Naoki Takizawa: A new knight to represent Helmut Lang

Helmut Lang is making the news, thanks to the appointment of Naoki Takizawa as head of menswear design, starting with the new fall collection.

Takizawa started at Issey Miyake in 1982, working his way up to become head designer of menswear and then later of womenswear as well, before leaving to create his own eponymous brand in 2006.

Since then, he has received enough awards to fill an ample-sized trophy case, including the prestigious Mainichi Award in Tokyo and the Bessie Award for costume design in New York. In 2007, he was also made a knight in the Order of the Arts and Letters in Paris. His consistent, stoic style makes him a natural at interpreting Helmut Lang’s sharp, simple, yet edgy aesthetic.

Helmut Lang began as a high-end line that spearheaded the minimalistic look of the 1990s. Then, in a move that shocked the fashion world, Link Theory Holdings of Tokyo bought it from the Prada Group in 2006 and rebranded it as a more affordable, commercial line.

With Takizawa now on the team, the question is: Will Helmut Lang go back to its former high-end star status? PR representative Yayoi Tomatsu reassures us that it will not, saying, “We hope that everyone will understand that we are still a contemporary brand.” Prices for the Takizawa-designed pieces reflect this sentiment and are not completely out of reach, with tailored jackets in a metallic sheen for about ¥70,000 and dress shirts at around ¥30,000.

5-13-2 Minami-Aoyama, Minato-ku; (03) 6419-8144; www.helmutlang.com

Mercibeaucoup for a new lower-price line

Mercibeaucoup, the niche Tokyo brand much loved for its unique and quirky and “Japanese-ness,” is moving on up by bringing down its prices with a new line named jevous enprie!

The press releases give very few words, with the only information offered being “When you’re talking about a ‘thank you,’ you have a ‘you’re welcome’ too.” We do know, however, that the line is lower in price than its big sister, with bottoms ranging from ¥6,500 to ¥9,500 and tops and dresses from ¥6,000 to ¥7,500.

Eri Utsugi, the pintsize ball of energy behind mercibeaucoup, smatters her casual, often oversized, designs in polka dots and kitsch motifs that have become a mainstay at Tokyo Fashion Week and a signature of Japanese casual fashion.

Utsugi has always taken a youthful approach to her clothing lines, from her days designing at the similarly funky label Frapbois to the last five years at mercibeaucoup. Even the interiors of mercibeaucoup stores have a playground-like fun atmosphere to them.

Jevous enprie! is a continuation of Utsugi’s aesthetic and includes polka-dot clown pants and hoodies with fuzzy tummies teddy-bear ears. Items are already being rolled out at mercibeaucoup boutiques throughout the country.

mercibeaucoup, Aoyama, 3-10-11 Kita-aoyama, Minato-ku; (03) 6805-1790; www.mercibeaucoup.jp

Lady Gaga’s favorite Japanese cobbler

If you’re looking for a trendy pump, head to Jimmy Choo. If you want daring, artistic one-of-a-kind footwear, talk to Noritaka Tatehana. In the blink of an eye, 25-year-old Tatehana has gone from being barely a blip on the radar to the fashion elites’ favorite force of shoe nature. It helps that he was cornered by Lady Gaga, who commissioned a black pair of his “invisible heel” shoes when she traveled to Japan for her “Monster Ball” tour in May. Tatehana was quickly appointed Gaga’s exclusive cobbler, and for the past few months we’ve seen her tottering in his creations in numerous music videos and on magazine covers.

His unconventional shapes are, in a way, elegant, but they are as subtle as Godzilla in a yoga class. There are monolithlike cone platforms, wedges with large round “blades” emerging from the heel, and a pair that look a like a huge shield when placed together heel-to-heel.

“I was warned that not even Gaga can walk in these,” Tatehana said laughing.

A graduate of the prestigious Tokyo University of Fine Arts, Tatehana specialized in traditional yuzen dyeing techniques. This is something he employs in his newest creations, which are hand-dyed red, embossed with a pattern reminiscent of 18th-century chinoiserie and subtly brushed with gold. His shoes are made-to-order only, and a pair can be anything upward of ¥250,000. For the enthusiasts (or enthusiastic Gaga fans), however, a chance to walk in such works of art is priceless.


In true hobo style

Finding inspiration in unexpected sources and pushing the boundaries of propriety is often what fashion does best, as is illustrated by the “Hobo Style” exhibition by Japanese menswear brand Porter Classic at the brand’s gallery in Ginza.

A heartfelt shrine to the group of downtrodden American men who took up nomadic lifestyles in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, this exhibition romanticizes wanderlust with photos, artifacts and newspaper clippings about famous hobos over the years. One clipping, an obituary, plays homage to “Steam Train” Maury, who was appointed a grand patriarch hobo. And the gallery’s location — an old wooden arcade under rumbling train tracks — is an accidentally apt space to view such a tribute.

Porter Classic incorporates this hobo inspiration into clothing, coming up with retro graffiti-splattered T-shirts, gas-can-shaped leather charms and intricately patchworked denim pieces covered in badges with slogans such as “I’d rather be ridin’ a freight train.” Denim items are available for special order, from ¥196,000.

Father-son designers Katsu and Leo Yoshida, with the cooperation of the Hobo Museum in Britt, Iowa, have also published a collection of photos and stories titled “Hobo Style,” which is currently only available from the Porter Classic store and gallery.

“Hobo Style” runs till Aug. 30 at 1-7 Uchisaiwai-cho, Chiyoda-ku; (03) 5512-0150; www.porterclassic.com

Another fashion line bites the dust

Dig out those couture mourning clothes because we’re having a fashion wake. It was announced that the Dolce & Gabbana group will be scaling down operations of its lower-priced, youth-targeted line D&G in Japan by closing all boutiques by the beginning of 2011. While licensed products such as perfume and sunglasses will continue to be sold at various retailers, clothing will be relegated to online shopping only. A global retooling of the D&G image and the rampant emergence of lookalikes among other domestic brands are a couple of the reasons given for the clothing line’s departure. Despite having 15 boutiques across the country (including flagships in Tokyo and Osaka), D&G’s performance has been below par, with the line pulling in only ¥3 billion of the roughly ¥10 billion in annual sales that it and the signature high-end Dolce & Gabbana line were making.

The closings follow other brands, such as Versace and French Connection UK, which have swiftly exited the Japanese market in the last year. It certainly is another stomp on Japan’s reputation as a healthy hub for anything and everything with a label. But not everyone sees this move as a nail in Japan’s fashion coffin.

“The scaling back of Dolce & Gabbana’s bridge line will not hurt the label or Japan’s image as an arbiter of fashion. It actually makes more economic sense to move its D&G stores to emerging markets, such as China, where there is a greater appetite for affordable fashion,” said Peter Yeoh, Asia Editor of the luxury magazine Glass.

Currently, the D&G flagships are still operating, so fans may want to pay their respects post-haste. Or, you could just pay homage by picking up some knockoffs at a department store.


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