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Friday, Jan. 21, 2005


New look for Mitsukoshi HQ

Staff writer

Mitsukoshi celebrated its 100th anniversary last year with the renovation of the New Wing of its flagship store in Tokyo's Nihonbashi. A century is as old as it gets for a department store in Japan -- this illustrious edifice has the distinction of being the nation's first. (It is also the only retailer in the land to lend its name to a subway station, Mitsukoshimae.) But, until the recent refurbishment, "New Wing" definitely seemed something of a misnomer. Now, with a fresh set of trendier tenants, a few tweaks to the layout and an immaculate interior refit, the name rings a lot truer.

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Jewelry glitters on the first floor

Besides being the firm's spiritual headquarters, the Nihonbashi store accounts for over 30 percent of Mitsukoshi's total annual revenue. The building's famous facade has been crucial to its enduring success -- this is one of the grandest-looking areas in Japan, and Mitsukoshi makes the most of its status as a Tokyo institution.

The austere architecture well befits the spot commonly referred to as "The Center of Japan" (Nihonbashi Bridge has been the zero-mile marker for Japan's highway network since early in the Edo Period). The store's prestige is still a big draw for tourists, and it makes it the spree destination of choice for the upper echelons of Japan's gerontocracy.

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Hip boutique Via Bus Stop dominates the second floor

With the Nihonbashi store's average customer considerably older than even that of the venerable Ginza department stores, the revamp of the New Wing was designed to attract younger generations of luxury hunters and to rejuvenate its struggling business. These lofty ambitions are spelled out on the ground level, where shoppers are greeted by a cluster of jewelry counters.

The most dazzling of these is the first outlet in Japan for New York-based designer Mimi So. The stunning Chinese-American is super-hot stateside, so if you want to join her stellar clientele, which includes Gwyneth Paltrow, Sarah Jessica Parker and Jennifer Aniston, expect to pay in the region of 1 million yen for a Mimi So ring or pendant. Other jewelers also courting customers in search of exorbitantly priced baubles include schmoozy Italian trophy designer turned goldsmith Antonino Rando and Marina B. (short for Bulgari -- no relation to the more famous Bvlgaris) -- who is famed for rings with interchangeable stones and for having her own patented diamond cut.

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Kids' boutique Miss Blumarine

The attempt at hip-and-trendiness continues on the second floor with Drawer, the boutique of the moment for Tokyo's more conservative fashion connoisseuses. The luxuriously fitted space is the work of Masamichi Katayama, the designer who is behind the interiors of the smartest fashion retail spaces in Japan, including Marc Jacobs, A Bathing Ape and Beams. Drawer's import-brand selection displays impeccable taste, and the original clothes are quietly fabulous. Footwear obsessives should note that this private little store also carries a well-edited selection of creations from Christian Louboutin and Jimmy Choo.

For outfits to wear with the bling rocks sold at ground level, shoppers should trek up to the third floor, where trendy open-plan boutique Via Bus Stop purveys high-end fashion alongside old favorites like Issey Miyake, Christian Lacroix, Etro and Missoni. The big surprise on this floor is the inclusion of a concession for the recently revamped Pucci brand, whose psychedelic-print bikinis aren't quite what one would expect the Nihonbashi set to be comfortable dressing up in.

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A chill-out zone on the 4th floor.

Mitsukoshi has always been famous for its traditional Japanese offerings, especially its wa-fuku (Japanese clothes), and this is hardly surprising as it dates from 1673, when it opened as a kimono store in what was then the city of Edo. This forte is displayed by the fourth floor, which is given the title "Neo Japanesque." Most of the assortment on sale here is targeted at 50-and-up females, with shapeless items in flattering dark tones the staple offering. There are some gems in the rough, though, most notably contemporary interpretations of the Japanese aesthetic, including folksy-but-funky looks by casual-clothing brand 45rpm and experimental forms from Issey Miyake's A-P.O.C. label, which put a bit of wow into wa.

A bookstore, two nondescript restaurants and a Hello Kitty corner fill the fifth floor, which is best bypassed on the way to take a look at the impressive selection of children's clothing on the sixth. Ralph Lauren and Burberry dominate here, but parents (or grandparents) keen to keep their daughters (or granddaughters) up to date with the latest trends will be most interested to see the first outlet in Japan for Miss Blumarine, the children's-wear label of saucy Italian seductress-dresser Anna Molinari. Perfect for fledgling pop idols, the frocks here are about as glamorous as pre-teen clothing gets.

Also on the sixth floor are impressive displays for Cacharel and Sonia Rykiel Enfan, key to Mitsukoshi's strategy of winning a new generation of devotees who will see the store through another prosperous century.

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