“I wanted to start a movement of new generation, young fashion designers in Japan,” Arashi Yanagawa tells me over coffee in Tokyo’s hip Nakameguro neighbourhood. He is speaking of the genesis of John Lawrence Sullivan, the menswear brand he started almost five years ago.
But Arashi hasn't always been a fashion designer. At first, he followed in his father's footsteps and spent 13 years in professional boxing. Then, with no fashion training whatsoever, he used his fight money and worked with local pattern cutters to perfect his first collection of two blazers, using vintage garments as a starting point. As a nod to his former life, he named his brand after the 1880's American bare-knuckle boxer and today, JLS is Japan’s hottest menswear label, known for its slick tailoring and modern accessories.
Despite his non-fashion background, or perhaps because of it, Arashi is at the vanguard of a group of promising, young menswear brands that are taking Tokyo by storm. They offer high quality clothing at prices lower than Lanvin and Thom Browne, but still packing a design punch.
This perfectly meets the expectations of the style-conscious Japanese men that I spoke to. They may not spend as much on fashion as their female counterparts, but they are still conscious of fashion as a canvas for experimental self-expression.
“Men have to be elegant,” declares Arashi. “I am very inspired by British style and Savile Row.” And although, strictly speaking, Ralph Lauren is not British, he has been a reference point for Arashi from the start. Add a little bit of Hedi Slimane's silhouette, a clever use of colour, and some superb styling by Masumi Sakamoto, and you have JLS.
Down the street from JLS, on the edge of Nakameguro, is the minimalist shop of another notable brand in the Japanese menswear movement. Soe is designed by 31 year old Soichiro Ito, whose line of stylish shirts has been picked up by L'Eclaireur in Paris for the Autumn.
Soichiro has a bit of a nostalgic 80's vibe to his collection. Colourful, relaxed silhouettes with a twist are the name of the game here. For example, a light blue pinstriped vest with metallic studs for a bit of edge or a crisp white shirt with a bib of interwoven pieces of fabric, creating a relaxed tuxedo effect.
Laid back elegance is also the trademark at N.Hoolywood. And while most of the neighbouring luxury stores in were quiet, a steady stream of shoppers made their way to this shop tucked off of the main Omotesando drag in Aoyama. The entire shop and its contents were imported to Tokyo from the Hollywood Hills by designer Daisuke Obana, whose clothes cleverly bridge the casual-formal divide in a truly unforgettable space.
So the buying equation for the Japanese male shopper is easy. With small production runs, they can be sure not everyone will be sporting the same great style. Plus, there is still money left over for the other important things in the life of the young Japanese male: booze, cars and increasingly, home decor and travel. These guys want it all.
John Lawrence Sullivan by Arashi Yanegawa
Soe by Soichiro Ito
N. Hoolywood at Mister Hollywood by Daisuke Obana