Style wise


Heart of Harajuku renewed

Teeming teen shopping haven LaForet Harajuku opened in 1978 and has been a pivotal part of Japan’s youth culture ever since. The complex has had a few subdued periods over the years but is currently experiencing a happier chapter in its history. Earlier this month it underwent a major overhaul that saw existing outlets refurbished and a dozen or so new ones added, including U.K. chain stores Topshop and Topman.

Topshop began life as a cheap-chic retailer with a fast-paced stock cycle similar to those of Spain’s Zara and Sweden’s H&M, but it has steadily been transforming itself into a more upscale brand through runway shows and collaborations with talented young designers. Topshop, and its menswear sibling Topman, has been expanding overseas through franchise deals and has outlets in 29 countries. For the fashion capitals of New York and Tokyo, it has entered into partnerships with specialty stores (Barneys and LaForet, respectively), and has plans for major expansion. The first step is the opening of a combined Topshop/Topman store inside LaForet Harajuku, which stocks edgier designs, many created in collaboration with up-and-coming talents based in London. Topshop PR manager Andrew Leahy (above, second left), in town with other executives for a launch event attended by over 1,500 frenzied fashionistas, described the new store as “a slick boutique version of what we do in the U.K.” The pristine white interior may be a far cry from the jumbled London megastore, but the high-fashion-at-low-prices concept is largely unchanged. Westerners looking for London sizes will be pleased to know that Topshop carries clothing as large as a Japanese size 16.

Broken Label

Nagi Noda, Japan’s most in-demand art director, the woman behind ad campaigns for Coca-Cola and Nike, and inventor of the teddy bear-like Hanpanda, reveals her latest fashion brand today in LaForet Harajuku, whose award-winning ad campaigns she has also directed. Titled Broken Label, it is created in partnership with prolific Lowbrow artist Mark Ryden, who designed the cover art for Michael Jackson’s album “Dangerous.” Anyone desperate to own a T-shirt printed with a decapitated girl or other similarly macabre items should hurry, as the store-cum-gallery is only open for 12 days.

1-8-10 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo. Tel: (03) 5785-0772.

Near-luxury luggage

American luggage and travel accessories maker Samsonite is spending big to position its Black Label line as a premium brand. Besides the recent debut of attache cases styled by Matthew Williamson and a collaboration with Marc Newsom, the firm has just announced that a series of bags, luggage and accessories designed by Alexander McQueen will hit stores in early 2007.

But beyond recruiting top name designers, the key component of Samsonite Black Label’s ongoing expansion is the launch of flashy stand-alone stores. Following up on openings in Berlin, Brussels, London, Moscow, Seoul, Singapore, Kuwait and Bombay, all within the last nine months, the latest flagship was unveiled in Ginza last week.

For style-conscious travelers looking for an alternative to those ubiquitous monogrammed trunks, a trip here will offer a more modern-looking, and far more affordable, option.

8-6-3 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo. Tel: (03) 3501-4444.

Kira Kira Japan Project

Also new to the LaForet lineup is Kira Kira Japan Project, a creative collaboration sponsored by toymaker Bandai. Participants include photographer Mika Ninagawa, actress Momoi Kaori, stylist Tetsuya Nagase and DressCamp designer Toshikazu Iwaya. Together they conspire to produce cutesy T-shirts, teddies, and assorted knickknacks, which are displayed in a sickly pink space that should be ventured into only by those able to withstand exposure to high levels of kitsch.

Diane does Tokyo

Belgian-born designer Diane von Furstenberg hit the cover of Newsweek in the early 1970s thanks to the runaway success of her wrap dress, which stylish women in her adopted home of New York bought in the millions thanks to its versatility. Smart enough to be worn in the workplace but sexy enough to wear to a steamy nightclub, the dress is displayed at the Smithsonian Institute, where it encapsulates an emancipatory moment in the history of fashion.

After failing to capitalize financially on the success of the dress, von Furstenberg retreated to Europe, waiting until 1992 to head back across the Atlantic to engineer a fabulous stateside comeback. It has taken von Furstenberg, 58, a long time to make inroads into the Japanese market, but after the successful launch of a small third-floor store in Ginza earlier this year, she has opened her first street-level boutique inside the Tadao Ando-designed Collezione building. Sassy ladies seeking froufrou frocks that are certain to turn heads should look no further.

1F Collezione Bldg. 6-1-3 Minami-Aoyama, Minato-ku, Tokyo. Tel: (03) 3498-4301

Helena hearts Ritsuko

Last week’s Japan Fashion Week opened with the catwalk collection of veteran designer Ritsuko Shirahama. Seated in the front row was Danish supermodel-turned-photographer Helena Christensen, who allowed Shirahama to transform a selection of her dreamy images into prints for dresses and T-shirts.

To coincide with the launch of the collection, an exhibition of Christensen’s work, which depicts her family in idyllic rural settings, went on show at the Ritsuko Shirahama boutique in Daikanyama and will be displayed there until Sept. 17. Also displayed at the store, next to store Love Girls Market, are those printed T-shirts, which Christensen fans will be sorely tempted to own. At the same time, an installation titled “Ritsuko Shirahama meets Helena Christensen” went on display in the famous show windows of Barneys New York in Ginza: a nice little PR stunt for both sides.