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The strength of Tokyo’s minimalists, Knit for Japan and rediscovering Beams

MISHA JANETTE and PAUL McINNES

‘Irving Penn and Issey Miyake’

For 13 years, celebrated fashion photographer Irving Penn took inspiring images of every Issey Miyake collection, without the designer himself ever stepping foot into the studio to guide him.

The late Penn was one of America’s first modern fashion photographers, a pioneer of an austere and simple aesthetic since the 1940s. In 1983, he photographed one of Miyake’s collections for American Vogue, and the designer was so impressed by the fresh perspective Penn brought to his clothes that in 1987 they began their unusual collaboration. This long-distance, yet symbiotic relationship, is the focus of a new exhibition at Miyake’s 21_21 Design Sight museum at Tokyo Midtown.

The theme “Visual Dialogue” is derived from the way the two artists worked together, yet without words. Miyake trusted Penn completely with the aesthetic of the images, believing his own presence would interfere with Penn’s artistic vision.

The show includes large-scale projections of some of the more than 250 photographs Penn took and a display of the notes that he sketched out for the photography sessions. There is also a selection of images from Penn’s own photography portfolio, an installation by architect Shigeru Ban and an animated film by Pascal Roulin with original drawings by Michael Crawford. (Misha Janette)

“Irving Penn and Issey Miyake” runs from Sept. 16- Apr. 8, 2012; admission ¥1,000; open 11 a.m.-8 p.m., closed Tue. 21_21 Design Sight: 9-7-6 Akasaka Minato-ku; (03)-3475-2121; www.2121designsight.jp/en.

New Tokyo minimalism

You would think that there would never be a shortage of minimalist, monotone casual-wear in Tokyo. But with the recent trend of acidic 1980s urban-wear taking over, those looking for a sharper wardrobe at reasonable prices have had to dig around a little to find it.

Kiss Shot, which opened Aug.15 near the Shibuya entrance to Cat-Street in Harajuku, is a great little men’s and womenswear boutique perfect for those seeking a more somber look.

Recessed from the street and guarded by a white picket fence, Kiss Shot is outfitted in white hardwood, a warm contrast to the racks full of cooler black-and-white clothing. There are around half a dozen brands represented, and though they are all still somewhat obscure in the Japan fashion scene, their designs are far from amateur.

There are a number of simple cuts from 2010 Bunka Fashion College graduate Shinya Seki, and a rack from edgy newcomer Tokiaki Kumondai, one of this year’s great discoveries.

The brand that is most likely to draw you in is Aptform, which is the brainchild of Greece-born designer Mikhail Gkinis. Gkinis has called Tokyo home since 2006 when he interned with Issey Miyake. He created his own line in 2008 and designs wearable, high-fashion clothing. At Kiss Shot, you’ll find lots of Aptform’s soft drapey blouses and architectural, structured jackets. For men, the dress shirts printed with a decaying woodlike pattern is apparently a favorite of American actor-rocker Jared Leto. The prices here are good as well; simple pieces go for a little over ¥10,000, the aforementioned printed shirts are less than ¥20,000 each. (M.J.)

Kiss Shot: 6-19-16 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku. (03) 6418-9777. Set to close Sept. 30 but subject to change.

Close-knit charity work

Bernd Kestler holds a unique position within the fashion industry: an impassioned and masterful knitter, who happens to be a man. An avid knitter since he was a child, he specializes in Art Deco-inspired design clutches that feature tens of thousands of beads knitted together with needles that are a minuscule 1-2 mm in width.

Now, the German native and current Kanagawa Prefecture resident is parlaying his talents into Knit for Japan, a charity to help support those affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake. He has collected dozens of boxes full of donated yarn, tools and hand-knit/crocheted items — such as scarves, socks sweaters and hats — sent from all over the world, including from the United States, Germany, America, Mexico and Africa.

“I have collected over 100 kg in yarn,” said Kestler about the donations. “My tatami-mat room looks like a yarn shop — it’s filled to the brim!”

Starting his charity work in June, Kestler began by teaching knitting lessons at a shelter in Todoroki in Kawasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture. He also made a delivery of yarn with singer Issei Endo to the ravaged town of Minami-Sanriku in Miyagi Prefecture.

“Most of the parcels that arrive come with personal letters that are very touching,” said Kestler who is still collecting goods to mail to Tohoku. And with knitting, he is even taking some charity requests.

“An expecting mom found me on (social networking site) Mixi and asked for some baby clothes,” he said. “She is due at the end of the month and I hope to see some pictures of her baby some time soon.” (M.J.)

For more information, visit www.knitforjapan.com.

Beams celebrates 35 years with original brand collaborations

If you’ve ever wandered around the innumerable shopping districts of Tokyo, you’re sure to have come across Beams, probably Japan’s most influential fashion chain. Established in 1976, the company has expanded in size and grown to include 25 individual labels specializing in areas such as art and music projects, online businesses, cafes, children’s stores and vintage accessories.

With hundreds of stores around Japan and Asia, it operates multi-brand boutiques in addition to its own labels and has been instrumental in bringing Western fashion to Japan. From American Trad and ostentatious Italian fashion to British and French glamour, Beams has always been at the heart of fashion. It has also championed the rising stars of the domestic style scene.

To celebrate the company’s 35th year in business it has been organizing a series of collaborations with companies such as British shoemaker Clarks, watch brand Timex, outdoor specialists Arc’teryx, Oakley sunglasses and Rocky Mountain Featherbed. Beams has also turned its hand to viral marketing with a funny campaign titled “Koi Web” that stars popular actress Yu Aoi in a series of short films, photo books by noted photographer Kotori Kawashima and other kooky delights based around the theme of love. (Paul McInnes)

koiweb.beams.co.jp/home. www.beams.co.jp.

Costume National: The calmer future of fashion art and leisure

It appears that Italian fashion brand Costume National is in for the long haul in Tokyo, having just opened the Costume National Aoyama Complex (CNAC), a large three-part store, on Sept. 1.

The structure sits in its own isolated corner just behind Kotto-dori in Aoyama, and comprises a flagship shop, a gallery and a cafe/bar area.

The shop carries the 25-year-old brand’s signature minimalist duds accented with high-tech details such as laser cut fabrics in designs by founder Ennio Capasa.

Across the cement and glass-encased foyer is a large nonprofit gallery, which is currently showing pieces that have been worn by celebrities and exhibits showing off other notable moments in the brand’s history. From October, a variety of artists and their work will be featured in succession.

Once you walk through an inconspicuous hallway at the back of the complex, you’ll find some respite at the cafe and bar. Behind the bar, there is a lush vertical garden by French artist and botanist Patrick Blanc, which adds a little bit of a jungle atmosphere in which to enjoy a glass of one of 500 different kinds of wine they stock.

Costume National Japan defends initiating this ambitious project in the current poor economic climate by saying it has been inspired by the idea of a calm “eye of the storm in a tornado.”

In a prepared statement, designer Ennio Capasa said, “Since the beginning of my career, Japan has played a key role in my life as a man and designer. The Aoyama Complex represents the future … where art, leisure and fashion find the perfect balance in one space.” (M.J)

Costume National: 5-4-30 Minami-Aoyama, Minato-Ku, 03-4335-7772. www.cnac.jp