One trip to the capital of Japan is all you need to see Tokyo as a place that transcends all fashion norms. The city is a hub for eclectic fashion tastes, ranging from the Harajuku style, which includes vibrant colors and over-the-top accessories, to the kimono look, which taps into the traditional culture of the nation. However, the style that I found most fascinating during my travels is the streetwear fashion. While streetwear has attained popularity all across the United States, Japan has a trove of high-quality clothing brands that continuously amaze buyers through their unique designs unreplicated in America. Unfortunately, with street style comes the misconception of being called a “hypebeast,” one who solely buys clothing to impress. Here is a list of some of my favorite Japanese streetwear brands to up your style this coming school year.
A Bathing Ape
Founded by Nigo in 1993, A Bathing Ape, or BAPE, now has a total of 19 stores in Japan. BAPE is easily the most recognizable and hyped-up name on the list, as you can even find BAPE stores located in New York City and Los Angeles. The signature of the brand is its youthful elements, as Nigo was greatly inspired by the pop culture of the 20th century. BAPE paves the way in streetwear by representing a brand for all who want to channel their adolescent spirits in a bold, new way.
Drawing heavily from the motorcycle culture present in the ’90s, Shinsuke Takizawa started NEIGHBORHOOD out of Tokyo by taking simple pieces of clothing and incorporating elements found in motorcycle attire and military wear. What makes NEIGHBORHOOD unique is its ability to take common components of outdoor apparel and weave them into modern looks. The neutral tones of the clothing are great for adding refinement to your look. Whether you resonate with the hardcore motorcycle counterculture or not, NEIGHBORHOOD brings out the fierceness in everyone.
Comme des Garçons
Comme des Garçons, or CDG, is at the forefront of Japanese fashion. With multiple lines at various price levels and intended for distinct target audiences, CDG emulates a department store layout within its very own brand, which makes it perfect for everyone. Founder Rei Kawakubo is a fashion designer icon not just in Japan but throughout the world. The Metropolitan Museum of Art even featured her designs in an exhibition and as the theme for its famed Met Gala in 2017. “Play” is CDG’s best-selling line, attracting younger demographics with its famed heart embellishment. The vision behind CDG is to view its designs less as simply objects of clothing and more as art.
With distressed fabrics, patches, anarchist graphics and rock band allusions, UNDERCOVER is the perfect coalescence of punk and elegance. Having worked with Kawakubo of CDG and Nigo of Bape, as well as having been the lead vocalist for the cover band Tokyo Sex Pistols, creator Jun Takahashi has quite the unique background that is needed to craft a brand unrivaled by others. The originality of its designs and the superb craftsmanship of UNDERCOVER’s clothing will have you falling in love with the brand in an instant. It comes as no surprise that Takahashi already has numerous Japanese fashion awards under his name. While the rocker lifestyle may not be for everyone, UNDERCOVER taps into punk in an ingenuous way that makes each look exude grace and sophistication.
Designer Hiroki Nakamura was inspired by foreign cultures from an early age. Fascinated by the plethora of outdoor activities and abundance of nature, Nakamura traveled to Alaska, where he spent time with indigenous groups. After learning the skills of design by working at Burton Snowboards in Japan, he constructed Visvim, which would pay homage to Native American culture. The modernity of Visvim comes from taking the classic mocassin used for many years for warmth and protection against harsh climates and combining it with the functionality of a sneaker. By adding the sole of a running shoe and keeping the exterior of a suede moccasin, Visvim allows the worlds of the East and the West to collide. With Visvim, you’re getting not just an overpriced shoe, but rather, an object that was necessary for life in the past that has been remastered for the modern way of living.
Sacai is on the revolutionary wave of using fashion to create wearable art. Working under Kawakubo’s wing followed by eight years with Junya Watanabe, Chitose Abe was able to construct a brand that deviates from the norm. Each piece takes on a life of its own by emphasizing how clothes look when moving around rather than their appearance on the hanger. She effortlessly adds a new, unexpected component to each item of her collection, changing the way we perceive her articles of clothing.
With the dawn of the hypebeast generation, it seems like there is more attention paid to branding and logos than actual style. However, it’s important to remember that fashion is not strictly about the “hype.” Instead, it focuses on wearing pieces that speak to you. Japanese clothing brands find their success by thriving on the unfamiliarity and newness in the industry. Each of these brands views fashion as more than just a shirt or a pair of pants, but as wearable art, not wearable “clout.”