New Generation Tokyo Feature Pt 1: 90's Tokyo -The Legacy of an Era
If you are familiar with our menswear brandlist, then it's probably no surprise to hear that we have been stocking and supporting Japanese menswear since our launch in 2010. We are now one of the few places outside of Japan where you can find brands such as SASQUATCHfabrix, Blackmeans, Nonnative, Unused, Sunsea, FACETASM, and Wacko Maria, to name but a few. The reason for this is simple - we believe strongly that this small group of independent Tokyo-based brands are responsible for some of the most forward thinking menswear out there at the moment.
For us, brands are part of a cultural movement of independent outsiders, a movement that represents the "next generation" of Japanese menswear - a young voice that is making a clear and defined break from the old guard of brands that have dominated Japanese street fashion for the last decade.
When talking to these brands about the philosophy behind their work, the central importance of "Tokyo" and "their generation" often emerges as a common theme. This aspect is something that has also been discussed at length in Japanese fashion press, in their attempts to understand the cultural context from which the movement has emerged. The voice of "their generation" in this context is often interpreted as the legacy of Tokyo fashion during the 90's, a period of great changes in youth fashion and culture that influenced these new generation designers during their teenage years.
For the first instalment of a two-part feature on the current Japanese menswear movement, what follows is an attempt to analyse this era, and the legacy it has had in informing the work of the new generation menswear brands. We also spoke directly to the designers behind FACETASM and SASQUATCHfabrix to hear their thoughts.
Much has been written about the first wave of globally established Japanese brands that burst onto the world stage in the early Eighties. Spearheaded by Issey Miyake, Comme Des Garcons and Yohji Yamamoto's 1981 Paris collection, Japanese fashion was catapulted into the attention of the international fashion press. As with many cultural movements in history, international recognition was the catalyst for a domestic reappraisal that thereby ushered in what is referred to as the "DC Brand" boom - a domestic explosion of interest in Japanese brands.
In addition to the "DC Brand" phenomenon, the Eighties saw the beginning of an influx of mostly European based "Foreign Brands" such as Vivienne Westwood and Martin Margiela, whose overwhelming popularity and success gave such brands a stronghold on the Tokyo High Streets. At its peak, this was a "Designer Boom" that established the Tokyo's arguably unrivalled position as a centre for collecting, filtering and outputting the vast wealth of fashion information from around the globe.
However, as the decade drew to a close, this "Boom" began to show signs of reaching saturation point, arguably beginning a downwards spiral by the start of the 90's. It was a decline that echoed the simultaneous entry into a recession collapse of the Japanese economic "bubble" that defined many of the decade's excesses.
It was against this background that a new movement of street fashion and culture began to gather momentum. Centered around a small area of Harajuku, a rag-tag collection of young designers and retailers began to make their mark on Tokyo's landscape of fashion and culture. Known by Japanese fashion press as the "Ura-Harajuku movement", the group was spearheaded by designers, proprietors and cultural figureheads such as Hiroshi Fujiwara, Nigo (A Bathing Ape) and Takahashi Jun (Undercover). Through their proposal of a new concept of design and retail, one which centred on the notions of "identity" and "exclusivity", the "Ura-Harajuku" movement was to have a profound influence on Tokyo fashion and youth culture.
According to SASQUATCHfabrix designer Yokoyama, "In those days, rather than fashion, the notion of "limited", "deadstock" and "exclusive" were the real buzzwords. Through these rare items you could become part of a minority - a minority based on a high sense of style. Searching, collecting and completing were the things we adhered to, we were all totally enveloped in the mania for this."
Another notable feature of this period was the emergence of a variety of Japanese mens' fashion magazines who had a central role in communicating the values attached with the Ura-Harajuku movement to a wider audience. To this day, Japanese offline fashion press continues to have an undeniably strong influence on menswear trends through the country. The roots of this role can in many ways be traced back to this period when magazines like Popeye, Mens Non-no and Hot Dog championed the movement, providing key cultural figures the opportunity to express not only the garments but the wider cultural context of art, fashion and music which informed the lifestyle of their culture. This in turn served to fuel an army of "fanatics" who would rush to the stores like Nigo and Takahashi Jun's "Nowhere" to snap up any new limited edition items featured in the latest issue, or hunt far and wide for the more hard-to-find pieces.
As WWGB's Yokoyama says "We'd see something in a magazine and be dead set on searching for it. For outsider kids like us, we'd look for the weirder stuff. For example, if we saw Undercover's Jonio in a magazine, rather than looking for the denim that he introduced, we'd be more interested in looking for a pin badge that he was wearing or something like that.
WWGB's Araki singles out Central Ura-Harajuku figure Hiroshi Fujiwara and the Japanese magazines that featured him as a big influence: "During that period the kind casual silhouettes proposed by Hiroshi Fujiwara were massively popular. Mixing jeans with a Hermes coat, I remember seeing that in a magazine and thinking it looked super cool. To this day that feeling of mixing product in this way feels good to me. It's something that this era introduced, something that shifted the values of Tokyo style. Hiroshi Fujiwara's influence was a big part of this. If I was to describe his role, I'd say he was like a Malcolm McLaren figure for us".
The scale and reach of the Ura-Harajuku movement clearly makes it a defining feature of 90's Tokyo, but this is far from a complete picture of the street fashion landscape during this period. Tokyo has always been a melting pot of styles and the continued influence of the European avant-garde during this period was not unnoticed by the generation of teenagers who now stand at the forefront of men's fashion design.
As FACETASM designer Hiromichi Ochiai explains "Whilst the Ura-Harajuku movement of Undercover and A Bathing Ape was moving forwards, in the other direction you had the likes of Margiela, Westwood, Dirk Bikkembergs, W and LT heavily present. It was a period where many independent shops were putting an incredible amount of foreign brands on the racks. This was also a period in which cartoonists / manga writers / comic writers such as Santa Inoue and Kyoko Okazaki were getting involved in fashion. For me, the importance of this incredibly stimulating period was that culture and fashion were really mixed together.
So, growing up as teenagers in Tokyo during this era, is it possible to catch a snapshot of this values and legacy of the period in the current collections of these "new generation" Tokyo designer?
According to WWGB's Yokoyama "In the end, the 90's and their influence on me is just one of the reasons that I ended up making clothes. However, in my work now, the overarching thought process that I have about the products that I make, and the inspiration for my themes is definitely something that was cultivated from this period. Sewing, materials, precision of manufacturing, it is all born from the spirit of "Searching, collecting and completing, the dogged fanaticism that was a key aspect of that period."
For Ochiai's "This was an age of information saturation. Perhaps because I grew up in this age, it's no surprise that the clothes I make as FACETASM are full of information content. You can say the same of the other Tokyo brands who are part of my generation; SASQUATCHfabrix, and even though it might not seem so on the surface, Unused too. Our output is all different, but the way that we have been educated about clothes, the generation that we are from, it all has that "Tokyo" feel to it.
The Antwerp 6, Ura-Harajuku, Vintage clothing, Skateculture, Art, Music... Seen in this context, it is perhaps no surprise that 20 years on, a group of Tokyo designers, the teenagers of this generation are now producing high-level fashion informed from a deep knowledge of all these cultural movements, mixing and matching with an informed sense of chaos.
Born in Tokyo in 1977, Ochiai graduated from the Bunka Fashion College in 1999. He then worked for eight years at the textiles company "Guildwork", a company that provides textiles for COMME des GARCONS, Zucca, and UNDERCOVER. Ochiai launched his own brand "FACETASM" in the spring of 2007.
Wonder Workers Guerilla Band (WWGB)
Established in 2003, The Wonder Workers Guerilla band are the design team behind SASQUATCHfabrix, SASQUATCHfabrix EOTOTO. In addition they also design a separate line exclusively for Japanese store Nepenthes, entitled "Chilling" .