Aki and Kuzu get smart

Cabaret Aki and Jackal Kuzu are known as the designers of scandalously flagrant men’s brand Gut’s Dynamite Cabarets, but with the launch of their impressive new line, JhonAG, their alter-egos may soon fade as the two are set to be reverently known as just Aki and Kuzu.

JhonAG debuted quietly this June during the Milan Men’s Fashion Week with a Spanish-inspired collection titled “Fiesta.” If Dynamite Cabarets is fashion’s riff-raff, then JhonAG is the clean-cut flip side: elegant jacquard prints adorn tailored shorts, knits have cutouts like paper snowflakes and jackets are detailed with latticework.

Most impressive is a collection of nylon bags that when unzipped and pulled apart transform into rain jackets and trench coats so snazzy you’ll wonder why no one has been able to make them look this fashionable before.

JhonAG is overseen by a motley crew of advisers and shareholders borrowed from listed companies, such as producer Katsumi Tsukui who has worked with Christian Dior and Fendi Japan, and Norimasa Shibuya, a former design assistant for Givenchy Haute Couture and Alexander McQueen. Pieces are made with new fabrics and experimental techniques mostly produced in Japan. A flagship store is slated to open in Tokyo’s Jingumae district on Sept. 20, and will follow with expansion overseas.

While there is still some tongue-in- cheek humor that Aki and Kuzu couldn’t hold back — for example, there’s a fringed belt that looks like a skirt and a white shirt with the print of a splattered tomato — this new brand showcases a refinement that these designers have had in them all along.

For more information see www.jhonag.com

Japan’s Tiger celebrates

Onitsuka Tiger is celebrating the 60th year of its founding with a conceptual collection of items made with motifs inspired by animals of the Chinese zodiac, which runs on a 12-year cycle.

The Japanese company began in 1949 as a sportswear manufacturer and was rebranded as the Onitsuka Tiger fashion brand in 2002. It quickly grew to fame all over the globe for its sporty yet retro and whimsical take on active wear. The animal zodiac collection is a polished culmination of the company’s sagas.

Two graphic artists, one being Takeshi Fukui of SOMA Design, were brought on board to bring alive the animals of the zodiac. SOMA Design is known for its own conceptual fashion brand SOMARTA, and artist Fukui’s take on the horse, sheep, and monkey involves a dreamlike wash of colors and wispy brush strokes that bring out the animals’ individual details. The illustrations appear on a limited number of T-shirts, sneakers and hoodies, among other items, all available at Onitsuka Tiger boutiques worldwide. Check out the Web site for a humorous animated version of the legend of the zodiac.

20-7, Sarugaku-cho, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo. Tel: (03) 5489-1711. www.onitsukatiger.com

The toga revisited

In ancient Rome, a toga picta was a purple, ornately decorated and gold-embroidered toga worn by celebrated generals and dignitaries at ceremonies and public games. Now it is also the name of a couture line from the Japanese brand Toga.

Toga is the brainchild of designer Yasuko Furuta, who began the main line in 1997. She has received acclaim for her attention to detail and experimentation, even garnering a nod as a finalist in the Swiss Textiles Award in 2008. The Toga Picta line takes Furuta’s curiosity for design further by offering, each season, one-off constructed pieces made from vintage clothing (we’ve also seen some other quirky departures, such as a line of body pillows printed with life-size images of dominatrixes).

The new fall collection, available now, is titled “Glitter” and consists of a handful of denim pieces and dazzling dresses. Each dress (from ¥178,500) is an amalgam of five separate sequined vintage pieces put together in over a month’s worth of handiwork. Toga Picta is a pet project only available at the Toga Harajuku store, and like the Roman Empire, once the pieces are gone, they’re gone for good.

6-31-10 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo. (03) 6419-8136. www.toga.jp

Yohji under wraps

Coming Soon is a new licensed men’s and women’s label from Yohji Yamamoto that ceremoniously touts itself as the first-ever no-name, super-casual and contemporary designer brand. The designer’s name is never disclosed, leaving it up to the wearer to decide if it is actually worth its salt (though anyone wearing the clothing will surely be name-dropping “Yamamoto” at every opportunity).

In this same vein of artistic ambiguity, the label shuns the catwalk in favor of a short movie produced every season and released online. The films, directed by Briton Max Vadukul, are a fusion of narrative and choreography, making them masterful pieces of work as well as a brilliantly innovative advertising technique.

The fall season is titled “The Man With the Suitcase” and features a puppeteer with a mysterious suitcase that contains human marionettes with some odd but beautiful dancing skills. Don’t miss the fantastic “Traffic in Italy” from last season as well.

This new label is coming to Japan with the third collection, rolling out the women’s line first, on Aug. 26. Coming Soon has been, well, a long time coming here, but its new twist on simple and timeless casual wear is definitely worth the wait.

Available at Shinjuku Isetan, 3-14-1 4F Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo. (03) 3352-1111. www.coming-soon.com

Comme des Garcons goes dotty

Comme des Garcons has been staking a claim in the art world since its first objet de mode took a step on the runway. Now, it is digging its heels in and getting arty in Osaka with its SIX gallery, which opened in Minami-semba on Aug. 8. The gallery is on the second floor, adjacent to the Comme des Garcons shop, and will be a permanent space, rotating exhibitions every few months.

According to the brand, it is named after both the “sixth sense of surrealist perception” and the title of a cult magazine published by the label from 1991-98.

When Comme des Garcons’ maestro Rei Kawakubo does anything, she does it with fanfare, and this time is no different: The space’s opening exhibition goes to celebrated contemporary artist Yayoi Kusama.

Kusama is known for her work with polka dots, and in particular for her series of vividly colored polka-dot pumpkins.

The Six Gallery exhibit, “Propagating,” is a force of 1,000 polka-dots of light that changes from warm to black light, set in a space specially designed by Kawakubo.

The space is meant to be “organic,” changing its features appropriately for every succeeding artist.

“Propagating” runs until Nov. 8; 3-12-22 2F Minami-semba, Osaka. (06) 6258-3315

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