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Fashion rethinks, rebrands and reasserts itself in the recession

by Misha Janette

Uniqlo gets an A+ for +J

There may be a recession, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t afford style, thanks to the new maestro of cool, Mr. Tadashi Yanai.

Wait, who?

Yanai, or Mr. Uniqlo, is the president of the ubiquitous clothing chain, which only a few years ago was more synonymous with fleece than fashion. But by hiring famed German designer Jil Sander as creative director earlier this year, he has now succeeded in finding the middle ground between discerning bargain hunters and fashion fanatics.

The first job for Sander was to design a collection called +J, which premiered worldwide on Oct. 2 at Uniqlo’s large-format stores and online stores.

A highly anticipated line, +J gives us a glimpse of what happens when a high-end designer with a penchant for tailoring and quality textiles successfully meets with true mass production. The gods of good sense must have been smiling, as the pieces are very similar to the minimalist, chic and functional clothing Sander rose through the ranks with. +J consists of 40 items for men and 100 items for women, with the highest priced pieces, such a plush down jacket for men and tailored tuxedo jacket for women, each at only ¥14,900.

At the same time, Uniqlo has put even more weight behind its foray into higher fashion, by expanding the Ginza flagship retail space by 1.5 times its size and opening its first flagship in the heart of Paris at the beginning of this month.

Uniqlo with Yanai, now unsurprisingly the richest man in Japan, has become a bank of style that is spreading the wealth.

For information see www.uniqlo.com/plusj/jp or call 0120-090-296.

Japanese kicks with a French twist

Ladies shoe brand Tsuru has got a high-heeled leg up in the industry since a dynamic duo of designers, Japan-native Mariko Oikawa and French designer Alessandra Stella, took the reins last year.

Stella was a stylist and fashion designer in Paris when she met Oikawa and was invited to try her hand at designing shoes for Tsuru. She moved to Tokyo in September 2008, and since then the two women, complementing each other with their strongly contrasting styles, have designed their own lines of intricate and fantastic shoes. Oikawa’s designs are feminine and flirty, painted in foamy pastels topped with lace and ribbon. Stella’s are cool and tough with graphic motifs such as butterflies and skulls, and are adorned with studs. The designs are so detailed that no factory in Japan could handle them. Instead, they are made by artisans in Italy.

The brand has barely got a foot through the fashion door and yet the creations have already appeared on the haute couture catwalk in Paris and strutted across the pages of top magazines. Carried at big-name shops such as Beams, the bar is set very high for future prospects. “I’m just enjoying myself very much, and I like living here permanently,” said Stella adding, “Japanese women are what we’d say, very ‘feminine,’ and always done up perfectly. They are a big source of inspiration for me.”

For information, see www.tsurushoes.com or call (03) 5778-4638

No black sheep in the Brooks Brothers’ family

It’s been a recession-be-damned fall in Tokyo with a slew of shop openings all over town. One particularly indulgent addition is Black Fleece by Brooks Brothers, which has made its home in the affluent Omotesando Hills. It’s a risky move as the Black Fleece collection is an even more premium line than Brooks Brothers’ standard brand, an iconic and historical New York-based company with roots going back all the way to 1818. In 2007, the innovative Thom Browne was tapped to design the Black Fleece line and introduce some fresh exuberance to the brand.

Browne is known in his native New York for reviving the gentleman’s suit for a young generation with his eccentric prints and quirky silhouettes brought together by impeccable tailoring. For the Black Fleece collection, however, shoppers may find the pieces either disappointingly or thankfully (depending on who you ask) reined in with classic oxford jackets and preppy argyles, mixed with a few of Browne’s idiosyncrasies such as his signature truncated trousers. The ladies also get a taste, but it’s primarily menswear here. The Omotesando Hills shop is hailed as only the second in the world behind New York’s downtown locale, which may be attributed to the huge fan base of granddaddy suit-wearing hipsters who clamor for Browne’s clothes in Japan.

Omotesando Hills, 4-12-10 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku; (03) 6438-1332; www.brooksbrothers.co.jp/fleece/

Art of convenience

As consumers become more and more immune to the staid fashion boutique formula, retailers look for a way to shake things up. Enter the pop-up store — temporary, often exclusive or limited-edition stores, — a phenomena Tokyo is never short of.

A rather intriguing recent pop-up is the “Art Convenience Store,” which will appear in Shinjuku’s Isetan from Oct. 14-20 on the department store’s first-floor stage area.

Set up like a convenience store, it will carry a bevy of items made in collaboration with a who’s-who list of designers and artists. The trinkets on sale are set to be quirky, cute or weird in nature — notebooks from photographer/director Mika Ninagawa, Hello Kitty objects d’art from Kim Songhe, umbrellas from fashion brand Mastermind and T-shirts designed by celebrity stylist Tsuyoshi Noguchi for Hysteric Glamour.

The store, curated by Special Project Consulting and Numero Tokyo (a fashion magazine that I also edit for) has traveled to New York, Paris, London and Hong Kong under the sub-heading “souvenirs from Tokyo” before coming full circle back home.

When the Tokyo run is over, items will be available worldwide at www.thecorner.com — proving that the pop-up store’s creators know what convenience truly means.

3-14-1 Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku; (03) 3352-1111; www.isetan.co.jp

Barneys remixes and recyles to everyone’s benefit

This month, Barneys New York in Ginza is celebrating its fifth anniversary with a lineup of limited-edition items from a handful of global brands, including Christian Louboutin for women and Band of Outsiders for men. But if sustainability is above exclusivity on your priorities list, the specialty store is also launching two new eco-friendly programs.

The first is “Join the Recycling Network-Ecolog,” a three-way partnership of Barneys with a selection of Japanese brands and the clothing recycling group Ecolog, which recycles discarded uniforms into new materials. When clothing items from the group of brands have passed their prime, they can be returned to Barneys and certain parts will be recycled into new pieces. Participating brands include GVGV, Double Standard, Botanika and Whereabouts and more.

Second is the Go Green Go campaign where many types of clothing originally bought at Barneys, including bags and shoes, can be exchanged for a store voucher of up to ¥5,000. The returned items are donated to the Mottainai Forest Project headed by Nobel Prizewinner Professor Wangari Maathai, which uses the proceeds to plant trees in Kenya.

Barneys Ginza 6-8-7 Ginza, Chuo-ku: (03) 3289-1200; www.barneys.co.jp