The Look Of Now: How Tokyo’s Fashion Centers Have Changed

When we started the process for developing the feature this month I had a pretty straightforward underlying goal: to give an updated impression of what’s happening within Shibuya & Harajuku. You might ask yourself what that’s even supposed to mean given that social media is such a prevalent part of society and there are accounts like Tokyo Fashion which are still dedicated to showing off the latest looks direct from the source. Even with technology making access so much easier for people, it’s still really common for people to react to the idea of Japanese fashion with a rather outdated perception. Mentioning Harajuku to many people still invokes thoughts of Gwen Stefani circa 2004. While the colorful and exciting looks that captured the interest of the world at that time are still fun to think about, a visit to Harajuku is a pretty quick wakeup call that those are images of the past.

With the Olympics slated to bring in a massive number of tourists to the Tokyo area this upcoming summer, it’s worth addressing how tourism as a whole has impacted the cultural centers in Japan. I’m not just talking about Western tourists exclusively in this case, as visitors from many Asian countries have had a pretty clear impact on the direction that fashion has evolved just as much as any other influence. While the streetwear & luxury fashion scenes in Tokyo have long been a give & take between Western and Japanese designers, Asian tourists have influenced the direction that many shops have moved in over the past year with a boom in consumer culture coming from China and other neighboring countries. Many Western brands have flagship stores located in Urahara or Omotesando, making acquiring their products much easier for tourists of all kinds. This increased demand has led to an increase in resale/second-hand stores, and that coupled with raising rent prices has driven out a lot of the unique shops & independent brands that populated the area.

Another change in trends that have had a massive impact on the area is that of fast fashion. While it’s been an ongoing thing for quite some time, brands like Uniqlo, Wego, and H&M have gained prominence due to their low cost but well-designed wares. Uniqlo, in particular, has been crushing it in this space with their frequent collaborations for the UT line, and work with respected designers like NIGO, Jun Takahashi, and VERDY over the past few years. Some may argue that this has led to a decrease in originality and a more homogenized look that dominates the landscape, but I would argue that they’re at least trying to do interesting things to not only stay on top of trends but also give consumers choice. It’s not the most ideal direction for things to go in, but with the economy being what it is having easily acquirable basics at low cost is arguably a good thing.

Getting back to originality though, as that’s the thing so many people have associated with the Shibuya/Harajuku area for so long, all is not lost. An increased interest in vintage clothes is driving originality in a way that is easy to overlook, and just popping into a handful of the shops in the area with vintage & used goods reveals that there’s a very wide swath of time, style, and choice available still. Independent brands still continue to thrive, just not with their own shops in the way that used to be more common as well. Shops like PARK Harajuku and H>FRACTAL offer smaller brands and independent designers a space to sell their work. The iconic Laforet building is also home to rotating popups which are often occupied by smaller brands looking to get in front of more people with different tastes. Shibuya’s new PARCO complex also exists as an extremely well-curated collection of stores that touch on all aspects of what Japan has to offer. As long as spaces like these exist, there will always be room for new ideas to grow.

Being that I grew up in the US I am of course no authority when it comes to the changes over a period of time longer than the past decade, so to give the perspective from people within the industry we reached out to a couple of very influential friends from the space to pick their brains on the topic at hand.

Naoki Matsumura

Naoki Matsumura is the current editor of LE PANIER magazine, and former editor-in-chief of the iconic Japanese fashion magazine KERA.

Foreigners see Harajuku as a mecca for Japanese fashion. How do you feel about that when you see Harajuku today?

Naoki Matsumura: I think there are many cities where reality differs from their images, not only in Japan but all over the world. Melrose and Camden town were also fashion meccas I visited when I was in college. It makes me happy to see foreigners coming to Harajuku in the erstwhile “Harajuku fashion.” I believe Harajuku will change as more of such foreigners visit Harajuku.

Among the recent Harajuku trends, what do you think people from overseas should see?

Naoki Matsumura:
I think they should see the back street (Urahara) if they are visiting Harajuku. Places like secondhand clothing stores, shops by creators, and people walking around the back street. Those stores and people are always changing and eye-catching. Also, I want people to check the lolita shops at Laforet Harajuku, B1.5F on the Gothic floor, as well as the “containers” which have items from new designers on 2F.

What do you think about fast fashion such as H&M and UNIQLO? How do you think fast fashion has had an impact on the Japanese fashion industry and style?

Naoki Matsumura:
I think it is the trend of times and there is nothing we can really do about it. The price competition caused by fast fashion and apparel manufacturers which only sell online had a big influence on domestic manufacturers with small production and specialty stores in regional towns which has changed fashion nationwide. In particular, UNIQLO has changed fashion not only for young people but also for middle-aged and older people, and I feel sorry that the diversity of manufacturers for the fashion of the younger generation, especially ones with small production, has been reduced. However, young people who “want to enjoy fashion more!” are becoming more supportive of independent designers & creators!

Among the Harajuku trends that have gone or changed in the last 10 years, which one do you want to come back or return?

Naoki Matsumura:
I think we see fewer people who walk on the street wearing what they personally think is “cool” and that makes it harder to tell  what is actually “cool” or “fly.” I think Harajuku is a town that allows those kinds of people and fashion to flourish. I want that kind of fashion to come back in which people wear what they really think is “cool” and/or “cute”, not just copying someone on Instagram or celebrities.

What changes did you see in the last ten years, especially in Lolita fashion?

Naoki Matsumura:
In Japan, the amount of money people spend on fashion has been decreasing, and because Lolita fashion is relatively expensive, people usually don’t have any opportunity to wear it even if they are interested in it. For that reason, most people don’t understand or know what’s good about Lolita fashion. However, Lolita fashion is very popular in mainland China, and some Japanese Lolita fashion brands are doing very well in their business as a result. In addition, Chinese brands for Lolita fashion are gaining momentum, and they are gradually coming to the Japanese market.

What kind of changes do you see in terms of fashion due to the recent redevelopment of Shibuya?

Naoki Matsumura:
I feel like Shibuya is somehow changing, but I haven’t figured out the feeling yet. However, I think it will change even more for sure. I expect that large-scale commercial facilities will have their own characteristics, and the manufacturers will develop products tailored to those facilities, so we can expect more variety. If commercial facilities become more varied, the fashion trends of other small stores will also expand further.

OTAQUEST: Where do you think the future of Japanese fashion is headed?

Naoki Matsumura: In the past, there were many people who celebrated people walking around the city for their fashion, and magazines often featured city fashion. However, magazines have declined, and now there is a strong tendency to refer to Instagram, towns and streets are moving into the Internet. I think that things will change to a global fashion rather than the fashion characteristics of each city. Even in such a situation, we are developing a city that is conscious of locality, including Shibuya, so I hope that fashion will also attract people’s attention to its locality. In addition, Japanese manufacturers want a brand that can make a product that emphasizes originality and uniqueness for the market in mainland China, which still has high hurdles to enter, and if a manufacturer succeeds in establishing such a brand, I think they will be very successful.

Motofumi “POGGY” Kogi

Motofumi “POGGY” Kogi is a respected Japanese fashion icon who also gained prominence as a buyer & curator for United Arrows. In the past year, he has started more independent activities with his POGGY THE MAN brand, and the establishment of POGGY’S BOX.

OTAQUEST: Foreigners see Harajuku as the mecca of Japanese fashion, how do you feel about that impression when thinking about Harajuku currently?

POGGY: I think so, too. For example, Supreme is a brand from New York and has 3 stores in the States, but in Japan, there are 3 stores only in Tokyo, and it shows that many Japanese are interested in fashion. I think Tokyo is a city with a very high demand for fashion. Like Harajuku, it is rare in the world to find a town where various fashion shops are so crowded in just 100m distance. And even at the secondhand clothing stores I suggested before, you can enjoy various styles. In addition, I suppose there are a lot of sex-related shops at night in a town where fashion prospers usually, but because there is the Meiji-Jingu shrine and there are elementary schools nearby, there are no pachinko parlors or illicit shops, so we can purely enjoy fashion, food, and culture in this town. I think that’s one of the greatest things about Harajuku.

OTAQUEST: Out of all of the current trends that have taken over Harajuku lately, from your perspective which do you think is the people in the west should be watching?

POGGY: I’m not familiar with it, but should I say it’s tapioca (boba)? (laughs)

OTAQUEST: Among the Harajuku trends that have gone or changed in the last 10 years, which one do you want to come back or return?

POGGY: First, let me explain the difference between style and fashion. In the Japanese fashion industry, it had been said that men should wear “style” and women should wear “fashion” until about the 1990s. “Fashion” is something you enjoy, the latest fashion changes every six months. “Style” is something like your decisions on what you wear and where you go, what you wear and what you eat, what you wear and what you ride, and so on, and by making those decisions, when you wear just a simple suit or even T-shirt, it will make the “style” your own, and the “style” oozes our from the individual. You can buy “fashion” with money, but you can’t buy a “style”. What I want to say is that “fashion” is always changing with the times, so it’s important to learn from the past, but I don’t want to stick to past.

OTAQUEST: Where do you think the future of Harajuku and Japanese fashion is heading?

POGGY: Instagram made fashion become homogeneous worldwide.  Around when Japan lost the war against the U.S, it was not a grudge against the U.S, but on the contrary, people yearned for the wealthy lifestyle of American people. Japanese fashion started from researching the details in American clothes that did not come into Japan easily and were expensive. Things such as jeans that an actor was wearing in a movie, finding out which brand they were from and what item number, even if slightly customized. That information was very limited. At that time, jeans were just working clothes in the United States, so no one thought that the change in details for each age group or which detail or discoloration were of rare value. Japanese have studied the details of clothes in many countries, including not only jeans but also the fashion of American Ivy League students, as well as the British royal style, and the French mode. I recall the Japanese fashion magazines had a lot of features of these details, pages focused on catalog-like things, and how-to things. Around 2004-2005, Thom Browne sublimated the American traditional style into mode, the heritage regressive flow became stronger in the United States of America, and the Japanese magazine called “Free & Easy” which focused on American casual fashion was enthusiastically accepted by some people in America. For these reasons, American people finally started to notice the “American Casual” fashion style that Japanese designers studied and established over time, like the classics of denim jeans look like this, and the classics of down coats are like this. This is getting long, but I believe Japanese fashion is something where you dress yourself up by mixing and adding your own stories to the styles of different countries. I think it is still okay to wear only expensive brands’ items, but I am afraid that if you forget the Japanese geeky essence in your fashion, the future won’t be as robust.

With everything that I’ve rambled on about and the different notes we’ve heard from all of our guest interviews & columnists this month, I think there is truly only one thing to really take away regarding Shibuya & Harajuku. If you visit, you need to explore. Create your own style, dig for something unique, and celebrate your own originality. The trends that were prominent in the 2000s that have become recognized as “J-Fashion” in the west may not be as prominent anymore, but everything they stood for is still what makes the Japanese fashion scene thrive.

Be original, be bold, be yourself. Celebrate the things you love, and wear the things you like. As long as that spirit remains in people then the things that made Shibuya & Harajuku the fashion centers of Japan will never go away.

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