Original images copyright – clockwise from top left :: visvim 2011; limi feu 2009; matohu 2009; phenomenon 2011

To the casual observer wandering through Shibuya or Shinjuku, it would appear that Tokyo’s fashion culture comprises the global chain store brands that dominate the area’s landscape: H&M, Forever 21, Bershka, Topshop, Zara and Gap. These, in addition to the country’s own mass-market fast fashion chains, Comme ça du mode, Uniqlo, Muji, and fashion labels like Paul Smith, Takeo Kikuchi and the boutiques of OIOI, seem worlds away from the avant-garde heyday of Rei Kawakubo, Issey Miyake and co.

Of course, the creations of Japan’s legendary couturiers have never been a part of Japanese mainstream fashion; now, as then, they primarily serve an international community of fashion devotees and a certain class of Japanese fashionista.

And while the fashion houses COMME des GARÇONS, Issey Miyake and Yohji Yamamoto continue to reinvent themselves and foster new talent such as Junya Watanabe and Dai Fujiwara, a new guard of fashion creatives is channeling Japan’s fashion heritage and the current intenational pop cultural zeitgeist to create the new wave of designer threads for today’s young fashionistas.

Jun Takahashi : : Undercover

More an elder statesman of the new fashion wave – Takahashi was, like many of Japan’s best known designers, a student of the Bunka Fashion College – having started back in 1993 in Harajuku as part of NOWHERE with Nigo of A Bathing Ape fame. Takahashi, with his Undercover label, is a kind of heir apparent to the deconstructed stylings of Rei kawakubo, who was also both an inspiration and fan. His original punk aesthetic has evolved with his growing international market and he now also boasts collaborations such as the gyakusou running ranges for Nike and the upcoming U collection for Uniqlo.

The Tokyo flagship Undercover store is in Aoyama.

undercover aoyama

Hirofumi Kiyonaga : : SOPHNET

SOPH. is a fashion label that occupies a space between art and design. This menswear label, established in 1998 and later renamed SOPHNET, focuses on the sophsticated side of urban streetwear with an emphasis on interesting textiles, whether traditional weaves or high tech synthetics. Kiyonaga’s interest is in simplicity of form, reworking the classics to give them a modern edge, whether for his own collections or in collaborations with brands such as Pendleton or Nike.

Kiyonaga also began the men’s experimental freeform street flavored label Uniform Experiment in 2008 with Harajuku street guru Hiroshi Fujiwara. This line is also available at SOPH. outlets.

The newest SOPH. Tokyo store is in the Hankyu Men’s department store in the Ginza Yurakucho district.

soph. hankyu men's ginza

Limi Yamamoto : : LIMI feu

Otherwise known as the daughter of Yohji, Limi Yamamoto designs clothes with as much dramatic flair as her father, similarly employing a somber color palette and voluminous or draped layered shapes. Yamamoto launched her LIMI Feu label in 2002. Though very much a couturier, she creates accessible clothing and often adds a street edge to her collections: she makes the distinction that she designs clothes for real women – for Japanese women, while her father designs fashion for the ideal woman.

LIMI feu is available at various Tokyo department stores in addition to the Harajuku flagship boutique.

limi feu jingumae

Makiko Sekiguchi and Hiroyuki Horihata : : matohu

Also inspired by Kawakubo and Yamamoto are the husband and wife team that founded matohu, a label that looks back to Japanese tradition yet is the epitome of modern fashion. The former law student Sekigushi and philosophy student Horihata reinvented themselves via a stint at Tokyo’s Bunka Fashion College and found their fashion footing at the avant-garde ateliers of Yohji Yamamoto and COMME des GARÇONS respectively.

In contrast, matohu is about dressing with subtlety and restraint; the couple work with a light touch on the concepts, cut, fabrics and color palette to create elegant and very wearable women’s fashion.

matohu autumn / winter 2011-12 : : via jfwofficial

The matohu flagship store is located in the Omotesando district.

matohu jingumae

Takeshi Osumi : : PHENOMENON

A musician as well as a designer, “Big-O” Osumi found fashion through music, starting with the punk music-clothing nexus that eventually led to his creation, with musical partner Iggy, in 1999, of the men’s hip-hop clothing label Swagger. In 2004 he introduced the more experimental PHENOMENON, another hot Japanese menswear label whose aesthetic continues to be inspired by the designer’s musical passions, more recently chillwave and house. Even the label name came from a favorite song “Rap Phenomenon”.

Osumi’s PHENOMENON collections show a vivid imagination at work that mixes silhouettes, layers, colors, textiles and accessories in really interesting ways, incorporating such pieces as capes and culottes, cowls and skirts into a pure unisex fashion vision. Available at Swagger stores and various retailers including The Contemporary Fix in Kita Aoyama.

the contemporary fix kita aoyama

Hiroki Nakamura : : visvim

Visvim is at the other end of the spectrum to Phenomenon. The clothes, shoes and accessories here are about functionality, masculinity and romance. Craftsmanship, design nostalgia and roads less traveled are encapsulated in the quality pieces produced by Hiroki Nakamura, who reworks staples like truckers’ jackets, alpine vests, chukka boots, day packs and denims into modern classics.

Nakamura, who worked at Burton Snowboards before starting his label in 2000, has a fine grasp of quality production processes and visvim pieces are very much about quality, ethical production and sustainability. Visvim’s stores are known as Free International Laboratories, or F.I.L., and one of these tailored shopping environments can be found in the Omotesando district.

f.i.l. jingumae

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