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Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2007
Bathing Ape, rocking chairs and LeSportsac bags
By MARTIN WEBB
No bones about it -- Nigo(R) is on fire. The man behind the A Bathing Ape(R) streetwear phenomenon sits at the helm of a branding machine that encompasses stores in New York, London, Hong Kong, Taipei and every big city on the Japanese archipelago. He also runs a cafe, a hair salon and a record label, stars in his own TV show and plays in hip-hop supergroup Teriyaki Boyz. With a fleet of supercars and an astonishing collection of bling that includes many diamond-encrusted grills, he is a jet-set celebrity who counts icons like Karl Lagerfeld and Kayne West as bosom buddies.
Following up from Billionaire Boys Club, a line created in collaboration with hip-hop superstar Pharell Williams, the latest arm added to Nigo(R)'s ever-expan- ding empire is BAPE KIDS TM . The stunning store was designed by Masamichi Katayama, the man behind the brand's impossibly clean-looking interiors, under the supervision of Nigo(R).
Katayama's genius goes beyond creating a slick first impression. Clever little extras are often quite unforgettable. In the case of BAPE KIDS, that manifests itself as a pit filled with multicolored squishy foam bananas in which kids can muck about while parents ponder the purchase of togs emblazoned with assorted simian motifs. While much of the merchandise on sale at the BAPE(R) stores for grownups is prohibitively priced, parents initiating their offspring into the monkey cult get a comparatively good deal: A pair of quality sneakers costs 8,190 yen, and a miniature version of the infamous shark hoodie is 12,915 yen.
Incidentally, just across from BAPE KIDS, which is easy to spot thanks to the giant pink neon sign, is White Wall, a kid's clothing store run by cult street-wear brand Neighborhood.
BAPE KIDS, 3-29-11 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo; Tel: (03) 5770-4455.
The past few years has seen Japanese men's fashion labels enjoying remarkable sales growth. Among the current crop doing a roaring trade, wjk is especially worthy of note. Its designer Jun Hashimoto is a former boutique buyer who became so enamored with the meticulously crafted leather jackets and boots produced by Italian menswear outfit Carpe Diem that he quit his job and moved to Perugia in order to serve an apprenticeship under its founder, Maurizio Altieri.
After three years absorbing the studio's dark aesthetic and studying its techniques for creating clothes from distressed, washed and treated leathers, Hashimoto returned to Japan and wasted no time in establishing himself as his former master's agent in Japan. In 2004 he launched wjk, which offers tough- guy staples like biker jackets, cargo pants and distressed denims at remarkably competitive prices. The brand, whose name is intentionally meaningless, now operates seven stores across Japan, including one inside Harajuku shopping complex LaForet.
With the December opening of a flagship store in the Meguro-Honcho district, which is home to several of Tokyo's most cutting-edge interior- design retailers, Hashimoto resolved to launch a line of furniture. Like the bulk of its clothing, wjk's chairs, chests and stools are rendered in matte black. The armchair pictured right, which is crafted in the image of an antique on display in the brand's Osaka store, is built from reclaimed wood and priced at 136,500 yen. Well-off heavy metallers in need of a dark throne to call their own are going to be queuing up to own one.
wjk BASE, 2-24-14 Meguro-Honcho, Meguro-ku, Tokyo; Tel: (03) 5678-5213. www.wjk.jp
Ya gotta have sole
It has been a relatively swift ascent to stardom for men's footwear designer turned all-round fashion innovator Yasuhiro Mihara. Having started out crafting quirky shoes for friends while still in college, the perma-tanned, surf-crazy Fukuoka native opened a store just off Omotesando in 1998, hitting the big time in 2000 when Puma tapped him to design a line of Japan-only sneakers that was launched worldwide two years later. Thanks to the exposure generated by that project, the miharayasuhiro line is stocked by some of the world's most prestigious boutiques, and after several seasons presenting his creations on the runways of menswear industry hub Milan, he will unveil his latest collection in Paris.
To celebrate the joint venture's fifth anniversary, the two parties have teamed up to publish a book titled "Far Eastern Sole." The tome's main selling point is its four central chapters, each of which focuses on a creator with a radical take on traditional Japanese culture. The four are: artist Akira Yamaguchi, manga artist Takao Saito, avant-garde flower arranger Makoto Azuma and popular poet Shigeo Hamada. Also of interest are the section showcasing all the visuals used for previous miharayasuhiro ad campaigns, which have been directed from the outset by Tycoon Graphics, and a series of arty photographs by L.A. Tomari depicting shoes seemingly abandoned in lonely locations. "Far Eastern Sole" is priced at 13,860 yen.
Billing itself as "the leading American brand of casual nylon bags," LeSportsac has been attempting to build a more fashion-conscious image by hiring a series of commercial artists to create prints for its products. However collaborations with the likes of American illustrator Amy Davis and Simone Legno, the man behind the kawaii-character-inspired Tokidoki project, have failed to hit the mark (from this style snob's point of view, at least). That is about to change, though.
Next month the company will launch a series of bags with an artist who can lay claim to impeccable fashion world kudos. Fafi began her career as a graffiti artist in her home city of Toulouse, in southern France, and since gaining a huge following in the street-culture fraternity for her depictions of sultry, nymph-like "Fafinettes," some of which have been turned into collectible vinyl figures, she has gone on to establish herself as something of a lowbrow art scene starlet.
The distinguishing feature of the Fafinettes is that they are attired in cute but sassy pink-punk outfits, often featuring stripy over-the-knee socks. Besides the allure of their beautifully stylized faces, the characters' distinctive dress sense has endeared them to the fashion community. In a testament to the breadth of Fafi's appeal, Paris superboutique Colette, recently staged a large-scale exhibition of her paintings, illustrations and assorted product designs. It may have taken a while to get on the right track, but this project has the potential to win LeSportsac a following among even the most discerning fashionistas.