Tokyo Hipsters Club was seemingly conceived to break all the rules of retailing when it opened in Harajuku, yet it remains a strong retail presence five years on. More a cultural lifestyle space than a typical store, it’s one of the area’s most interesting shopping destinations that mixes the iconography of western religion, rock ‘n’ roll heroes and political revolution into a modern cool ambience that gives the sense of being in an exclusive, hip and slightly eccentric members’ club.

When is a retail space not a retail space? Retail philosophy decrees that location is paramount – as stratospheric rents on the high streets of the world’s fashionable cities declare, and that passers-by should be seduced by strong display window merchandising and design, while a store’s wares should conform to a focused theme: tell a story. Tokyo Hipsters Club upends these conventions. This concept store, established in 2005 is discreetly set back from one of Tokyo’s biggest retail high streets: Meiji dori, running between the hip Harajuku and Shibuya commercial districts. The store’s box-like slate grey concrete façade – with its neat green hedge and modest entrance doors that are overshadowed by a striking poster featuring a single strong hand, the cryptic image evoking thoughts of both religion and revolution – reads more like an avante garde gallery or Soviet politbureau office.

The interior, a mix of post-industrial design materials: unfinished concrete, timber and steel, with eclectic furnishings such as leather club sofas, persian rugs, iconic Che Guevara portraits, nostalgic framed photos and other unusual paraphernalia, is an engaging cavernous space dominated by a whimsical custom made welded steel ‘chandelier’ by British furniture and product designer Tom Dixon, who designed the store as his first architectural project. As for the merchandise, a collection of casual clothing brands for men is sparsely displayed around the lofty interior together with a surprising mix of accessories including hats, bags, costume jewellery, bound notebooks and a range of candles, while a sizeable area is devoted to books by artists, philosophers and musicians such as Andy Warhol and Alan Ginsberg, Jean Paul Sartre and Patti Smith. The space is the antithesis of the streamlined rack and shelf configurations that line the walls of most boutiques and while at a glance it seems a strange mix of merchandise, it all hangs together through the store’s theme of youthful revolution and rebellion, from the classic posters to the punk and rock n’ roll influenced fashion to the iconic counterculture authors’ writings on the shelves. Tokyo Hipsters Club is the idealised hangout for a Rimbaud or Keith Richards, and in fact it was conceived as a funky anti-establishment British gentleman’s club.

To further emphasise the anti-store concept, a second level gallery space presents inventive exhibitions that fit in with THC’s political, musical and artistic counterculture themes, like the recent display of Koichiro Takagi’s stitched and embroidered pieces; framed works, cushions, seat covers, and skateboard art, reworking tattoo art, political and religious icons in his show “Boys Stitches Club” or “The Beat Goes On … Vol. 1“ exhibit that has just ended, showcasing the works of American Beat writers and artists. The revolutionary theme extends to the rooftop terrace which houses a hideaway cantina with its tiny leafy courtyard garden, which is reached by an external stairway. Quesadillas, taco rice and South American cervezas are in the menu mix.

It’s ironic, and at the same time admirable, that Tokyo Hipsters Club, whose concept and iconography are based on anti establishment ideas – its own signage labels the store ‘The Home of Resistance’ – was conceived as a concept store for its establishment owners, the Kobe based apparel and textile conglomerate, World Co. Ltd – producers of dozens of clothing brands including the popular Takeo Kikuchi, Harrods and Indivi labels as well as THC’s own in-house label. Though the revolution has yet to trickle down to the high streets, experiential retailing has been adopted by other retailers, such as at Paul Smith’s Space in Aoyama and more recently Opening Ceremony’s new multi-themed boutique department store in Seibu’s Shibuya Movida store. Viva la revolución!

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UPDATE: Tokyo Hipsters Club closed in December 2010.

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