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Discount Comme de Garcons, thermo threads, extreme styles and bohemian flair

by Misha Janette and David Stuchbury

Back to black

Black can be dreary, dark and damning, but in the case of Comme des Garcons’ new line titled “Black,” it is delightful and . . . discounted. Black is a lower-priced range that features perennially popular Comme des Garcons styles in mostly black and white. The items are sold at 11 stand-alone shops around the world. There are three locations in Tokyo — Ginza Mitsukoshi, Isetan in Shinjuku, and Shibuya Parco (pictured) — as well an outlet each in Osaka, Fukuoka and Nagoya. Designer Rei Kawakubo plans to keep the line going for “about 18 months” from June, which is likely the time frame she estimates the economic crisis will continue for.

Whatever the reasons for Black, the iconic polka-dot shirts, baggy sarouel pants and blazers at accessible prices (about half the price of the brand’s other lines) are a boon to casual and hardcore fans alike. What’s more, the line’s “speed merchandising,” which introduces new styles every six weeks, proves that high-end labels can play the same games as fast-fashion brands.

Comme des Garcons has already shown that it is not adverse to mass merchandising with Kawakubo’s capsule collection designed for H&M last year. It is actually a relief to see a designer as revered and powerful as Kawakubo take the side of the consumer by offering cheaper fashion alternatives to help soften the blow of restricted cash flow. And she manages to do so while keeping the brand’s shopping experience true to form. (Misha Janette)

Shibuya Parco, 15-1 Udagawa-cho, Shibuya-ku; (03) 3452-8439 (direct)

High-tech ways to stay warm

As the chill sets in this month, you may find yourself wondering how to survive another winter without resorting to fuzzy long-johns to stay warm. Luckily, Japan is a heat-conductive textile technology mecca, and the competition among brands to cram as much functionality as they can into a microfiber item of clothing is hotter than ever.

We start with United Arrows, which has released the “Thermo Green” series of stylish undershirts for men and women to its Green Label Relaxing chain store. These paper-thin shirts capture heat given off from the body and release it back slowly to make the warmth last (from ¥1,995).

The “Shisei-ist” line of shirts, popular for its use of H-shaped cross stretches to provide back support to aid better posture, also have new winter versions that include the use of heat-tech fabrics (at ¥4,935). In a similar vein, “Crosswalker” for men and “Onaka Walker” for women not only keep the thighs and stomach toasty, but they work on stomach muscles, pulling them in as the wearer walks (from ¥6,090 and ¥5,670).

Most of these can be found at your local department store; but if you’re freezing and on the go, duck into a Uniqlo and pick up some of their “HeatTech” underpinnings, which start at only ¥1,000. (M.J.)

The new extreme inhabitant of Cat Street

Established in 1999 as a sportswear brand, Inhabitant has expanded its range to encompass the extreme sports scene — wakeboarding, BMX biking, snowboarding — while still advancing a fashionable image.

On Oct. 1, Inhabitant opened its flagship store — a purpose-styled open space with the theme of “Play” — in Harajuku’s trendy Cat Street.

Outside, the store looks like the gardening department at Tokyu Hands. Inside, however, presentation and product are fused in a strategic arrangement. The items themselves — colorful boots, hats, day-glo belts, jeans and layered cold-weather gear — are artistically presented in sparse two-tiered surroundings with recurring hexagon motifs. It’s reminiscent of Bape’s precision-arranged hats and T-shirts, except Inhabitant has also managed to reference Kabuki theater with long, stagelike shelving.

Inhabitant is sportswear for the cool and danger-loving individual who’s just as willing to risk a fashion faux pas as a rocky incline. The store actively promotes the incongruities it has created, and stays a creative leap ahead of even the most discerning customer. On leaving, patrons are handed a free headband — whether for street or sporting activities, I’ve no idea. (David Stuchbury)

5-25-4 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku; (03) 5778-3708. For more information visit www.inhabitant.jp

Retro-modern manga style

Manga artist Moyoco Anno has more than 20 years of experience and several hit series to her name, including ” Happy Mania,” “Sakuran” (a film version of which was released in 2006, starring Anna Tsuchiya) and the more recent “Hataraki Man.” To celebrate the 20th anniversary of Anno’s debut as a manga artist, Yayoi Musuem of Art in Nezu, Tokyo, is showing 70 of her illustrations at an exhibition titled “Moyoco Anno: A Retro-Modern World.”

The characters Anno draws follow fashion trends, whether intentionally or not. We see pretty young maidens in edgy Victorian regalia, girls in yukata (summer kimono) with stylish Mod bobs, and even manga drawings of fashion models created for Vogue Nippon. Many of the illustrations get their retro look from Anno’s use of French pochoir stenciling to create highly refined prints — a process that Anno has been fascinated with of late.

This is a rare opportunity to see creations from a female artist whose artisanal work not only transcends manga but introduces the art form to the world of fashion. Manga should not simply be seen as comic-book illustrations but viewed with a more artistic eye, and this exhibition is as good a place as any to start. (M.J.)

‘Moyoco Anno: A Retro-Modern World” at the Yayoi Museum of Art runs till Dec. 23; open 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; closed Mon. or Tue. after holidays; admission ¥900. For more information visit www.yayoi-yumeji-museum.jp (Japanese only)

Halb breaks casual rules with bohemian flair

Last season, Halb broke away from the menswear mainstay of the “jeans and jacket” approach with rock-, Gypsy- and even Dickensian-inspired casuals.

Kazutaka Katoh started Halb in 2002 under the classy Tete Homme label. Until 2008 it was designed for by Kiminori Morishita, who has now gone on to establish the super-suave 08 Sircus line.

In the hands of a young design team, Halb’s 09/10 autumn/winter collection hasn’t disappointed. The look was “country boy moves to the city,” alluding to the grimy streets of Charles Dickens’ novels: distressed and roughed-up casuals, little bowler hats, claret-red coats and racing-green slacks. However, the undercurrent remains, definitely, good old British rock.

For their spring/summer collection, Halb have upped the ante. Special dyeing and sewing techniques, tone-on-tone beige and gray casual wear, snakeskin-patterned fedoras, long coats, baggy sweats and denims create a rugged Gypsy theme. On the runway, the quality shone through like a Basque sunrise. (D.S.)

Halb Neon, Shinjuku Takashimaya, 5-24-2 Sendagaya, Shibuya-ku; (03) 3780-1147. For more information visit www.tetehomme.com/halb/index.html