Polos reimagined

Frenchman Benoit Lavaud, head of the creative division of Shu Uemura cosmetics, is best known to fashionable Tokyoites as cofounder of the exclusive Blacklist parties. But now “Beno,” as he is known to friends, is adding another string to his bow.

His latest project is BOEGE Polos, a line of luxury polo shirts designed to appeal to the burgeoning ranks of professional men turning away from buttonup cotton shirts in favor of more comfortable gear.

With a standup collar and supremely comfortable jersey fabric, this elegant yet casual polo can be worn under a blazer or tailored jacket, or simply paired with jeans or chinos for a sharp look that belies its ease of wear.

But there is more to BOEGE polo shirts than their unusual design. Lavaud has also brought his expertise from the world of cosmetics — where colors are the ultimate means of expression — to the project. Each season, BOEGE Polos are available in 50 different colors, each inspired by a moment or experience in the jet-setting life of their originator. From a peaceful afternoon in the French Alps, to the acrid air of a Bangkok nightclub, to the taste of a fabulous meal in Kyoto, selected memories from Beno’s world are manifested as specially developed hues to match the changing moods of the wearer.

A new take on understated luxury, Beno’s brainwave has the potential to become a staple part of the successful man’s all-year wardrobe.

BOEGE Polos are currently on sale at Isetan’s Shinjuku flagship store.


Fast-fashion tactics

Having just launched a huge flagship store in Manhattan, UNIQLO is storming forward in its quest for a bigger slice of the global fast-fashion market. As part of a sustained campaign to up its cool quotient, the company is following the likes of H&M, Topshop and Target by enlisting designers who produce pricey catwalk collections to create extremely affordable capsule collections of eight to 10 styles.

Christening the scheme Designers Invitation Project, UNIQLO has boldly chosen to co-opt upcoming designers with far less name recognition than those selected by their rivals. While H&M signed stars like Karl Lagerfeld and Stella McCartney, and Topshop inked a deal with supermodel Kate Moss, the Japanese firm has so far released collections with relative unknowns like Brazilian Felipe Oliveira Baptista, Japanese duo Theatre Products and young Frenchman Nicolas Andreas Taralis.

Currently in stores are the creations of Tokyo-based label Scye and a range designed by Paris-based Brit Adam Jones (pictured above), who used to design knitwear for Kenzo and Christian Dior, and who is known by fashion insiders as “the couture knitter.”

The project seems to be a good deal all round: Consumers get in-trend designs at rock-bottom prices, and emerging designers get valuable exposure overseas — as well as a healthy cash injection as payment for their services. UNIQLO, of course, gets style kudos, brings a more fashion-conscious consumer through its doors and generates some healthy sales — apparently the collections released so far have been flying off the racks.

Tokyo-based brands feature strongly in the roster of contributing designers: This month, Mint Designs and Iliad present women’s and menswear collections respectively, followed next February by a collection for men from HALB, and in March by a women’s collection from Kino. New York-based labels will feature more strongly next year: Alice Roi’s women’s and Cloak’s men’s collections will be available in April, and the collection for women by rising star Phillip Lim is due to hit stores in May.


Hire vision

To commemorate its 120th anniversary, Japan’s most fashionable department store, Isetan, has commissioned an edition of Visionaire, a multiformat album of fashion and art produced in individually numbered and highly limited editions.

The New York-based periodical represents the pinnacle of custom publishing: Previous issues have taken the form of an entirely ink-free publication produced using laser-cutting technology, one that incorporated various scents onto its pages, and it has even morphed into a series of vinyl figures designed by fashion maestros including Giorgio Armani, Vivienne Westwood and John Galliano.

Titled “Decades,” the 49th issue of Visionaire enlists some of the world’s foremost fashion photographers and illustrators to create images inspired by each of the 12 decades that Isetan has been in business. Contributors include Karl Lagerfeld, Bruce Weber, Mario Testino, Steven Meisel, Nick Knight, Peter Lindbergh and Mario Sorrenti.

Each of the participating image-makers contributes a portfolio of work cocooned in a foil-stamped and embossed silver paper-wrapped clamshell case. Only 4,000 copies of this issue are available worldwide, a limited number of which are on sale at Isetan’s Shinjuku flagship store for 26,040 yen.


Blood-free rocks

“Blood Diamond,” the action-packed movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio that opened in the United States last week, examines the role that illicit “conflict” diamonds, or “blood” diamonds, played in Sierra Leone’s civil war of the 1990s, a violent struggle that claimed some 400,000 lives.

Worried that the film might hit demand for precious stones, the diamond industry has launched a campaign drawing attention to the strict programs it has put in place to reduce the possibility of diamonds from war-torn regions finding their way into jewelry stores.

In 2002, diamond production firms and 45 countries involved in the mining and trade of diamonds signed up to the Kimberly Process Certification Scheme, which gives recommendations to prevent conflict diamonds from reaching consumers by requiring any rough diamond entering or leaving a country to be transported in a sealed container and accompanied by a certificate attesting to its origin.

According to the World Diamond Council, the industry’s representative body, the United Nations-mandated process has succeeded in ensuring that more than 99 percent of diamonds on the market are certified as having come from conflict-free sources.

Those seeking peace of mind before buying a diamond during the festive season can read more about the Kimberley Process and responsible mining in English at www.diamondfacts.org and in Japanese at www.diamondfacts.jp .

Ink impresario

Kiyoshi Kuroda, one of Japan’s most in-demand illustrators, is currently staging an exhibition of his work, titled “Discolor,” at Shibuya gallery Nanzuka Underground.

The Tokyo-born artist’s distinctive black ink line drawings, touched up to perfection with computer graphics, are a regular fixture in magazines such as Esquire, Switch and commons&sense, and have been used for projects sponsored by companies including Sony, au, Beams and jeans brand Edwin.

This, Kuroda’s fifth exhibition, is the first in which he has presented his drawings unfettered by software manipulation. The images on display here focus on the beauty he perceives in each stage of the life cycles of various flora and fauna, whose organic shapes are his principle source of inspiration and a consistent motif in his work.


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