Style & Design

Japan's end-of-year fashion ups and downs

by Samuel Thomas

Contributing Writer

November is usually a quiet month in fashion, retailers safe in the knowledge that hordes of Christmas shoppers are on their way. Last month, though, a number of upsets in the Japanese fashion world kept things fiery as the temperature dropped. It wasn’t all bad news, though.

The storm before Christmas

First up was news that Harajuku bastion of amekaji (American casual) bad boys Glad Hand might have been living the outlaw lifestyle after all. On Nov. 26, under suspicion of embezzlement, its offices were raided by the Tokyo District Public Prosecutor’s Office special investigation squad. At the time of writing, its Harajuku flagship was closed as the investigation continues. If the allegations are proved true, it would be a huge shake-up to the menswear fashion scene, where Glad Hand and its seven sub-brands are currently active. The sub-brand Gangsterville, in particular, might be in for some satirical ridicule.

The shocks kept coming with news that the mainstream American casual brand American Eagle Outfitters, which is licensed in Japan to Aoyama Trading (best known for its Yofuku-no-Aoyama and The Suit Company business wear stores), is going to vanish from the Japanese market before the end of the year. The store currently occupies a prime position in central Harajuku, but will close just before Christmas on Dec. 18, with its online store closing later, on Dec. 31.

It is not just the Harajuku scene that is being rocked by change; at the upper end of the market the unthinkable is also happening. It was recently announced that home-electronics giant Bic Camera would be taking up residence in the hallowed marble halls of Japan’s first department store, Nihonbashi Mitsukoshi. The highly prestigious and designated Important Cultural Property building is a surprising location for the electronics chain, and one can’t imagine Bic Camera’s chirpy — and very repetitive — theme song going down well in Nihonbashi Mitsukoshi’s usually austere halls.

We are assured, however, that it will be a high-end Bic Camera space, catering for the banking and business district in the Nihombashi area and beyond, though it won’t be until spring 2020 when we find out what that means.

Mitsukoshi’s parent company Isetan Mitsukoshi Holdings also announced in November that it will be ending its licensing of U.S. fashion brand Anna Sui, closing 12 standalone stores and multiple concessions in the process. A once popular and iconic brand that looked so at home in Japan that many falsely assumed it was actually Japanese, it’s hard to imagine Anna Sui leaving the market. But as department stores restructure, it will have to — as other brands are likely to in the future — find another home.

How many Black Fridays?

Meanwhile, Black Friday sales, the phenomenon that marketing analysts keep billing as a shock to the fashion system, was something of a dud in Japan. Black Friday (Nov. 29), the Friday after U.S. Thanksgiving, ended up being early in Japan and stretched across the weekend of Nov. 23-24 for Banana Republic; the entire week from Nov. 25 for H&M; and from Nov. 22 until Dec. 1 for ABC-Mart.

Only Gap, which ran its campaign from Nov. 22-24 and offered an impressive 50 percent discount, actually managed to create a line of shoppers, with the first 600 rewarded with free heat pads and chocolate for braving the cold and pouring rain.

Poor weather alone can’t be blamed for the lack of impact, though. With inconsistent timings and lackluster offers, it seems hard to imagine Black Friday turning into a shopping fixture in the Japanese market any time soon.

A Mistergentleman and The Adopted Son jacket, made in collaboration with Fragment Design | MISTERGENTLEMAN
A Mistergentleman and The Adopted Son jacket, made in collaboration with Fragment Design | MISTERGENTLEMAN

The gift of Parco

Against this backdrop of uncertainty in Japan, there was a ray of hope. Shibuya Parco’s reopening was almost universally well-received, perhaps with the exception of its immediate retail rivals.

A promotional image for the renewed Parco store in Shibuya | PARCO
A promotional image for the renewed Parco store in Shibuya | PARCO

The fashion building, the go-to place for Shibuya’s fashion-forward youth, had been in hibernation since August 2016, with everyone wondering what the revitalized incarnation would look like. The result of the three-year renewal project says more about Japanese fashion as a whole than it does about Parco itself, with the launch of new stores by seasoned fashion labels, including Mistergentleman’s venture with Fragment Design, Comme des Garcons Girl and Ambush Workshop.

There are also about a year’s worth of collaborations and limited-editions to coincide with the launch, including pieces from Christian Dada, who pays homage to the Parco logo by reworking it into a mini collection.

shibuya.parco.jp. (Japanese only)

LION HEART
LION HEART

Jewelry can be for men

DOVER STREET MARKET
DOVER STREET MARKET

As it’s December, there has to be a mention of Christmas. Jewelry is often the go-to gift for women, but this year men have been formally invited to the glittering party.

Tiffany & Co. have collaborated with Dover Street Market for a pleasantly rugged collection of basics available at its Ginza store, while Japanese brand Lion Heart are marking 23 years in the men’s jewelry business with the promotion of no less than 23 different earrings and studs. Finally, Justin Davis, jewelry crafted in Japan, has taken its exceptionally detailed work in a distinctly gothic direction for winter 2019. If the special someone in your life would appreciate a skull under the tree, this is the place to get it.

bit.ly/gdsmtiffany (English only) lionheart-store.com/LH23th (Japanese only) jd-jewels.com (Japanese only)