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New inroads for Louboutin, Rag & Bone, Nike-Undercover, K-Swiss

by Misha Janette and Paul Mcinnes

Louboutin digs his signature heels into flagship Ginza space

Christian Louboutin, arguably the most famous shoe designer in the world, was in Tokyo early this month to christen the opening of his very first free-standing boutique in Tokyo and Japan. The space is a three-story building that fits snugly into Ginza’s flashy 6-chome district. The bottom two floors are teeming with the designer’s signature red-soled women’s shoes, with a smattering of handbags and men’s shoes as well.

A wooden spiral staircase with wildly curvy rails is the centerpiece of the shop, perfectly conveying a design inspired by the art deco and art nouveau styles of the early 1900s.

“I chose this (kind of design) because there was so much Japanese influence of style and nature in those movements,” Louboutin told The Japan Times as he gestured toward the staircase.

The third floor is reserved for VIP customers, and the plush interior was inspired by the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1923.

“This is my most detailed boutique ever, because the Japanese are so attentive to detail themselves,” said Louboutin. “They’ll recognize it if a seam on one of my shoes is off.”

A shop-in-shop in the Matsuya Department Store in Ginza opened earlier this year and there are plans to open 15 more across Japan over the next few years.

Louboutin was in Hong Kong when the Ginza flagship first opened its doors in late October, and his absence spurred chatter that Japan was no longer as important a market to big-name designers.

“Absolutely not! We never come right away for an opening,” said the store’s general manager Alexis Mourot. “We were slow to come in retail-wise but we are here for the long run now. There is no doubt that Japan is an important market and with these stores we can properly prove that to our customers directly.” (Misha Janette)

Christian Louboutin, 7-6-2 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo; (03) 6280-6501; www.christianlouboutin.com.

Rag & Bone get themselves a cabin in Omotesando

Rag & Bone designers Marcus Wainright and David Neville were complete fashion neophytes when they left their native Britain for the U.S. state of Kentucky to learn how to make the perfect jeans.

Now, eight years after founding their brand, they have five boutiques in New York City and last month they cut the ribbon on their first international store, located in Tokyo’s ritzy Omotesando district.

The three-story building resembles a rustic cabin, and the natural wood and stone fixtures complement the cozy men’s and women’s fashions inside, which are inspired by traditional American work wear, British tailoring and a dash of New York street style. This look is referred to in Japan as “trad,” and it’s had a major influence on Japanese street fashion itself this decade. Many local brands already reference the look, and that could give Rag & Bone some competition.

Luckily for the company, however, Rag & Bone have a huge following among celebrities, who pack the aisles at their New York Fashion Week shows. They are also carried in stores in more than 16 countries.

“I’m so happy with this shop, my heart feels like it’s leaping out of my chest,” Neville told The Japan Times at the Omotesando shop’s opening. “Honestly, it’s so surreal to have a shop in Japan.”

The two designers come off as extremely down-to-earth, which lends to the success of the lifestyle brand they’ve built.

“We have a very multinational staff, including several wonderful Japanese women, so this is a natural next step,” Wainright said. “We just plainly have a lot of love for this city. And (department store) Tokyu Hands — it’s incredible!” (M.J.)

Rag & Bone, 5-12-3 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo; (03) 6805-1630; www.rag-bone.com.

Nike-Undercover collaboration runs in a new direction

Sportswear label Nike has teamed up with Japanese brand Undercover to release a line of high-tech running wear called Gyakusou (which literally means “running the opposite way”). The line includes both footwear and clothing, and the apparel features all the bells and whistles expected of an activewear line: reflective material, state-of-the-art cushioning and the added bonus of cool, minimalist design.

The collaboration with Nike is sure to push Undercover closer to the front of the global fashion stage, but the brand has already done extremely well for itself.

Undercover designer Jun Takahashi along with his friend, A Bathing Ape designer Nigo, are widely known among fashion aficionados as the brains behind the ura-hara street-fashion movement (literally meaning the back of Tokyo’s Harajuku district) from the 1990s. Twenty-one years since Undercover’s inception, Takahashi now injects a high-end sensibility into his designs and the line has been presented in Paris during fashion week since 2002.

The Gyakusou collection went on sale Oct. 23 and the worldwide launch was held at Tokyo’s National Olympic Stadium on Oct. 20. There, Takahashi and his fashionable friends competed against each other in a nighttime marathon that included designer Daisuke Obana, of N. Hoolywood, and punk-rock band Kishidan running actual laps.

Gyakusou pieces are to be sold worldwide, albeit in very limited release. In Japan they can only be found at the Undercover boutique in Aoyama and flagship Nike stores in the Harajuku and Kichijoji districts of Tokyo, as well as in Osaka, Kyoto and Fukuoka. (M.J.)

Gyakusou is sold at Undercover, 5-3-22 Minami Aoyama, Minato-ku, Tokyo; (03) 3407-1232. For more information, call (0) 120- 50-0719; nikerunning.nike.com.

Exclusive K-Swiss capsule collection hits Harajuku flagship store and Beams branchest

K-Swiss, founded in California in the late 1960s by tennis-loving Swiss brothers Art and Ernie Brunner, has come a long way on its journey from the West Coast of the United States to Tokyo. Earlier this year, the company opened a flagship store in Harajuku, which seems to be leading a double life as both a subcultural youth hub and sportswear mecca — Nike, Adidas, Puma and Asics also have retail units in the area.

K-Swiss has been active of late, establishing partnerships with streetwear, sneaker and bicycle labels such as UNDFTD, Atmos and Kinfolk. In October, the company paired up with Brendon Babenzien, creative director of cooler-than-thou streetwear brand Supreme, on a new collaborative line called Brendon Babenzien for K-Swiss California Tennis Co. The capsule collection includes a range of T-shirts, hats, sweat shirts, windbreakers and polos that were inspired by “Tennis Girl,” the iconic ’70s photograph by Martin Elliott.

The collection is exclusive to Japan with availability limited to the K-Swiss Harajuku flagship and selected Beams stores throughout the country. The apparel, which is described as ’70s vintage style with a modern fit, is perhaps more expensive than usual due to its exclusivity and association with Supreme supremo Babenzien. Polo shirts are selling for ¥13,440 while windbreakers come in at ¥23,100. (Paul McInnes)

K-Swiss, 6-17-11 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo; (03) 6427-3020; www.k-swiss.jp

Alasadi’s wonderland pops up in front of Laforet

For the past seven years during the month of November, a pop-up shop has appeared in the space in front of the Laforet department store in Tokyo’s Harajuku district. With it have come racks of tulle, lace, leather, beads and chains — both new and vintage — in a cacophony of fashion fit for both Alice and the Mad Hatter alike. The pop-up shop comes from British brand Reem, designed by Reem Alasadi. Alasadi was born in Iraq, but moved to London in her teens. She is known for being rebellious in both her designs and presentations, the latter being held sporadically around London. Sometimes those presentations come to Tokyo, where her work has a cultlike following. The designs meet at a crossroad of practical clothing and costume, with many of them being one-offs created using parts salvaged from other vintage pieces. Alasadi and her team rework the items, often adding patchwork details and volume through layers of fabric for a punk-meets-princess aesthetic that has fueled her rise to fame. The designer herself often comes to Tokyo to greet fans and customers while the shop is open, so stop by before it disappears back into the looking glass on Dec. 12. (M.J.)

Reem, 1-11-6 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo; (03) 3475-0411; www.reemalasadi.com