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Say hello to Belgium’s best, aptform, the Land of Tomorrow and Forever 21

by Misha Janette and Paul Mcinnes

Bold Belgium

“Avant garde” doesn’t even begin to describe some of the amazing creations that have come from the Belgian fashion capital of Antwerp over the years. Intelligent designers from the city successfully fuse fantasy with reality, and the “6+ Antwerp” exhibition at Tokyo Opera City Art Gallery till June 28 celebrates such Belgian creators by presenting nearly 60 of their designs.

The title refers to the name The Antwerp Six, which was given to a new wave of Belgian designers who came to prominence in the early 1980s. The Antwerp Six is comprised of Ann Demeulemeester, Dries Van Noten, Dirk Bikkembergs, Walter Van Beirendonck, Dirk Van Saene and Marina Yee. The “+” in the exhibition title refers to Martin Margiela, an honorable inductee into the group due to his invaluable contributions to fashion through experimentations with shapes and materials. As well, other alumni of the Antwerp scene — Bernhard Wilhelm, A.F. Vandervorst, Bruno Pieters and Kris Van Assche — have cemented Belgium’s reputation as being the place that best explores and tears apart preconceived notions of fashion.

The exhibition was originally held in Brussels and is supervised in Tokyo by Yoko Takagi of Bunka Women’s University. Along with select pieces from the designers’ archives, “The Antwerp Six” also features a corner for new graduates of the Royal Academy of Fine Art in Antwerp, whose creations appear to come from a fantastic fashion dimension separate from our own. (Misha Janette)

3-20-2 Nishi-Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku; (03) 5353-0756; www.operacity.jp

New city style

Michail Gkinis’s brand aptform, established in spring 2008, represents everything that is right with modern menswear. A former intern with Issey Miyake, the Tokyo-based Greek designer makes functional and wearable clothing for confident, creative guys who appreciate unique fabrics and technical experimentation. Adhering to the Bauhaus principle of “form follows function,” Gkinis’s conceptual approach to clothes is influenced by industrial, natural and human reference points.

In April, aptform opened a retail Web site that offers a selection of shirts, v-necks and cardigans. Gkinis says that more will soon be added to the online store, including new shorts and trousers in cotton/jersey and cotton/cashmere combinations.

This spring, the label opened a pop-up store for a one-day appearance that was such a success with Tokyo’s style aficionados that there are plans for a summer version (Look out for posts on the brand’s Web site: www.aptform.com ).

In little over a year since its inception, the label has made an instant impression: The amiable Greek has already worked with pigskin leather manufacturers in Sumida Ward, taken part in the Japan Fashion Week designers’ exhibition and the fashion trade show Rooms; as well the brand has already been featured in essential fashion reads — the Senken Shimbun newspaper, Sense magazine and WWD. (Paul McInnes)

Bright and zippy

We live on a fantastically colorful planet, much to the chagrin of many in the often gray maze of Tokyo. Land of Tomorrow, a new concept shop in Aoyama, may be able to chase away those monotone blues.

The three-story shop from the highly successful Tomorrowland retail chain is bold, and even bolder still is the eclectic ladies and men’s fashion by newcomers such as Wendee Ou as well as household names such as Veronique Branquinho. Boasting zippy patterns and decorations, products for sale either evoke the vibrancy of modern art or have a handmade, earthy and ethnic feel. Upon closer inspection, a seemingly nondescript trench coat hanging in the display window is found to be coated in cork; strung throughout the shop and laid about on tables are giant colorful necklaces made of beads and toys, two-tone rubber Mary Jane shoes and other unusual items not found elsewhere.

Even more striking are the colorful tribal masks and giant, charming papier ma^che animals on the men’s floor, and the massive painting of creatures at play and bright hand rails upstairs by artist Lisa Vanho.

(M.J.)

5-3-20-B Minami-Aoyama, Minato-ku; (03) 5766-7462; www.landoftomorrow.jp

Young from the street

One of the most pleasing aspects of the recent Tokyo Collections fashion shows was the quality and invention coming from the new generation of young designers. Banal Chic Bizarre (BCB), a Harajuku street-fashion label fronted by director Shun Nakagawa and designer Ayano Ichige (both in their mid-20s), presented “New Standard,” a collection that highlighted fashion for youngsters made by youngsters.

“It’s based on American casual, military and Ivy League looks,” says Nakagawa, explaining the ethos behind the collection. “But we translate these styles and looks and turn them into something new.”

The duo opened up their first store, ADD, in Harajuku’s Ura-Hara in 2005 when they were both just 22, and in February this year they added another shop in Osaka. The unisex brand, which targets streetwise girls and adventurous, stylish males, stretches the possibilities of street fashion and, at Tokyo Collections, BCB collaborated with the fashion labels Blonde Cigarettes and Mifune on a series of on-trend oversize backpacks and hats and caps.

“I want my customers to be free — not just sticking to traditional ideas of men’s and women’s clothing.” Nakagawa says. (P.M.)

3-20-1-201 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo; (03) 3405-5090; www.banalchicbizarre.com

Harajuku gets even faster

It’s fast and it’s furious, but we’re not talking cars — we’re talking fashion: The battle among wallet-friendly superchains has just gone into overdrive with the induction of Japan’s first Forever 21 store in Harajuku on April 29.

The Los Angeles-based chain has opened a 1,765 sq. meter flagship in Japan following an expansion into Asia with outposts in Malaysia, South Korea and China. The store, which faces the bustling Meiji-dori, houses amazingly cheap daywear, with dresses from ¥2,000, as well as accessories for men and women over five floors. More than 1,500 shopping-crazed patrons lined up along the street for the opening, some even camping overnight.

Forever 21′s Swedish rival H&M is next door, Topshop/Topman is another neighbor, and the GAP, Zara and Uniqlo are all within a stone’s throw. With the concentrated area now a fast-fashion hub, the face of Harajuku has been significantly changed for the foreseeable future. But while Harajuku may have lost some luster as the underground fashion mecca of the world, fast-fashion’s strict adherence to a swift turnover of product designs means that the dizzying pace at which the district churns out trends should stick around.

(M.J.)

1-8-9 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku; (03) 3404-3201; www.forever21.co.jp