The land of the Rising Sun has been two steps ahead in terms of style compared to the rest of the world. The Japanese just don’t settle for shallow trends, they dive deep into the lifestyle which gives them the time to make it so much more personal.
Before opening up to Western culture at the beginning of the 1850s, the Japanese were living in a closed-off bubble, solely depending on their own culture and history. But as times were changing, so did Japan, impressively modernizing its culture and economy in undeniably fast rate. By the 1950s, Japan had seen it’s land flourish and then knocked off its feet into a Great Depression before the WWII. The end of Allied occupation in 1952 set the cornerstone for the Japanese streetwear beginnings. Americans had brought lots of everyday products, including clothing, during the occupation. Much of that remained in Japan after they left, leaving the Japanese with a huge amount of army surplus garments. For the next couple of decades, these same garments provided lots of inspiration for the young artists who inspected the pieces and then reinvented them, usually sticking true to the roots but adding twists through the use of meticulous details.
Comme des Garcons
On it’s way back up with help of booming economy, the 1980s saw perhaps the most interesting generation growing up. Magazines such as Popeye appeared in Japan, greatly influencing the young adults what to wear and how to grab onto the lifestyles that surrounded the clothes. Many of the styles were strongly linked to the western societies, biggest of them being directly influenced by punk rock and Ivy League Schools. A perfect foundation for the bold creatives, this was a way out of the strict Japanese everyday life. Highly regarded designers Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo were among the first ones to seize the moment and developed their own distinctive ways of expressing punk-mixed-Japanese traditions by deconstructing garments, leading the way for the next generations to come.
The end of the 80s saw a new breed of stores opening up in Japan, solely dedicated to selling imported US made goods. One such became called Nepenthes, a store that had an important role in developing Tokyo’s taste for well-made garments. Later on, two in-house brands were born there, Needles & Engineered Garments, both being highly sought after brands to this day. Parallel to Nepenthes, another significant store was opened up called Nowhere by Jun Takahashi and Nigo. As both men were already quite well known in the youth scene of Tokyo, Nowhere was destined to become the original birthplace of luxury streetwear. Talented and ambitious, that was just the start for them as both have also been highly successful in building up their personal brands which have streetwear written in their DNA.
Mr. Takahashi started his company Undercover partly because of his love for punk rock music, he decided to make clothes that are not merely beautiful, the real desire was to interpret culture into fashion. Nigo, on the other hand, was drawn into hip-hop culture which was still very fresh in Japan during the early 90s, that resulted in creating The Bathing Ape. T-shirts with prints and hoodies covered in camouflage were adored by the new wave of teens and the brand became hugely influential. By the 2000s, streetwear had finally found it’s way to wider audiences, giving a spark of courage to the many brands starting out. Among them Visvim, Nanamica, White Mountaineering and etc. The beauty of that is how much inspiration the Japanese found around themselves, developing garments for the streets means taking the best of different backgrounds and shaping them together into a very personal expression.