Six Men Who Defined Japanese Style
Mr Yohji Yamamoto after the Y-3 show at Palais de Tokyo in Paris, 21 January 2017. Photograph by Ms Melodie Jeng/Getty Images
The icons behind Undercover, Y-3 and Yuketen who have shaped the way Japan – and the world – dresses.
Japanese fashion means different things to different people. Some see it as the droves of monochrome-suited salarymen who pack themselves onto the Chūō line to Tokyo each morning. Others think of the stark image of Harajuku’s now-defunct hokoten, which was characterised by kids wearing saccharine outfits, famously documented by FRUiTS magazine and late-2000s pop songs written by Ms Gwen Stefani. For some, it’s the skulking fashion followers draped in all black, known in Japan as the karasu-zoku, or “crow gang”. Other people think of top-quality selvedge denim from Okayama, or vintage stores filled with Americana.
We have to admit that the Japanese – whether they’re designing clothes, educating the rest of us about them or just simply wearing them – have an enviable knack for style. That’s why you’ll find so many Japanese brands on MR PORTER and it’s also why, at the tail end of Tokyo Fashion Week, we’ve decided to shine a light on some of the men who have shaped Japanese fashion into the multifaceted beast it is in today. From some of the world’s most inimitable designers to the teacher who is educating the next generation, here are the men responsible for what fashion means when it is Japanese.
Mr Hirofumi Kurino at Pitti Uomo SS16 in Florence, 18 June 2015. Photograph by Mr Adam Katz Sinding
Mr Hirofumi Kurino
A veteran of fashion retail, Mr Hirofumi Kurino is best known as the co-founder of United Arrows, a heavyweight contemporary fashion store in Japan, which he co-founded with Camoshita’s Mr Yasuto Kamoshita. Often spotted wearing a uniform of pared-back suits, Mr Kurino is a veritable fashion icon himself. His shock of white hair and square-framed spectacles are a frequent sight on the front row. A respected figure in Japan’s fashion industry and, indeed, the rest of the world, Mr Kurino is considered to be something of a fashion oracle. He combines an encyclopaedic sartorial knowledge with a flair for predicting which way fashion's weather vane will blow next.
Photograph courtesy of writtenafterwards and Coconogacco
Mr Yoshikazu Yamagata
Japan adopted a Western style of dress only relatively recently. Until the 1930s, most people wore kimonos. Because of this, Japanese fashion education has been marked by its focus on craft and technique rather than unfettered artistic experimentation, but the designer and educator Mr Yoshikazu Yamagata is slowly changing all that. After studying abroad at Central Saint Martins and in Antwerp, Mr Yamagata found himself in demand back in Tokyo. His Japanese contemporaries were eager to understand what he had learned abroad. In 2008, he founded Coconogacco, a fashion school that prioritises creativity and aims to marry the sensibilities of Japanese and European fashion education. Coconogacco has already produced a number of notable graduates, and has caught the attention of renowned fashion critic Ms Sarah Mower.
Mr Jun Takahashi at Paris Fashion Week, 4 March 2017. Photograph by Mr Adam Katz Sinding
Mr Jun Takahashi
Mr Jun Takahashi founded his Tokyo-based label Undercover in 1993, and has since established himself as one of most influential designers in Japan. Along with Comme des Garçons and the aforementioned Mr Yamamoto, he can be credited with cementing the country's reputation as a streetwear arbiter. Known for his emotive, performance-piece shows that sit in the world of art as much as they do fashion, Mr Takahashi designs both womenswear and menswear, but announced earlier this month that he is going to concentrate on the latter. We’re biased, of course, but we’re rather excited about that.
Photograph by Ms Melodie Jeng/Getty Images
Mr Yohji Yamamoto
Few people have had more influence on the international scope of fashion than Mr Yohji Yamamoto. A contemporary (and an old flame) of the Comme des Garçons founder Ms Rei Kawakubo, Mr Yamamoto is a crucial figure. As well as his mainline clothing, which is characterised by a cerebral and androgynous romanticism, he also designs sportswear with adidas under the moniker Y-3. Known mostly for his avant-garde design aesthetic, Mr Yamamoto has a reputation for working heavily with black. “Black is modest and arrogant at the same time,” he told The New York Times in 2000. “Black is easy and lazy, but mysterious. But above all black says this: ‘I don’t bother you. Don’t bother me.’”
Photograph courtesy of Converse
Mr Hiroshi Fujiwara
Known as the “godfather of streetwear”, Mr Hiroshi Fujiwara built his reputation on the Urahara (underground Harajuku) streetwear movement of the 1990s. Alongside Nigo, the designer who founded Bape, and Mr Takahashi, Mr Fujiwara is one of Japanese street fashion’s most significant tastemakers. After a trip to New York in the 1980s, he came back to Japan with a slew of hip-hop records and became Tokyo's first hip-hop DJ – he is credited with introducing the genre to Japan. A street-fashion icon himself, Mr Fujiwara appeared in the movie Lost In Translation, and has designed streetwear for Nike and Levi’s. In other words, he was an influencer long before influencers became a thing.
Mr Yuki Matsuda in his reference library at Meg Company HQ, Hermosa Beach, CA, 2010. Photograph Mr Ken Tisuthiwongse
Mr Yuki Matsuda
Mr Yuki Matsuda has his proverbial finger in many proverbial pies. The founder of Meg Company – whose brands include Monitaly, Yuketen, Chamula and Epperson Mountaineering – Mr Matsuda's influence on style is not obviously characterised by his Japanese heritage, but instead by his unique take on Americana. Mr Matsuda's fascination with American style began in his teens. When he was 18, he swapped Kansai for California to become a vintage clothing dealer. After tweaking vintage clothing to suit his style, Mr Matsuda then founded the shoe brand Yuketen. Each pair is handmade in the US by a dedicated team of craftsmen. Although Mr Matsuda’s aesthetic expertise lies in American style, his brands are marked by a fastidious, and perhaps rather Japanese, commitment to craft.
Keep up to date with The Daily by signing up for our weekly email roundup. Click here to update your email preferences.