Fashion is definitely one of the industries that made Japan a cultural superpower in the last couple of decades. The world of Japanese fashion is perhaps too complex to cover in a single article, as brands tend to cover each and every segment of price range and style. However, if we were to not dive too deep into subculture fashion and stick to ten iconic Japanese fashion brands that any fashionista could rock, here’s what we would pick out:
1. Comme des Garcons
Comme des Garcons is an international phenomenon, both grace to designer Rei Kawakubo’s avant-garde designs for the runway and iconic street style inspired collections. Their iconic red heart logo makes a huge fashion statement – be it on a graphic t-shirt, a pair of sneakers, or a jean jacket. Comme’s pret a porter style is very versatile and easy to mix and match, which made the Japanese brand a favorite with fashion enthusiasts worldwide. Kawakubo’s haute couture designs may be a bit harder to incorporate into your wardrobe (should you have the pleasure of actually getting your hands on one), but they’re still representative for the world of Japanese fashion.
2. Yohji Yamamoto
If there’s one Japanese designer/brand that everyone and their mother knows by now, it’s Yohji Yamamoto. His style is defined by asymmetric cuts, lots of black, and overall minimalist aesthetic. As the designer himself stated, his clothing is made to look and feel like armor, in that it protects you from unwelcome eyes. Yohji Yamamoto pieces can bring a breath of fresh air into an otherwise casual wardrobe, or amp up your street style to the next level. Should you be looking for a more sporty vibe, check out YY’s legendary collaboration with Adidas, which goes by the name Y-3. The prices are much more affordable than Yamamoto’s designer pieces, and are perhaps easier to work into a modern wardrobe.
3. Issey Miyake
Pleats. When you think Issey Miyake, you think of pleats. Incredibly intricate pleats, that is, that also incorporate various textures and patterns that blend together into an unmistakable style. Issey is also famous for being the brand behind Steve Jobs’s iconic black turtlenecks, which shows that some of their pieces are also meant to be wearable and practical. However, pleats and pleat-reminiscent designs are what you’re looking for, should you want a statement Issey Miyake piece in your closet.
Kenzo was founded in Paris in the 1960s, and has been much more popular in the West than in Japan for a fairly long time. Their trademark is bright and vivid colors, as well as iconic graphic prints, including the infamous Kenzo tiger, or a rendition of the all-seeing-eye. Probably the least ‘Japanese’ of Japanese fashion brands, Kenzo still manages to incorporate certain elements of Harajuku street style into their pieces, while still catering to a mostly European fashion crowd.
5. Michiko Koshino
London-based designer Michiko Koshino is a legend of the 80s and 90s club fashion scene. Coming from a kimono maker family, Michiko Koshino has moved to London in search of fresh inspiration for her business. She found it in contemporary clubwear – and in no time, her brand started producing the iconic inflatable jackets and coats, cargo pants inspired bottoms, and more. Although she has been out of the Japan fashion scene for almost a decade, working on mostly casual collections, Koshino has relaunched the production of her legendary inflatable garments in 2017 – and they can be purchased both online and in stores.
6. A Bathing Ape
A Bathing Ape, or BAPE, for short, is probably the most famous Japanese streetwear brand. BAPE started off in Tokyo’s Harajuku district in 1993, and their most representative elements are the camouflage print and the iconic ape design that adorns graphic tees and sweats. Countless Western celebrities have been spotted rocking BAPE items both on- and off-stage – namely rappers like Pharell Williams. BAPE’s flagship store in Harajuku is a must visit if you’re into edgy and sporty street fashion.
NEIGHBORHOOD is another Harajuku brand founded in the 90s – however, as opposed to BAPE, their style is leaning towards a more classic Americana vibe. Lots of flannels, leather, military-inspired patterns and prints, and, of course, denim, is what made NEIGHBORHOOD one of the most successful Japanese street fashion brands. Much like BAPE’s, NEIGHBORHOOD’s flagship store is still well and alive in Tokyo’s Harajuku districts, so you might want to drop by them on your next trip.
8. Junya Watanabe
Junya Watanabe is a designer who started his career working at Comme des Garcons, and went on to create his own brand/label in 1993. The influences of Rei Kawakubo’s work on JW collections are evident – they still use a lot of technical materials, bold fabrics, and geometric pleats. Although it’s not absolutely necessary to take a trip all the way to Tokyo to get your hands on some Junya Watanabe pieces, you might be able to find many more exclusives in the infamous Comme des Garcons store in Roppongi Hills.
UNDERCOVER is another representative street fashion brand originating in Harajuku. As opposed to both BAPE and NEIGHBORHOOD, UNDERCOVER opts for a more aggressive aesthetic, combining elements from punk, gothic, and even bondage fashion into their pieces. Even the motto of the brand, ‘We make noise, not clothes’, is a pretty powerful statement. Although not all of their items might be easy to sport for the average person, you might still want to check out their store – who knows what might catch your eye.
OK, we have to admit – Uniqlo is not exactly a fashion brand like all the others we included in this article. It is a fast-fashion retailer, but it’s still very representative for Japanese fashion in the West, especially Europe and the US, where Uniqlo stores have witnessed great success. Uniqlo’s style is a mix of casual and chic, and they try to stick to basic pieces in trendy cuts, fabrics, and colors to appeal to a wide customer range. They also collaborate with various Japanese designers to release limited edition items and collections for fairly low prices. Uniqlo is your go-to Japanese brand if you want to stock up on fashionable items without breaking the bank.
As you can see, Japanese fashion covers a wide range of styles and price ranges. From the off-the-runway collections of Yohji Yamamoto and Comme des Garcons to edgy streetwear like BAPE and UNDERCOVER, there is a Japanese brand for just about any fashion enthusiast. And, if you’re on a tight budget, you can find excellent budget choices from brands like Uniqlo – both in Japan and in other countries around the world.
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