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Fashion streaming in and out of Japan

Fairy-tale beginnings

RED Valentino, an affordable offshoot line of the Italian couture label, has launched its first flagship shop in Tokyo’s Aoyama district. Behind the modern glass-fronted exterior, wall-length oval “Snow White” mirrors, iron castle-like door handles and vintage memento boxes are matched with 21st-century acrylic floors and a giant LED video screen — it’s a techno-princess dream world. Even the dressing rooms — which are spacious, bright and furnished with quilted vinyl chairs — are fashioned like a bedroom from a futuristic fairy tale.

The clothes are in the same vein: ruffles, endless tones of pink and bows abound. An original jacket and skirt made from paper nylon, detailed with tuxedo tucks and lace trimming, was a standout among the offerings. Prominently displayed in the front windows is a point d’esprit pinklace dress, an Aoyama store exclusive, available for ¥111,300.

The Italian-made label launched in 2003 with the name RED being an acronym for “romantic eccentric dress.” It is a fitting moniker as red is an iconic color for the Valentino stable, founded by former designer Valentino Garavani. Despite his retirement in 2007, the RED line has managed to steadily expand with a multitude of global franchise locations from Warsaw to Dubai, and the Tokyo branch is joining its sister flagship in Rome as the only standalone boutiques in the world. (Misha Janette)

RED Valentino, 5-2-11 Minami-Aoyama; Minato-ku; (03) 6427-9174; www.redvalentino.com

Rakuten Ichiba encourages its online vendors to think globally

Since last year, Rakuten Ichiba, the online marketplace, has been open for business in various countries and regions, taking more and more Japanese fashion and goods overseas. It opened its doors to English-, Chinese-, Korean- and Taiwanese-speaking customers with its local “e-boutiques” and direct shipping.

Are you looking for frilly “forest girl” cardigans? For Momotaro jeans? Or how about Shibuya-style mori-gami wigs? All are available on the local-language Rakuten pages, and they all rank high in sales in Hong Kong, Britain and Canada.

Before, the biggest hurdle for overseas Rakuten customers was the language barrier, but Rakuten is encouraging the numerous stores on its pages to translate their sites and hire English writers to make themselves more global-friendly. It is also providing them with e-mail templates to ease transactions.

These sites are entered into a “Welcome Program” that signifies the stores can handle overseas business and they are offered first dibs on promotional events around the world. Still in its infancy, the translations and navigation are at times clunky, so an online translating service such as Google is a recommended backup. Still, it is a start to not only solidifying Rakuten as a global player, but also seeing cross-border sales become a reality. (M.J.)

For more information, visit en.rakuten.co.jp.

Mastermind Japan gets ready to send its skulls and crossbones to the grave

Designer Masaaki Homma of Mastermind Japan, wildly popular among the moneyed elegant-punk fashion fan set, has announced that he plans to cease production on the brand’s 15th anniversary in 2013.

It is common knowledge that Japan has been inexplicably unable to produce a globally recognized luxury fashion and lifestyle brand, but it is arguable that Mastermind Japan has flirted with the elite echelon with its ¥10 million sable fur jackets and diamond-encrusted watches, which sell out in a heartbeat.

“Luxury is not determined by taste or style; it is about quality. Period. My items are constructed in Japan and the materials are the absolute best of the best. No one can argue with this,” Homma says, referring to his detractors who argue that his street-punk style is not up to snuff.

But the support of Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld and comparisons to the quality of Hermes have ensured healthy business for Mastermind Japan throughout the world. He even staged a major fashion show and gala in Hong Kong for 500 elite guests last November. So why throw in the towel now?

“It’s true my company is going through a ‘bubble’ right now, especially in Asia. But I made this decision as a promise to my customers: That the Mastermind pieces they own won’t decrease in value, and that they won’t regret buying from a brand that overstayed its welcome.”

Homma alludes to brands whose pieces end up in bargain basements or in secondhand shops at a fraction of their original value, lamenting the bankruptcy of his mentor Yohji Yamamoto.

“I don’t know what I will do next,” he says. “But if I ever come back to fashion, it won’t be in the same capacity because more factories in Japan are closing. That is a far more grave matter to discuss, I think.” (M.J.)

For information, visit www.mastermindjapan.com.

Up and coming in the backstreets of Nakameguro

.efiLevol is a young Tokyo-based fashion brand that has been on our style radar for some time now. Established in 2006 by Central Saint Martins graduate Takuya Tobise and former select-shop buyer turned designer/director Seiji Akutsu, the label fuses humor, gimmicks and graphics in its approach to men’s, women’s and unisex apparel.

Previously only available from online stores or select boutiques, such as United Arrows and The Contemporary Fix, the .efiLevol team, has decided to take the plunge and open its own store in the backstreets of Nakameguro. Almost hidden from view, the compact shop offers a cool range of apparel and accessories and a curated selection of books and music. It also stocks some rare remake items and limited edition pieces such as t-shirts and coin cases.

There’s also a tiny garden area, which is soon to be transformed into a space for customers to relax, have coffee and read, while enjoying the store’s relaxed vibe.

The brand’s spring/summer 2011 collection, named “Tokyo Resort,” debuted at last season’s Japan Fashion Week offshoot Rooms Link. The show, along with their performance-art style concept video, served to remind us that Tobise and Akutsu’s eccentricities, fused with a fresh use of gingham check and original patterns, make them one of the capital’s most intriguing prospects. (Paul McInnes)

.efiLevol, 1-9-6 Aobadai, Meguro-ku, Tokyo 153-0042, (03) 6416-0634; www.efilevol.com.

Let’s hear it for the guys

Although Milan and Paris are the most recognized global fashion hubs, it’s London and New York that are currently producing outstanding talent in menswear. Their fall 2011 shows offered some genuinely exciting collections from J.W. Anderson and E. Tautz (London) and Band of Outsiders and N.Hoolywood (New York).

Tokyo, on the other hand, seems to have almost forgotten about menswear, with just a handful of brands showing as part of the main Japan Fashion Week (JFW) schedule. Expect triumphant shows, however, from Phenomenon and Yoshio Kubo, who will bring experience and verve to proceedings. Relative newcomers Molfic should also impress with its minimalist and functional signature.

Off-schedule highlights include Discovered, the androgyny-loving Banal Chic Bizarre, and aptform, which blends tradition with technology and has been one of the most technically and artistically accomplished brands in recent years.

Tokyo also manages to attract some leading male models to JFW. Last season saw both Adrej Pejic and Sen Mitsuji walk for labels such as Davit Meursault and Izreel. Let’s hope they return to spice things up a bit in the next round of menswear shows in the city. (P.M.)

The JFW official after party at Chateau Robuchon and Le Baron de Paris on March 25 is open to the public. For more information, check the JFW website: www.jfw.jp.