New York-based designer Cynthia Rowley celebrated her brand’s 10th year in Japan with a special talk show and cocktail dinner for VIP guests during Tokyo Fashion Week. The Barrington, Illinois, native’s name has long been on the lips of American sportswear fans with her bright and feminine takes on casual-to-cocktail-style clothing. In Japan, the “Rowley girl” is extra sweet but could be concealing a little bit more edge. Rowley spoke to The Japan Times from her flagship boutique in Tokyo’s trendy Aoyama district.

“In New York we see ourselves as being quite edgy,” she says motioning toward a mannequin that is wearing a hollowed-out bangle that doubles as a flask. “So I’d like to see that come back here. I’m pushing it!”

In the 10 years she has had a presence here, Rowley says she has visited Japan often but never gets used to it.

“Even coming from New York and traveling all over,” she says, “Tokyo still seems so big to me … almost overwhelming! I suppose it’s because there are so many surprises in every nook and cranny so that it feels like you will never know the city in full.”

When Rowley expanded to Japan a decade ago, she says it was a prime moment for New York brands to be able to snag licensing deals here, like the one she inked with Itochu Fashion Systems.

“It just seemed to work out well, since Marc Jacobs and Jill Stuart had already been here a little bit,” she says.

Rowley wasn’t only in the capital on her own promotional tour, she was also here supporting her husband, art aficionado Bill Powers, who was showcasing some underground pieces to the public with a show at Vacant Gallery in Harajuku. When asked about having such a busy schedule, the designer says she has had to learn to juggle travel, work and play.

“In all these years I’ve learned to shut my brain ‘off,’ ” she says. “When I go out, I forget I have a job!” (Misha Janette)

Cynthia Rowley: 5-9-9 Minami Aoyama, Minato-ku, Tokyo. Tel: (03) 6419-8355. Web: www.cynthiarowley.com .


Armani gets ‘Eccentrico’ with couture exhibition

The Armani tower in Ginza is turning five years old this month, and the occassion is going to be marked with an exhibition that’s a little bit freaky.

The “Eccentrico” exhibition is set to open on Nov. 30. The Armani brand name is usually associated with classic cuts and sharp suits, but it also has a whimsical side. Armani is a hefty purveyor of fantasy in fashion and produces works that are worthy of couture and often get glossed over in the industry. We should not forget that the brand is the official costumer for U.S. pop star Lady Gaga’s current world tour — she is after all this generation’s queen of eccentric style.

“Eccentrico” was originally held in Milan in September, and it was invitation-only and restricted to one day. The Tokyo exhibition, however, will be open to the public for two weeks (until Dec. 13). The collection covers 50 decadent pieces of clothing and 150 accessories made in 1985 and onward, and it arranges them thematically. Pieces include brilliantly sparkled white gowns and jeweled creations that were inspired by insects, fruit, fish, birds and other fancies found in nature — a concept often seen in Armani’s output.

It’s not often that couture makes its way to Japan, even less so is it available for the average-heeled fashion buff to gawk at, so take this opportunity to bask in these pieces of wearable artwork often relegated to closed doors, including items made for Lady Gaga herself. (M.J.)

“Eccentrico” runs Nov. 30-Dec 13 at Armani Tower 9F 5-5-4 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo. Tel: (03) 6274-7000 Web: www.armani.com .


Uniqlo Marche takes a bow

Uniqlo opened a new concept shop in Tokyo on Nov. 2, and this time in the form of a mini-department-store-within-a-department-store in Printemps Ginza. They’ve called it Uniqlo Marche.

Marche covers the sixth and seventh floors of the seven-floor Ginza building, and also houses four other brands — all of which are together under parent company Fast Retailing’s umbrella for the first time. The brands joining Uniqlo are a youth-oriented diffusion line called g.u.; a collaboration line between Uniqlo and Theory called P.L.S.T. (pronounced “plastay”), which means “Plus Theory”; and French brands Comptoir des Cotonniers and Princesse Tam.Tam, the latter a lingerie line. Women’s fitting rooms have been made roomier in an effort to cater to female customers, and sales assistants are referred to as “fashion sommeliers.” Taking a cue from Printemps’ French image, Uniqlo is pushing the inclusion of the Comptoir and Princesse brands to associate themselves with other successful long-standing labels in an effort to be seen as a global brand. Marche marks the first time Princesse Tam.Tam is available in Japan although in France it is touted as the seventh-largest and second most popular brand in that country. Both Princesse and Comptoir are more adept at producing trendy designs than the basics-loving Uniqlo, and prices are a stark difference — much like other imports, a dress at Comptoir can run over ¥20,000 and underwear from Princesse will set you back ¥5,000.

At the store’s opening, Uniqlo’s most bottom-line brand, g.u., attracted the longest queues with people of varying ages grabbing up the pieces worn by quirky J-pop singer (and brand spokeswoman) Kyary Pamyu Pamyu in g.u. posters across Tokyo. While Uniqlo’s sales have been down across the country, the g.u. line has been growing dramatically.

“It’s doing so well it’s almost disgusting,” commented Fast Retailing CEO Tadashi Yanai at the Marche press conference. (M.J.)

Uniqlo Marche: Printemps Ginza, 3-2-1 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo. Tel: (03) 5159-3931. Web: www.uniqlo.com .


Digital pop idol Miku to become ‘spokesperson’ for Vanquish

Mass-market menswear brand Vanquish, which is synonymous with 109 Mens, the male counterpart to the mecca of Shibuya youth fashion 109, has tapped digital pop idol Hatsune Miku as the face of its ongoing Vanquish Venus campaign.

The project, which promotes the brand by dressing its female models seductively in men’s clothing, has been the domain of gravure idols in the past — Manami Marutaka and Yurika Tachibana to name two. Choosing Miku, though, puts Vanquish in line with current mainstream tastes for Akihabara-style idols, who have been the dominant objects of affection for a niche of otaku (geeks, obsessives) in the past.

The campaign should appeal to Miku’s domestic fan base, but it’s also part of an effort by brand director Ryo Ishikawa’ to push Vanquish as an international name. The computer-generated character is already popular in many markets abroad, even though those customers might not be considered very fashion savvy. Perhaps this is something Vanquish hopes to change.

Accompanying Miku’s appearance at various retail locations, Vanquish customers will also receive a lookbook that features the pop idol wearing the brand’s current collection as drawn by illustrators such as so-bin, Zain and Kousuke Yanagisawa. It will also include a link to download a unique Miku track.

This campaign is the start of several collaborations with the computerized character and a number of limited edition items are expected before year’s end. (S.T.)

Vanquish: www.vanquish.jp/venus .

Zozotown starts to feel used

Japanese online retailer Zozotown is expanding its portfolio of sites with a new venture into the growing used designer-clothing market. Zozoused, which opened Oct. 12 with some 40,000 items, is billed by Zozotown owners Start Today as a way for customers to buy new clothes by selling what they no longer wear.

An increase in consumer demand for used designer clothes seems to be behind an explosion of bricks-and-mortar locations across Japan. In Tokyo these include Rinkan, Kind and Brand Collect. The trend, which is not linked to the popularity of imported vintage clothes, has been connected to Japan’s ongoing economic downturn. At an average price of around ¥4,000, Zozoused is likely to come as welcome relief to shoppers.

The project is the culmination of a long-term goal by Start Today that began with the acquisition of auction website Crown Jewel in May 2011. That site will now be dedicated to buying stock from customers as Zozoused becomes the sales arm of the business. Undoubtedly, the fixed-price model will prove more accessible to the average person than the auction model for the mass-market clientele that Zozotown now enjoys.

To celebrate the launch of the site, Zozotown has asked more than 100 models and celebrities to sell their own items through Zozoused, which will likely have the effect of presenting an acceptable face for used designer fashion to the public as it becomes a part of the Japanese fashion palette. (Samuel Thomas)

Zozoused: www.zozo.jp/zozoused .

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