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What You Need to Know About Japanese Style

From United Arrows and Beams to Kapital and Visvim.

Visvim founder Hiroki Nakamura | Gore Tex Japan

In the decades following the second World War, Japan was immersed in a period of rebuilding. Though industry and infrastructure were the focus, culture also adapted and changed. At the time, the United States displayed some of the preeminent manufacturing successes, and many Japanese systems were rebuilt on an American model. Clothing styles and trends were directly affected by this influence in the later half of the century, as Japanese brands copied and reproduced American styles.

American men’s style, and the perceptions and ideas surrounding it, became the gold standard for how to dress in Japan. The first American trend that caught on in Japan was Ivy League style (e.g., button-down shirts, three-button blazers, crew-neck wool sweaters, non-pleated chinos). The major proponent of the trend was VAN, founded in 1951 by Kensuke Ishizu. With help from his publication, Men’s Club, which shared rules and lifestyle of East Coast prep, the Ivy League trend proliferated in Japan in the mid-1960s.

As the interest in American Style grew, the focus on trends started to shift at a faster rate. W. David Marx, author of Ametora: How Japan Saved American Style, noted that from the 1960s to the ’70s, “Japan made a cyclical pilgrimage through American looks — from Ivy to hippie to outdoor Heavy Duty to Heavy Duty Ivy to California campus clothes, and back to East Coast style.” Coming out of the survey of American style, Beams was founded in 1976, and gave way to an abundance of sub-brands (notable in menswear circles, Beam+ nails classic Americana garments). A decade later United Arrows was founded in 1989 with a similar approach to traditional American men’s garments produced with high-quality Japanese craftsmanship. United Arrows and Sons, a modern sub-brand, takes the high-quality approach to both process and materials and applies it to an array of garments influenced by streetwear.

The inspiration — American military uniforms, college apparel, leather motorcycle jackets, mountaineering outerwear — was mixed with detail-oriented, imaginative Japanese perspective, and was crafted with the utmost attention to detail.

The 1970s were an incubation period for a number of notable Japanese fashion designers. In 1969, Rei Kawakubo founded Comme des Garçons; in 1970, Issey Miyake founded his eponymous brand; and in 1972, Yohji Yamamoto started his first clothing line. The three avant-garde designers played with shape and proportions of garments, challenging the public’s expectations and ideals. In 1981, Kawakubo and Yamamoto made their international debuts in Paris, bringing a strong, uniquely Japanese viewpoint to the fashion world. The success of Comme des Garçons and Yohji Yamamoto through the ‘80s initiated a global recognition of Japanese style design community, which in turn led to the acceptance of domestic brands in Japan.

As Japanese consumers began to look inward, many cultural trends happening across the world manifested themselves in new, local brands. The rise of streetwear in the early 1990s produced a number of incredibly popular Japanese brands, including A Bathing Ape, Undercover and WTAPS, all founded in 1993.

Though new styles found strong Japanese proponents, American traditional style, dubbed Ametora, laid the foundation for a new wave of brands to explore Japanese style in the new millennium. The inspiration — American military uniforms, college apparel, leather motorcycle jackets, mountaineering outerwear — was mixed with detail-oriented, imaginative Japanese perspective, and was crafted with the utmost attention to detail. In 1984, Toshikiyo Hirata founded the denim brand Kapital, and after 15 years, his son joined him in 2000 as the lead designer. Kapital’s clothing is both quirky and eye catching, blending a bohemian style with traditional Japanese craftsmanship. Japanese retailer Nepenthes, founded in 1988, saw an opening in the market and started Needles, an in-house brand that features esoteric reimaginings of conventional garments. In 1996, Blue Blue Japan started producing clothing, highlighting an indigo-centric range of menswear staples. Walking the line between staples and streetwear, Nonnative, founded in 1999, offers classic garments with subtle tweaks (e.g., zip-up roper boots, flannels with elongated hems, denim jackets without collars). Both 45rpm (founded in 2000) and Chimala (founded in 2006) helped to created a buzz around renowned Japanese craftsmanship and materials, but it was Visvim (founded in 2001) that made the largest impact. Designed by Hiroki Nakamura, Visvim blends heritage Americana with traditional Japanese garments, sparing no cost on materials or workmanship.

In an interesting cultural twist, many Americans are rediscovering their country’s archive of classic garments now, through these Japanese brands. As some American brands have increased output and moved production out of the country, Japanese designers have explored and experimented with the American catalogue, blending in different perspectives and historic production techniques. The resulting garments are both familiar and fresh, and even though they are based on a traditional wardrobe staples, they remain unique.

What to Buy

A Selection of Japanese Pieces

Slim-Fit Knitted Linen T-Shirt by Beams+ $110

Contrast-Panelled Shirt by Kapital $265

Chambray Shirt by Chimala $415

Washed-Denim Zip-Up Jacket by Nonnative $680

Achse Cotton-Canvas Field Jacket by Visvim $1,030

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