Five Japanese Brands You Need To Know
Here we offer a Zagat guide to MR PORTER’s collaborations with Beams Plus, Blackmeans, Remi Relief, Neighborhood and others.
If brand names such as Remi Relief and Neighborhood don’t quite roll off your tongue with the same fluency as Givenchy and Saint Laurent, don’t panic. Here’s all you need to know: Japan is one of the most exciting places for menswear in the world right now. Why? Because Japanese designers seem to have a particular ability to combine radical design with an incredible attention to detail. Pick up a pair of jeans from Neighborhood (which simultaneously pay tribute to American biker culture and the traditional Japanese technique of boro or “patchwork”), or a truly impeccable biker jacket (a recreation of a classic that’s better than the classic ever was) from the crust-punk acolytes at Blackmeans, and you’ll see what we mean – not only are these products well-made, they are well thought out and often exhaustively researched. The clothing achieves an effect of being cool, cutting-edge and comfortingly familiar, in a hey-my-grandfather-wore-that-sort-of-jacket sort of way.
Mr Shinsuke “Alex” Nakada, director of Beams Plus, neatly sums up the appeal of Japanese designers when he describes his countrymen’s “healthy spirit of inquiry in clothing”. That is, the very Japanese tendency not just to focus on the final product, but all the intricate factors which go into the making of it. “We are interested in all of the processes, the reason for those processes and their associated historical backgrounds,” he says. “We want to know the reason why these details are developed in the first place.”
"While we group [the capsules] under the banner of Japan, aesthetically we are telling a lot of different stories"
What’s so gratifying about this meticulous approach (what Mr Shinsuke Takizawa of Neighborhood calls “the Japanese obsession in pursuit of acquiring information about fashion”) is that, in focusing on authenticity and quality, it produces such varied and unexpected results stylistically – which is plain to see from this spring’s capsules. “I think the interesting thing about the capsules is that while we group them under the banner of Japan, aesthetically we are telling a lot of different stories,” says Mr Daniel Todd, Buyer at MR PORTER and one of our resident Japanophiles. In the capsule collections, he says, “we really wanted to show what makes each of the brands special – whether that’s the washing techniques of Remi Relief, the amazing patchwork denim from Neighborhood, or the hand-finishing of Blackmeans.”
In that spirit, and to hammer the point home more thoroughly and completely – yes, Japan is where it’s at – we’ve consulted each of the five designers behind this spring’s Japanese capsules and produced the following guide to each collection. Scroll down, and covet.
Beams Plus, the menswear line of hugely popular Japanese retailer Beams, has something of an evergreen inspiration: the timeless, casual styles of America’s post-war golden age. But, of course, its interpretation is something of a utopian art form in the hands of Beams director Mr Nakada. “My role is to examine all the details and functionality of these garments and modernise them in order to make them function and wear better in the modern environment,” he says. According to Mr Nakada, such modernisations might typically involve: “research on fabrics and textiles – how they were constructed and developed, how they could be developed further”; adjusting fits; and discovering how details can be improved “to accommodate a change of lifestyle needs”. If this all sounds like hard work, the clothes are anything but – as this spring’s MR PORTER capsule, inspired by California in the mid-1940s and 1960s, amply demonstrates. When designing, says Mr Nakada, he was thinking of Ivy League students, frolicking around by the sea in white Levi’s or resort-style swimshorts, paired with college T-shirts and clean-cut short-sleeved shirts. The colours – mainly blues and yellows – represent this balmy vision, which Mr Nakada calls “the dreamy Californian scene”.
Mr Yutaka Goto, the designer behind surf- and skate-inspired brand Remi Relief, is on a two-pronged quest. Firstly, he aims to achieve simplicity in his work, avoiding what he calls “meaningless details and useless features” in his reimaginings of the “ultimate American basic clothing”. But, secondly, he’s on a search for true vintage authenticity in his fabric treatments, which are all natural, avoiding the chemicals and synthetics typically used in modern clothing manufacture. These hugely contribute to the wonderful worn-in and well-loved feel of his pared-back clothing, as does a rather complex-sounding theory of the perfect “natural fade”, involving amino acids, oxidisation and hydrolysis. In short, few people have spent more time experimenting to find the perfect natural fade than Mr Goto, and the blissful, relaxed feel of all the Remi Relief pieces is testimony to this. True to form, the Remi Relief capsule for MR PORTER, Mr Goto says, “is all about high-quality casualwear that has an element of playfulness, based on the sea, surf and resort lifestyle.”
High-end, hand-finished clothing. ”Crust Core”. No, the two don’t naturally seem to fit together. But in the hands of Blackmeans, they seem like a match made in heaven. Founded in 2008, as an offshoot of the artisanal leather workshop of the same name, Blackmeans is a Tokyo-based brand best known for its incredible biker jackets, artisanally embellished with studs, paintings and buckles, executed in the DIY spirit of punk (specifically the kind you might find in late 1980s London, or early 1990s Tokyo) and further embellished with multicultural influences drawn from ethnic dress around the world. All this makes for something of a stupefying sartorial cocktail.
Currently, the men’s team comprises a trio of designer-makers, Messrs Yujiro Komatsu, Takatomo Ariga and Masatomo Ariga, who work collaboratively to produce these astonishing designs, drawing upon their expert leatherworking knowledge as well as elements of traditional Japanese techniques. Their ambition, they say, is nothing short of classic status for the perfectly executed leather jackets – “like Lewis Leathers or Schott – but made in Japan”. Take this is as a warning: you will be hearing more from these guys.
Beams T, another Beams sub-brand, works from a design equation in which X = street art + clothing. Beams T’s director, Mr Kentaro Kuwabara, describes the range, primarily focused on brilliantly graphic T-shirts printed with designs from rising artists and illustrators, as “a concept to introduce art in an accessible format”. He also notes how, through its involvement in various pop-up music festivals and art shows, it has become “a more pro-active, flexible arm” of the Beams brand. For his MR PORTER capsule, Mr Kuwabara has turned curator, commissioning artworks from a series of “up-and-coming Japanese artists we believe represent the Japanese art scene now” to adorn a new range of tees. His collaborators include lettering experts DAMKY Signs, skater-artist Mr Koji Yamaguchi and illustrators Katsuo Design, all of whom have marshalled their skills to produce bold, eye-catching designs. “We carefully selected the artists and commissioned them, so all these are exclusive to MR PORTER,” says Mr Kuwabara. “All the artworks are simple, but they have a presence at the same time.”
Alongside Beams Plus, Neighborhood is one of the first Japanese brands we stocked at MR PORTER, which makes it something of a fond favourite among our buyers and editors. Though its attitude and tough sensibility is derived from founder Mr Shinsuke Takizawa’s love of motorcycle culture, the brand today offers an all-purpose range of sleek, casual items – a case in point being the new capsule, which focuses on what Mr Takizawa calls “modern-classic sportswear”. Mr Takizawa characterises the Japanese design ethos as one “where craftsmanship is highly respected with complete formality”, and this is clear to see in his capsule designs. But he’s particularly keen to point out his successes in the jeans department – since 1994 he’s been developing his Made in Japan denim collection involving “special processing and treatments using Japanese craftsmanship”, resulting in superlative pieces such as this spring’s boro-style patchwork jeans.