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The evolution of menswear, Matobu, denim, Harajuku style and TGC

by Misha Janette and Paul Mcinnes

Going from red to blue

If “Harajuku style” means gaggles of gothic-lolitas and 1970s-style punks to you, then it’s time to catch up.

It’s now the era of ao-moji, literally “blue-letter.” Ao-moji is a riff on aka-moji or “red-letter” publications, Japanese fashion magazines such as CanCam and ViVi that tout the sweet and sexy “Shibuya style” that has dominated Tokyo for the past decade.

Ao-moji magazines, such as Zipper and the free MIG, promote the style — a cross between Harajuku’s ironic and eclectic looks with Shibuya’s cute and sexy — and it is becoming more and more distinctive. Elements of cosplay, forest girl and ’80s trends all converge for a look best described as “New Wave in Candyland.”

Rumor has it that Shibuya’s influence on Japanese fashion and contemporary culture is on the wane. Observers cite trouble at the Seibu and Parco department stores and the decreasing influence of the Shibuya 109 building due to an influx of fast-fashion brands. Try telling that to Japanese menswear labels, though.

Recently, more menswear brands — such as rock-inspired Lad Musician — appear to be moving into Shibuya, joining the likes of Trove, which has been resident for some time.

Ethosens, Esmod graduate Yui Hashimoto’s label, is the latest kid on the block, having just opened its Shibuya flagship, the intriguingly named Ethosens of White Sauce. Established in 2003, Ethosens has been a popular fixture at the Tokyo collections for a few seasons now and has participated in the Rendez-Vous trade show in Paris.

Describing its concept as one of “quality or custom” and “sense,” the label used to focus on an experimental streetwear aesthetic. However, recent collections, such as its wabi-sabi-esque 2011 autumn/winter collection, “Dear Mistake,” have seen Hashimoto deliver more minimalist designs for the contemporary and urban man.

The flagship is equally minimalist with its stark, white interior, and it carries limited-edition pieces in addition to the main collection line. It’s a space designed to feel complete with the presence of customers browsing the new collection. (Paul McInnes)

“Ethosens of White Sauce, 1F Sakura HILLS.AG, 5-6 Sakuragaoka, Shibuya-ku; (03) 6809-0470; www.ethosens.com.

Plain beautiful

News photo

Matohu has been an understated powerhouse in the Japanese fashion market, garnering accolades as well as diehard fans for its contemporary take on Japanese robes. The style is a carefully curated one — layers of meticulously constructed designs using techniques and crafts sourced from ancient eras. Now, after seven years and 14 collections sold via other stores, Matohu has finally found a real home in its first-ever boutique, which opened its doors just off Tokyo’s ritzy Omotesando Street on July 15.

Tucked away in a quiet corner behind the main promenade, the entrance to Matohu’s two-story, white, stucco-finished building is bookended with slats of wood, stacked Jenga-style and running the height of the facade. Inside, the same stacking technique is used to create a center arrangement of columns and arches.

The inside walls of the shop are bare save for a few items from muji, the brand’s newest collection. “Muji,” meaning “plain,” refers to the Japanese aesthetic of being unique through simplicity and subtlety, and designers Hiroyuki Horihata and Makiko Sekiguchi have translated this idea into their creations with conscientious choices of different textures and shapes.

The store also has an outside space that is as serene as its interior — a small garden that boasts a large kusunoki (Camphor tree) offering ample shade for summer visitors — and a gallery that will feature artists’ work and collaboration pieces. (M.J.)

Matohu, 5-9-25 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku; (03) 6805-1597; www.matohu.com.

Bringing a new look to the old staple of denim

Collaborations have recently taken off in the fashion world, usually in the form of a mass-market brand picking up a niche label or designer to give some cachet to its lineup. But in the case of a new collection of jeans from a collaboration between The Gap and Beauty & Youth, it seems less a case of “big bear, little bear” and more of a duet of headlining sopranos.

It is certainly an odd pairing. Gap is the ubiquitous all-American casualwear brand from San Francisco, while the Beauty & Youth chain from United Arrows is a Japan-based, urban-trendy “select shop” of local and global high-end brands.

What exactly have they have been able to cook up together? Well their ace in the hole is — wait for it — jeather.

Jeather is a stretch denim covered in a matte coating that gives the fabric the appearance of leather. It’s a new, high-tech textile developed by renowned Turkish denim manufacturer Isko, that Gap and Beauty & Youth have embraced in the form of jeather jeans.

With a trendy skinny cut and drop-crotch design, these jeather pants are a popular alternative to the current crop of plain denim leggings, or jeggings. Available from Aug. 16 at 26 different Gap and Beauty & Youth United Arrows stores nationwide. (M.J.)

The Gap, 19-3 Udagawa, Shibuya-ku; (03) 3770-5411; www.gap.co.jp.

Tokyo’s next top models

Tokyo Girls Collection is holding its 13th show on Sept. 3 at the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama City. It might seem early to be featuring this now, but even fashion regulars need a heads-up if they want to snag one of the 30,000 tickets to the mega party.

TGC started out as a niche event for the flashy Shibuya gyaru (gal culture) followers, but has become an impressive institution, creating and promoting fashion trends among the mass-consumer market at high-speed. Luxury brands are generally a no-show here; the focus is primarily on High Street, with Shibuya 109 Mall styles dominating the runway — think Cecile McBee, OZOC and Urban Research.

The models are the main draw for any TGC fan, as many of them are signed exclusively to specific magazines or are popular dokusha girls. Dokusha models, who are usually subscribers that have been “discovered” by their favorite magazine and turned into models, are now considered the trendsetters of gyaru fashion and can even have their own set of fans.

The whole festival acts as a barometer for the celebrity status of models, with the incredibly fickle crowd cheering on their favorites. Taking a peek at who is appearing at the show this season, it’s likely that Kozue Akimoto from MTV program “Shibuhara Girls,” model-turned-actress Yu Yamada, rocker Anna Tsuchiya and the Kagami sisters will be the biggest hits.

As if six hours of beautiful, popular girls and fun fashion isn’t enough, TGC throws in music performances and beauty contests, which further ensure it will be a sold-out event.

Tickets are available through the usual vendors, such as Lawson Ticket, e+ and Pia, and are priced from ¥5,500 for an unreserved seat up to ¥15,000 for an arena seat that comes with a “free” gift.

It may be tricky to get tickets from abroad, but readers in New York City have extra help via an exclusive NYTGO:Girls tour that includes a stop at TGC (see www.newyork-tokyo.com/wp/girls for details). (M.J.)

For more information, visit www.tgc.st.