanese method of quilting).

Miyake developed the A-POC (short for A Piece of Cloth) collection in which everything was made from a single piece of cloth. The concept behind the designs was to manipulate a single piece of cloth and do as much as possible with it in terms of maximizing the effect when worn on the body, with a minimum amount of cutting and sewing. As Miyake has shown this idea can be more complicated than it sounds.

Mikaye told Time, "All I can do is to keep experimenting, keep developing my thoughts further. Certain people think that the definition of design is the beauty of the useful, but in my own work I want to integrate feelings, emotion. You have to put life into it."

Yohji Yamamoto

null Yohji Yamamoto is Japan’s second most well-known designer. He was born in Tokyo. His mother was a seamstress. His father died in World War II when he was small, and Yohji was raised by his mother, who had to work her fingers to the bone to support him.

Yamamoto obtained a law degree from prestigious Keio University. After graduating from university, he was unsure what he wanted to do with his life. So he decided to help his mother, who was running a shop selling Western-style clothes in Tokyo. During this time, he thought he would like to make clothes for independent working women. His 95-year-old mother still accompanies him during Paris Fashion Week to see her son's latest creations. [Source: Yoko Tanimoto, Yomiuri Shimbun, August 24, 2011]

Yamamoto's was given the nickname "rebel designer” after a sensational debut in 1981 at Paris Fashion Week, where his designs stood out from Western offerings and made a big splash in the European and U.S. fashion worlds. . Yamamoto rocked the fashion world by having his models wear oversized black clothes, some partly frayed. Up to then, the dominant fashion was a gorgeous lineup of clothes that emphasized the shape of a woman's body. His "rebellion" against Western designs became a constant source of discussion.

Yamamoto has worked in Paris for 20 years. His designs are often inspired more by classic French designs than Japanese clothes. He is particularly fixated with women’s backs and likes black and white. His clothes are known for their complexity, abstractness and shabby elegance not their sexuality. In many cases they are expensive and require a lot of work to make. Some call him the master of black and praise his avant-garde creations, which have had a major impact on the world of fashion.

Sales at Yamamoto's company peaked in 1999 and then began to decline. In 2009 during the global economic crisis Yamamoto was forced to declare bankruptcy. The designer’s company was hurt by sluggish sales in the luxury market, competition from cheap “fast fashion” brands, and large investment in opening new shops in Pais, New York and other cities. At the press conference where he announced the bankruptcy, Yamamoto said, “I’ve taken a stance of leaving corporate management to the president while asking the president and others to keep their noses out of design matters. I feel responsible for entrusting too much. Only self-serving information has been conveyed to me, and I’ve acted in an “emperor new clothes” way.”

Retrospective exhibitions about him and his fashion are frequently held at museums around the world. In early 2011, the French government announced it would award Yamamoto the Commandeur dans l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters). When asked how he felt after being informed he would receive France's highest cultural decoration, Yamamoto said,"It was like I was being advised to retire....'m not the type of person who normally receives a decoration, but the award will be good for my mother," Yamamoto said showing how much he appreciates her.” The decoration was awarded to him after he showed his new Paris collection in October.

New Japanese Designers

Among the Japanese fashion designers who have their own shows in Paris are regulars such as Issey Miyake and Yohji Yamamoto and relative new comers like Comuu, Iwaya for Dress 3, Lemi Feu, designed by Rimi Yamamoto, Atsuro Taymama, and Junya Watanabe, a Rei Kawakubo protégé. Japanese designer Izumi Ogino is the creative fire the Milan-based fashion brand Aterrima.

Other top Japanese fashion designers and labels include Ylang Ylang and G.V.G.V., led by designer Ryunosuke Aoyagi; Taishi Nobukuni; Theatre Products, led by designers Akira Takeuchi and Tayuka Nakanishi; Mintdesigns with designers Hokuto Katsui and Nao Yagi; Matuho with designers Hiroyuki Horihata and Makiko Sekiguchi; Iroquois, led by designer Makoto Yoshida; and Osaka-born Korean designer Han Ahn Soon.

Also worth noting are Shinichiro Arakawa, Hiroaki Ohya, Hidenobu Yasui, Boutique Nicole, Motanari Ono, Miko Sakabe, Ahuro Sagimori and the new labels Dress Camp and Yab-Yum.

Thirty-eight designers displayed clothes in 2007 Fall-Winter Tokyo Fashion Week were Akira Takeuchi and Tayuka Nakanishi’s Theater Products, Toshikazu Iwaya’s Dress Camp, Ylang Ylang, Tame Hirokawa’s Somarta, Takehiro Nagasawa and Shintaro Fujikawa’s Mon tsuki, Milan-based Yoshito Ogawa, Jun Ashida, Jun Koshino and her sister Hiroko Koshino, Matohu, and G.V.G.V.

Among the designers that drew attention at Japan Fashion Week in October 2009 were Dress 33, G.V.G.V.,Garconshinois, Hidenobu Yasui, Jun Ashida, Yukiko Hanai, DressCampMiss Ashida, Motomari Ono, and Hisui.

Designers that stood out with cool confident look at the April 2010 Tokyo Fashion Week were Yuma Koshino, Hideaki Sakaguchi of The Dress & Co. , Aguri Sagimori, Miss Ashida. Hall Ohara of In-Process, Motonari Ono, Aguri Sagimori, Eri Matsui, DressCamp, Yuki Torii International, G.V.G.V. and Yukiko Hanai,

Eyeglasses for Sarah Palin and Robert DeNiro

Masunaga Optical Mfg Co, a Fukui-based spectacle frame maker founded in 1905, got some media attention in 2008 when it was revealed that U.S. Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin wore glasses with frames made by the company. Among the others who wear Masunaga frames are Tiger Woods, Robert DeNiro and Janet Jackson. Company President Satoru Masunaga told the Yomiuri Shimbun that the celebrities bought their frames “after seeing them in stores and taking a shine to their designs and high quality.”

Masunaga Optical frames typically cost around $300. The business has 171 employees and had around $180 million in sales in 2008. It is working hard to establish markets overseas.

Japanese Street Fashion Designers

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Harajuku girls
One of the hottest cloth lines in the early 2000s was 20471120, which represented the date November 20, 2047 when designers for the company believe "something wonderful is going to happen." Their designers in 2002 were Masahiro Nakagawa and LICA.

Popular Street fashion brands: Fraobois, Under Cover (with designer Jun Takahashi), Bathing Ape (skateboard ware), Number Nine (known for sweatshirts with Mickey Mouse holding a microphone), Hiroshi Fujiwara (a D.J. turned fashion designer),

Also worth noting are NaiyMA, Mihara Yashiro, Lad Musician (designer Yuichi Kuroda), Chiyuki (named after fashion guru Chiyuki (Chiyuki Suimoto), Toga (designer Yasuko Furuta), Homma (designer Yu Homma). O.Z.O.C. was a hot designer in the late 1990s.

Brand-name-mania in Japan

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Luis Vuitton in Roppongi, Tokyo
Chanel, Ferrgamo, Prada, Versace, Burberry, Gucci, Hermes, Luis Vuitton have made billions from selling stuff to Japanese tourists in Europe and the United States and from shops and department stores in Japan. Japanese account for 40 to 50 percent of the worldwide sales of $55 billion luxury good market, which includes watches, handbags, shoes and other items as well as clothes. Even Japanese teenagers think nothing of forking out more than a thousand dollars for a designer label handbag. Carrying around a shopping bag for a famous designer brand is in itself regarded as a sign of status.

The luxury goods market in Japan is estimated to be worth around $20 billion. Worldwide Japanese shoppers account for about half of the global luxury goods market. One survey found that 40 percent of Japanese consumers owned a product by Louis Vuitton, whose parent company LVMH earns 10 percent of its revenues from Japan.

There are twice as many Prada, Hermes and Burberry stores in Japan as there are in United States even though Japan has half the population of the United States.

Japanese consumers were responsible for bringing back the Burberry raincoat and the Louis Vuitton suitcase and have kept buying the stuff even when economic times were bad. Between 1994 and 2001, while Japan was mired in a recession and Japan's GDP dropped 20 percent, the sale of Louis Vuitton products increased from $36 million to $863 million. In 2001, when unemployment and bankruptcies reached an all time, people formed lines out new Hermes, Armani and Prada shops that had difficulty keeping up with demand.

The popularity of foreign designers has caused some Japanese designers to lose lots of business and even go bankrupt.

By the early 2000s, the luxury good market was declining as consumers turned from Hermes, Prada and Rolex. By then they were seen as a cliche and something people owned to give the impression they were wealthy. In 2003, sales dropped by a third from a peak of $10.8 billion in 1996.

New Brand Name Shops in Japan

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Armani building in
Shibuya, Tokyo
In December 2000, Burberry opened it first major store outside London in Tokyo Ginza’s district. In 2003, Prada and Ferragamo opened stores in Ginza. The Hermes store in Ginza was designed by Renzo Piano, the architect know best for designing the Pompidou Centre in Paris. The fashionable Omotesando district has become dominated by foreign designer label stores. Gucci and Chanel have stores here.

Louis Vuitton opened its first store in Japan in 1978. Sales in Japan topped $1.4 billion in 2003, accounting for one third of the company’s sales. Even though prices at the Louis Vuitton store in Ginza are 50 percent higher than those in Paris customers still come in droves. As of 2003, there were 47 Louis Vuitton branches nationwide.

Armani has poured a lot of money into Japan. The flagship store in Ginza is one of the most expensive ever with Armani personally designing a special line of bags and clothes for it. Japanese formed a line around the block to buy handbags at the flagship store when it opened.

Abercrombie & Fitch is the latest popular brand in Japan. Long lines formed when it opened a flagship store in Ginza in 2009.

See Tokyo

Before European designers opened shops in Japan, some Japanese made a living by flying to foreign countries and buying up brand name goods and bringing the stuff back in their suitcases, hoping that customs wouldn’t take peak and charge them duty, and selling the stuff in Japan.

Roko Shira in Ginza and Komeyo in Nagoya are shops that specializes in selling second-hand designer bags. The offerings include a used Chanel bag for $1,759, a used Luis Vuitton bag for $1,366 and a used Hermes bag for $5,919. The bags are often in mint condition with the most expensive ones stored behind glass and handled by sales staff with white gloves.

Japanese Schoolgirls and Designer Goods

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How so many Japanese school girls get their hands on enough money to buy Louis Vuitton bags, Chanel perfume and Prada handbags is still kind of mystery. One girl told the Los Angeles Times, "Girls in my school tend to be split up into the girls who have things and the girls who don't. If you have brand-name things, you're important."

Some schoolgirls reportedly prostitute themselves or rent themselves out to salarymen through phone dating clubs to earn enough cash to buy designer stuff.

Schoolgirls and Sex

The Japanese schoolgirl look is becoming increasingly popular abroad. In places like Barcelona you can find high school girls dressed in nanchayye sifuku (pseudo school uniforms) with Japanese-style accessories, wearing the uniforms in ways popularized in Japan. One Chinese girl told the Yomiuri Shimbun that Japanese school uniforms are like “something from a fantasy” and “symbolize freedom.”

Japanese Fashionistas

Japanese fashionistas are often teenagers or people in the 20s who live at home and spend a considerable portion of the money they get from allowances and part time jobs on fashions. They often spend $500 to $1,000 a month on clothing and acessories.

Most fashionistas are girls. The main base for them in the early 2000s was 109, a ten-story building filled with small shops with the latest in trendy clothes. Boys generally are not welcome. Many of the clothes are designed by D.J.s and musicians and have tie ins with local punk and alternative rock groups. There is an entire floor for girls between 12 and 15.

The Egoist is another store popular with teenage girls. It popularized trends like the “Rodeo Girl” and “sexy and Boyish.” There even the salesgirls have became fashion icons with their own followings.

In recent years, the fashion market for female betweenies (girls aged 9 to 14) has soared as young girls became more fashion conscious and their parents, grandparents and other relatives have become more willing to indulge them. One clothesmaker told Reuters, “Mothers now take pride in having cooly dressed daughters, their little princesses.” This is far cry from the old days when children wore hand-me-downs and the equivalent of Sears fashions,

In the Los Angeles area you can find girls that were school girl uniforms and loose socks, Gwen Stephanie use “Harajuku girls”---three Japanese girls in Tokyo street fashions---in her stage show and the video for hit I Ain’t No Hollaback Girl.

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Japanese fashion magazines

Decline of Luxury Brands in Japan

In recent year there has been a trend away from luxury goods. Customers carrying bags of cheap stores such as Uniqlo are now a more common sight than ones with bags for luxury retailers. When Sweden’s discount fashion retailer H&M opened a shop in Tokyo 5,000 people waited in line. In Ginza, a Gap moved into a space vacated by Louis Vuitton and Los-Angeles-based Forever 21 now occupies a spaced sued by Gucci. Sales of luxury goods in Japan fell two percent in 2007 and seven percent in 2008.

Brian Salsberg of McKinsey & Co. said there are several reasons fore this: 1) shoppers are mixing and matching lower end goods with higher end ones: 2) high end products face competition from things like travel and dinners at expensive restaurants; and 3) people with money these days are as attracted by fancy high-tech products as they are by well-made ones.

One 20-year-old girl at the 109 mall in Shibuya told Atlantic Monthly, “I’ve never bought anything from a luxury brand...If I bought something from one of those brands I’d probably spend a fortune on it and a year later it would be out of fashion anyway.”

The decline is partly the result of economic hard times and fashion weariness. A representative for Chanel told the Atlantic Monthly, “Japanese were like a sponge. We absorbed everything and got wrung out. We’re not going to absorb the same as we used to...Today its not about how much money you have. It’s about expressing your own personal style.”

Image Sources: Japan Zone except designer buildings (Ray Kinnane), schoolgirl (Goods from Japan), fashion magazines and Harajuku girls (exorsyst blog)

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

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© 2009 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated January 2013

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