Get ready for Fashion Week

Japan Fashion Week in Tokyo — from March 22-26 — is gearing up for its 10th round of showcasing some of the country’s best and freshest fashion geniuses. While it is technically an industry-only affair, there are a few related events planned for anyone with a passion for fashion.

From March 22-28, the Pola Museum in Ginza will be showing an exhibition that retrospects the last 50 years of fashion through the archived pages of recently defunct High Fashion magazine. Hotel Claska in Meguro will be holding a flea market on the evening of March 26 (7 p.m.-11 p.m.) with brand names such as Mikio Sakabe slated to sell both new and personal items for a steal. And, since Japan Fashion Week is all about the shows, Takashimaya Shinjuku will be hosting a public presentation by label Ka Na Ta, as well as setting up a display space on the 8th floor for the spring collections of many JFW brands.

For those wanting to see more catwalk action, some of the shows, most of which are being held at Tokyo Midtown in Roppongi, will also be shown on the jumbo screen outside the complex.

Finally, for those preferring an even closer look — if you see a line of savvy-looking patrons at Midtown; ask them nicely and you could be lucky enough to snag a coveted standing view at one of the runway shows. Pola Museum, 3F 1-7-7 Ginza, Chuo-ku (03)-3563-5501; Hotel Claska, 1-3-18 Chuo-cho, Meguro-ku, (03) 3719-8121. The Japan Fashion Week schedule is listed on the JFW Web site: www.jfw.jp

See it in the Grapevine

For the last 15 years, the edgy Grapevine by K3 boutique has sat in the back streets of Daikanyama, helping to cultivate the hip-but-hidden culture that has become the area’s raison d’e^tre.

Now the shop has gone through a makeover and invited designer MUG of Tokyo brand G.V.G.V. to curate a selection of brands and items in celebration of its anniversary. Though it should be noted that G.V.G.V. is actually produced by K3, asking MUG to oversee the buying is no less intriguing or exciting. She has a well-honed eye for style, her own brand being firmly rooted in the rebellious, sexy, and tough genre. Many of the pieces found on the racks are equally smoldering in audacity — leather studded riders jackets from Tokyoite John Lawrence Sullivan, items adorned with silky strips and leather straps from New York designer Bliss Lau, and towering architectural heels from Londoner Camilla Skaarsgard.

The most interesting inclusion comes from DRESSEDUNDRESSED, a new local line launched last year by the former directors of another “hidden” boutique, CANDY in Shinjuku (itself a Pandora’s box of androgynous and thoroughly modern fashion pandemonium). The Grapevine Web site is worth checking out as it offers a preview of what is available in-store.

B1F 13-2 Sarugaku, Shibuya-ku; (03) 3464-5354; www.grapevinebyk3.jp

Nike NSW moves north for the year

Nike NSW, which houses the activewear label’s premium and fashion-centric sportswear line, disappeared rather suddenly from its location in the south end of Catstreet in Harajuku only to re-open on Feb. 20 in the north end of the same street as NSW Store by Head Porter Plus.

NSW concept stores have amassed devoted fans thanks to limited-edition items and collaborations with demi-gods of urban culture such as Hiroshi Fujiwara, creator of Honeyee (often known as the don of Japanese urban fashion) who has designed special pairs of the Nike HT sneakers. If you’re not familiar with the exclusive HT sneaker, then you’re probably already too late to pick up a pair, but the shop does provide other fodder for fans of stylish activewear, including Nike-engineered chinos and button-up shirts as well as the usual sweats and hoodies.

The dressier pieces come courtesy of Head Porter, the brand behind those simple and stylish bags that are as ubiquitous in Japan as Nike would be in a sports center. But this new collection is small, and the shop is still conspicuously dedicated to fitness with soccer-themed interiors celebrating the World Cup and racks that look like weightlifting cages.

Be aware, though, the shop has a shelf-life of only one year before it joins the soccer pitch in the sky.

HP Annex, 4-27-6 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku; (03) 5772-8540; www.nike.com

Working on basic needs

As apparel makers scramble to find ways to compete with the fast-fashion fever taking over Japan, one new brand, I.T.’S International, has high hopes for its solution to offset losses. Aimed at working men and women, and children, I.T.’S International’s first shop debuted in Harajuku on Feb. 19 with legions more to be rolled out across Japan throughout the year. The brand launched with much media fanfare, and has been touted as somewhat revolutionary since six companies — comprising the different stages in the manufacturing, marketing and distribution — have unprecedentedly come together to create quality garments with speed and efficiency.

What this dream team has produced, as can be seen in the Harajuku store, however, is . . . pretty much more of the same — techno-fabric trench coats for women in beige and black at around ¥10,000, simple men’s dress shirts at around ¥7,000 and small cotton cardigans for just over ¥5,000. It is meant to look basic and materials and construction are arguably high in quality. But, at the end of the day, it’s less trendy than GAP and only slightly more interesting than Muji.

4-31-10 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku; (03) 3478-3600; www.its-international.net

The house that LV built

On the last weekend of February, luxury fashion giant Louis Vuitton Malletier reopened its oldest Kobe store in Motomachi’s Kyoryuchi 25th Building. This completely refurbished reincarnation of the former free-standing boutique, which originated in 1983, is the first “maison”-christened shop in Japan.

The maison model integrates retail with art, something the label has already made a name for itself with since it brought artist Takashi Murakami to the fashion pedestal he now sits on. Murakami’s collaboration with LV, which saw his vibrant prints splashed on their bags, caused a storm with both art and fashion fans. Kobe maison now welcomes American artist Alyson Shotz, who has created a 20.4-meter-long sculpture of reflective lenses that sits in a rotunda of one of the mezzanines, accessible by a floating spiral staircase.

What’s particularly interesting is that this store renewal pretty much came hot on the heels of the company’s announcement to withdraw from opening a large retail space in Ginza.

“Our decision to invest in one of our free-standing stores in Kobe in this economical context confirms that Japan continues to be an important market for us, and that we have high expectations for the market,” says Yves Carcelle, chairman and CEO of LV.

It seems that even troubled economic conditions cannot dampen the mutual admiration between LV and Japan.

25 Kyo-machi, Chuo-ku, Kobe; LV Customer Service (03) 3478-2100; www.louisvuitton.com

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