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How Beams Shaped Japanese Fashion

February 2017Words by The Daily Team

A Western denim Wrangler shirt, designed for Beams’ 30th anniversary. All photographs © Beams. Courtesy of Rizzoli.

In today’s retail climate, things move fast. Alongside continual improvements in terms of innovation, service and the digital experience, shoppers expect newness on a weekly, if not daily basis. Imagine, then, the great strides that a retailer can make in 40 years. Then forget what you imagined and look at the extraordinary case of Japanese style institution Beams, which celebrates its four decades of existence this month with the release of new book Beams: Beyond Tokyo.

When Beams first launched in the 1970s, Harajuku, Tokyo, was a far-cry from the glimmering neon teen paradise it is today. In place of giant malls and complexes like Laforet and the towering 109 store in Shibuya, style-seekers were serviced by smaller stores offering American or Ivy League style clothing. The original Beams store, founded by Mr Etsuzo Shitara in 1976 and originally called American Life Shop Beams, innovated upon this format by focusing on West Coast Culture and partnering with newly launched magazine Popeye to seek out the best international product to bring to Tokyo.

In the ensuing years, it further diversified to keep up with the burgeoning fashion landscape, and increasingly concentrated on street style, by launching new stores and brands that focused on specific areas of clothing for different types of customer. In 1979, there was Beams F, an Ivy League concept. In 1981, came International Gallery Beams, which brought European designer brands to the Japanese capital. Then there were the women’s lines Lumiere Beams, Lapis Beams and Beams Boy. By the 1990s, as competition increased, Beams had opened a café, an art gallery, a record label, a vintage furniture store and more. Throughout, its buyers adopted an inquisitive approach to international brands and a truly collaborative spirit to make sure that Beams stores carried a jaw-droppingly wide range of new and exclusive products. It’s an approach that most Western retailers are still catching up with.