Sport couture

The bottom lines of sportswear giants like Adidas make even the biggest fashion firms look like minnows, so it is no wonder that cutting-edge designers clamor to put their names on sneakers made by the big boys. Although there are dozens of these sports brand-fashion brand tie-ups, by far the most successful is Y-3, an alliance between dark lord of deconstructed fashion Yohji Yamamoto (Y) and the ubiquitous German brand of the three stripes (3).

While most sport-fashion collaborations start and end with footwear, Y-3 is geared up to kit out its many devotees from head to toe. It even supplies them with logo-bearing soccer balls, luggage and other bits of kit for active types, all reinterpreting Yamamoto’s minimalist aesthetic in sporty, wearable designs.

The brand’s success has led to a plan for a series of store openings this year, a process that began last month with the unveiling of its first freestanding flagship store in the Aoyama area of Tokyo. A mirrored wall that extends from the basement floor up to the ceiling of the second story reflects the mostly black and white goods on display, and the fashionistas flocking to buy them.

5-3-20 Minami-Aoyama Minato-ku Tokyo; tel: (03) 5464-1930.

This charming young man

One of the hottest new names in Japanese fashion is Osaka-based bag designer Kenji Ikeda. This charming young man left his native Japan at the age of 14 to live in Spain, the U.K. (where he got a degree in accessory design) and France, where he worked for Givenchy as a designer of leather goods.

Ikeda has been peddling his distinctive paneled leather designs at trade shows in Paris for several years, surviving on small orders from boutiques in Europe and North America. Now, he has finally won contracts with retailers in his homeland, most notably from Loveless in Aoyama and Shiseido’s “select shop” chain The Ginza.

Ikeda’s elegant designs are realized by highly skilled Japanese craftsmen who use only the most luxurious materials, and quickly have become a must-have status symbol among Tokyo’s most fabulous denizens.

Faking it

New York-based artist Kaws is one of the street-art world’s most successful exports. Having started out drawing his signature X-eyed heads on bus-stop billboards in the mid-’90s, he has gone on to achieve worldwide recognition and even make a significant impact on the high art scene.

Kaws’ success has spilled over into Japan, where he has worked on hundreds of limited-edition products designed in conjunction with fashion brands like A Bathing Ape and toy maker Medicom Toy. Late last month, Kaws and Medicom Toy took their profitable relationship one step further by opening a store selling toys, T-shirts, lithographs, furniture and assorted objects — all of which are limited edition and rather pricey.

Christened Original Fake, the steel-plated store’s design is the work of Masamichi Katayama, the man behind retail interiors for the likes of Marc Jacobs and Harrods as well as all of the BAPE locations. Original Fake’s most arresting feature is a 3-meter action figure at the entrance, with the right half of its body stripped away like a dissection dummy. And that’s just a taste of the edgy delights awaiting intrepid Kaws and Medicom Toy fans.

B1F Oh Bldg. 5-3-25 Minami-Aoyama, Minato-ku, Tokyo; tel: (03) 3499-3333.

Fine taste in the mix

Sometimes the most interesting happenings in the world of retail occur when strangers to the business decide to set up shop. Not necessarily aiming for a profit, owners simply enjoy jetting around in search of cool stuff to stock their shelves and chatting with outre designers. Then there’s the added advantage of rubbing shoulders with the well-heeled types keen to unload cash on tasteful merchandise.

Kakitsubata, which means iris in Japanese, is one such store. Everything, from its location — a riverside spot in the painfully trendy district of Nakameguro — to the enormous wooden sculpture by British artist Jilly Sutton at the entrance, has been chosen with impeccable taste. It is this attitude that makes for a refreshing and highly refined shopping experience.

A strong Asian influence pervades the product mix here. Much on the two racks of clothing from upcoming designers incorporates Eastern motifs, while traditional Japanese wooden buckets from award-winning craftsman Eifu Kawamata and an assortment of ceramics, lacquer ware and bamboo accessories round out the selection.

With a gallery scheduled to open nearby at the end of July, Kakitsubata looks set to add some extra class to the gritty chic that pervades this hip little part of the world.