Colloquially called “The Oscars of Design,” the Design Museum of London Design Awards are prestigious accolades given in six categories to the most innovative and inspiring designs of the year — and this year’s top honors in the fashion category went to Japan’s own Issey Miyake and his team of boundary-pushing researchers dubbed the “Reality Lab”.

The award is somewhat of a coup, considering who Miyake was up against: Sarah Burton for Kate Middleton’s royal wedding dress, the Alexander McQueen “Savage Beauty” exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum in New York, and Vivienne Westwood’s Ethical Fashion Africa Project, being just a few.

Miyake may not have the buzz or star power of the former designers, but he has certainly changed the way we think fashion should be constructed and worn.

A Piece of Cloth (A-POC) saw Miyake using high-tech machinery to weave garments into tubes of material that need only to be cut out to be worn. His most recent project, started just two years ago, involves the Reality Lab, which created the origami-inspired 132 5. line of garments out of a new type of recycled PET-bottle fabric. These not only fold completely flat into pinwheels, but when worn they also retain the fold creases as part of their distinctive design. The idea was developed in collaboration with computer scientist Jun Mitani, whose software was used to calculate the complicated folds, and every new season has seen some form of experimentation, such as introducing foil prints and velveteen flocking. It’s all highly futuristic and yet completely wearable — which is most likely the deciding factor in Miyake’s win. If you’re in London, the collection will be on display at the Design Museum until July 4.. (Misha Janette)


Moshikawa leaves tourists with no excuse to forget souvenirs

As Tokyo becomes a more popular destination for Asian visitors, Harajuku seems to be reaching fever pitch as the place to shop. Moshi Moshi Kawaii Harajuku (Moshikawa) on Takeshita-dori opened in mid-March as a one-stop shop targeting this new breed of tourists.

Much like the Japanese notion of omiyage, Asian visitors take the giving of souvenirs very seriously, and to cater for this Moshikawa offers both the products and services needed. There’s a special gift-wrapping service, multilingual staff and the atmosphere is cheery and stress-free.

Products include colorfully packaged candies, exclusive T-shirts and coffee tumblers that aren’t shy about screaming cute. There are also special collaborations with local brands such as the Greedy Geniu$ sneakers, which are splashed with prints so powerfully bright they’ll command any room they step into.

Moshikawa’s creative director is Yasumasa Yonehara, a celebrity photographer who has snapped the heart of the Harajuku kawaii (cute) scene since the 1970s. Yonehara’s work has proved popular across Asia, and in the space of about a year he collected more than 450,000 followers on China’s premier SNS Weibo. His online persona has become like an ambassador of Harajuku, encouraging young people to travel to Japan.

Even if you’re not souvenir hunting, Moshikawa may be worth stopping by just to get your hands on its odd limited-edition free gift: a roll of toilet paper printed with two of the shop’s cutesy image characters in pink and blue — only in Japan . . . but then that’s the whole appeal. (M.J.)

2F 1-16-11 Jingumae Shibuya-ku. (030 6434-0038. www.moshikawa.com.

Kawaii global on NHK’s new English-language show

Ever since Hello Kitty came on the scene in the 1970s, Japan has been known as the world’s breeding ground for all things kawaii (cute). That’s even more so today, as popular cute street trends and styles seen in Harajuku and Shibuya are rapidly spread across the globe thanks to the Internet.

In April, NHK World, the national broadcaster’s international satellite and cable service, debuted “Kawaii International,” an English-language version of the wildly popular Japanese NHK show “Kawaii TV.” Covering topics such as gothic lolita and Shibuya gyaru fashion in depth, the program also includes hair and makeup tutorials, trend analyses and viewer contests. Truth be known, I also appear on the show as a commentator.

International kawaii fans are still a niche group, but the TV show’s Facebook fanpage’s 250,000-and-growing fans suggest that this could soon change. The show shies away from an educational format and instead invites to the studio street-style queens and bloggers for informal chats. Fans are also encouraged to send in videos and enter contests to win an invite to the show.

Though it’s fascinating delving into the subcultures of Japan, exploring the various “tribes” of Japanese fashion — a word of warning — the targeted demographic is still young, so bear in mind that you could get an overdose on cuteness. (M.J.)

“Kawaii International” airs six times on the final Saturday of each month on NHK World at four-hour intervals from 8:10 a.m. (Japan time), and is streamed live on www.nhk.or.jp/kawaii-i/index.html at 8:10 a.m.

Blasting into the fashion scene: Gundam’s STRICT-G menswear

Bandai’s phenomenally successful robot anime series Mobile Suit Gundam has already been the subject of innumerable limited-edition designer collaborations, but its latest foray into the world of fashion — STRICT-G — marks the beginning of a long-term plan to create a credible fashion brand that will produce collections each season.

Early impressions of the brand, which comes from the flagship in Odaiba’s new Diver City Tokyo plaza, assure that the line of menswear will avoid relying on the use of imagery from the anime and instead offer beautifully cut and tailored products. There are fitted suit jackets with perfectly integrated pleats inspired by the Gundam air ducts, and crisp white shirts sporting pockets that take design cues from the shape of the iconic robot’s knee joints.

Supporting this core collection are a number of collaborations that likewise place fashion and design before overt branding: Japanese denim brand Edwin has produced jeans, while sports eyewear manufacturer Swans has contributed sunglasses. Both dutifully reference Gundam, yet in a subtle enough way so as to not to scare off the less fanatic. Respected accessory brand Jam Home Made have also converted the key colors from the series into leather and silver accessories, and have also crafted some more literal Gundam items that will doubtless prove collectable.

This project joins others, such as the “Neon Genesis Evangelion” anime’s brand Radio Eva, that recognize the potential fashion has in tempering culture for foreign markets and transmitting it abroad — not to mention finding new appeal domestically. (Samuel Thomas)

STRICT-G Gundam Front Tokyo Shop, Diver City Tokyo Plaza 7F. www.strict-g.com.

Onitsuka Tiger roars louder than ever in its new flagship store in Tokyo’s trend-setting Omotesando

Onitsuka Tiger, which was established in 1949, is one of Japan’s oldest sports-shoe brands. In 1977, it merged with two other Japanese brands, Jelenk and GTO, to form ASICS.

Globally renowned for its vintage-style sports shoes, Onitsuka Tiger was rebranded in 2002, and to mark the 10th anniversary since its revival, ASICS has opened the brand’s largest-ever flagship — in Tokyo’s Omotesando area.

The new shop embodies everything that Onitsuka Tiger has become known for: It places the old next to the new and the Western with the Japanese.

The second floor is a gallery space devoted to displays of some of the brand’s iconic creations from its long history. It also features an art installation by Team-Lab with which you can interact virtually with the brand’s latest shoes using Microsoft’s Kinect technology.

There are several design references to the brand’s success abroad, such as the European furniture that contrasts with bamboo furnishings on the first floor, but the overall theme of the shop is indisputably a celebration of Japanese heritage that culminates with the debut of a premium “Made in Japan” series of shoes, which is exclusively available at the Omotesando flagship.

Speaking at the opening, operations manager Shoda Ryoji said, “We want this shop to be the core for transmitting the new face of Onitsuka Tiger to the world, and (we want) to find ways to reflect elements from it in all our future shops.”

Given that the brand plans to expand from 16 shops in Japan to 50 by 2015, it shouldn’t be long before it once again becomes an integral part of this nation’s fashion landscape. (S.T.)

Onitsuka Tiger Omotesando: 4-14-14 Jingumae, Shibuya, Tokyo. www.asics.co.jp/onitsukatiger.

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