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Mastermind moves on, American Apparel is at home in Japan and Primitive London takes a trip to Tokyo

by Misha Janette and Samuel Thomas

It’s a bittersweet finale for the famed Japanese fashion brand Mastermind, as it officially ends its 15-year run with the release of its 2013 spring/summer — and final — collection.

Recognizable a mile away with its skull-and-cross-bones motif, Mastermind had defined itself as a modern luxury brand for the punkish, street-style set. True “luxury” brands born in Japan are few and far between, but Mastermind was the epitome, with its locally produced clothing created using couture-level techniques, and with price tags that matched. This rock ‘n’roll irony caught the eye of Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld, who put the brand on the map when he started singing its praises and making it part of his daily uniform.

The mind and the master behind it all is Masaaki Homma, who named this final collection “Dreaming,” a reference to his feelings of gratitude and euphoria for all that his brand has achieved. Being hugely popular in both Asia and Europe, it is customary for brands like Mastermind to have industry exhibitions in Paris or New York. However, for the past few years Homma has insisted on staying in Japan, forcing his clients to visit the country, and encouraging them to see other Japanese brands during their trips.

“I don’t know what I’ll do,” Homma said about future plans, as he leaves on a somber note. “Even if I ever wanted to come back, the factories I use might not even be running anymore.”

The final collection is available at Isetan in Shinjuku and at Ron Herman in Harajuku. (Misha Janette)

Ron Herman: 2-11-1 Sendagaya, Shibuya-ku; (03) 3402-6839. www.mastermindjapan.com.

American Apparel in Japan

American Apparel from Los Angeles, California, rose to fame with its basic casual wear, which is marketed with provocative campaigns and sold at prices far above the usual fast-fashion fare. Although it operates more than 250 stores across 20 countries, only four are in Japan, which is already rife with fast-fashion offerings as well as an obsession with models and celebrities.

It might come as a surprise then that the company’s top performer in the entire world is the women’s store located in Shibuya, Tokyo. For the year ending Dec. 31, 2012, retail stores in Japan recorded a 58 percent increase in net sales, while online net sales increased by 23 percent. How is it that this brand, which finds itself embroiled in bad PR abroad — including being accused of over-sexualized campaigns — has such a good image in a contextually conservative country?

“We’re seen as high-end here,” said George Inaki, the 25 year old PR manager who is credited with upholding the brand’s good image in Japan. “I won’t use magazine dokusha (“reader”) models and I won’t pay celebrities to attend our events, either,” he said, referring to the way it is usually done in the Japanese fashion industry.

Instead, American Apparel advertises in high-end magazines such as Ginza, Commons & Sense and Vogue Girl, and it pulled off a coup last season by being included on the official schedule for a star-studded event during Tokyo Fashion Week.

So what’s so special about Japan? Most likely, it is simply that American Apparel is one of the few basics brands that actually offers different sizes in a country where “one size fits all” is as ubiquitous as dokusha models. (M.J.)

American Apparel: 1-23-9 Shibuya, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo; (03) 6427 9740. www.americanapparel.net.

‘Secori Book’ illustrates new fashion born from old traditions

For “Secori Book Vol. 1,” which was published in January, the fashion initiative Secori Gallery asked young Japanese designers to rethink their relationship with traditional craftsmanship. It proposed that Japanese artisanal techniques and textiles are not irrelevant to current fashion, and that to think so is not only a flawed concept but also one that holds back the Japanese fashion industry.

At the book launch, held in the subversive Pyarco space at Parco Part 1 in Shibuya, the argument for a future vision of Japanese fashion inspired by crafts of the past was fully supported. Modern textiles made at traditional Japanese fabric factories were in abundance and crafts seldom used in fashion were incorporated into goods, such as the Yosegi-zaiku inlaid woodwork featured on futuristic clutch bags. It would be a mistake, however, to think that the purpose of the project is simply to mix the old with new; rather its aim is to update traditional crafts so that they, once again, have a relevant place in fashion. This was exemplified by Chloma’s use of Japanese-made high-tech synthetic fabrics, which were inspired by traditional weaving, in garments influenced by Japanese pop culture.

Chloma, along with three other young brands — aaAaa, Rari and Sou-ma — were involved in the Tokyo Textile Together project, which encouraged designers to use new fabrics as starting points for their work.

This melding of inherently Japanese forces is surely in tune with foreign tastes for authentic Japanese fashion, but will other young designers take heed?

“Secori Book Vol.1″ is available now priced at ¥1,050. (Samuel Thomas)

www.secorigallery.com..

Kitsune is out of the foxhole

Many will have been introduced to Maison Kitsune’s insider-y Parisian “street” lifestyle through the music on its Kitsune label, which still releases mix CDs.

Based in Paris, it was established in 2002 by Masaya Kuroki from Japan and Gildas Loaec from France with the aim of designing items that reflected a simple aesthetic in the highest-quality materials in Europe. It quickly became the hottest thing on the Parisian streets, and after launching shops in Paris and New York, the label is finally coming to Tokyo.

“It was really tough for us to get started, as in Paris you have to nudge through heavyweights like Louis Vuitton. The media didn’t pay us much attention at first,” said Loaec at the preview for the Tokyo boutique. Inside Tokyo’s first store, you’ll find men’s and women’s meltingly soft cashmere knits, colorful polo shirts and V-neck sweaters bearing the signature kitsune (fox) insignia.

Just a block away on Omotesando is the Kitsune Cafe, which serves the neighborhood’s best-kept secret, Omotesando Koffee, and sells edgier clothes within a Tokyo-meets-Paris decor that includes a bonsai tree and coats-of-arms wallpaper.

“Traditionalists may have a heart attack when they see this,” Kuroki said. “But this mix represents us. We’ve been wanting to open a Tokyo store since we debuted!” (M.J)

Kistune: 3-15-13 Minami-Aoyama, Minato-ku, Tokyo; (03)-5786-4841 kitsune.fr.

Primitive London joins Tokyo’s Babylon: Underground worlds of fashion collide for edgy popup store

Cult boutique Primitive London, known for discovering the edgiest rising stars in the London fashion scene, are bringing their concept shop to Japan’s fashion hub, the LaForet shopping mall in Harajuku, as part of a collaboration with Tokyo’s own purveyor of underground cool, select-shop Babylon.

The creation of Andrew Green and Lui Nemeth — the latter a daughter of venerable designer Christopher Nemeth, whose eponymous Tokyo-based brand has continued well beyond his untimely passing in 2010 — Primitive London was founded as a creative commune that ran from beneath unmarked railway arches in an out-of-the-way part of East London. Despite the founders’ intention to keep it under the radar, it was named one of the top-three new boutiques in the world by fashion website FarFetch.com in 2011. Since then, operations have expanded to the launch of an original high-concept clothing line named Primitive, which most notably included anti-surveillance hijab and hoods to protest the increased use of CCTV and thermal surveillance in Britain’s capital.

The LaForet shop will feature the Primitive line, including limited-edition items produced specifically for the event, as well as other European lines, not to mention the best of Tokyo’s underground courtesy of Babylon. Green and Nemeth are expected to fly in for the opening on Feb. 22 — and the shop will remain in the Laforet Container Space until March 3. (S.T.)

Container Space, 1F LaForet Harajuku, 1-11-6 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo. www.laforet.ne.jp.

  • Kiki Vilar

    I think they can give a good insight on Japanese hipster culture which isn’t widely recognized in Japan so far.