TOKYO — The traditional kimono and obi will probably always symbolize Japan and Japanese style, but contemporary Japanese fashion designers have taken an avant-garde position in international couture.
When designers Issey Miyake, Yohji Yamamoto, Rei Kawakubo and others began showing their fashions in Europe about six years ago, they created a sensation. Their clothes were new and very different.
Highly textured fabrics in muted colors were stitched into oversize and asymetrical garments that camouflaged rather than revealed bodies. The shapelessness of the garments was reminiscent of the kimono, which reveals only the back of the neck. And many of the Japanese designer fashions used ties, not unlike the obi, for fastening.
Women with problem proportions found relief from fitted and revealing Paris fashions. Despite criticism from conservative commentators, the Japanese designers became a la mode. And when the popularity of the look faded, the Japanese designers modified their collections by adding brighter colors, frills and tailored and revealing lines.
On the Cutting Edge
There is still an emphasis on unusual fabric that drapes wonderfully, or is stiff enough to retain a shape of its own, and on attention-capturing detail. Japanese designers are still on the cutting edge of style.
Japanese fashion is sold in Europe and the United States, but you'll find the best selection in Tokyo. The greatest concentration of boutiques is in Minami-Aoyama, particularly on Omote-Sando, a beautiful, broad, tree-lined boulevard somewhat reminiscent of the Champs-Elysee in Paris.
Omote-Sando stretches from the Meiji Shrine and the trendy Harajuku district at the street's northern end to the Nezu Art Museum at the southern end. Omote-Sando means "formal road." It is the route the emperor takes to the Meiji Shrine.
Omote-Sando is easy to get to by subway. Take the Ginza or Chiyoda line to the Omote-Sando station (at the intersection of Omote-Sando and Aoyama-dori, for those who prefer to get there by taxi). The station is midway along Omote-Sando. Take exit B4, walk south for about a block and a half.
Boutique for Men
On your left you'll find Issey Miyake's men's boutique, Plantation. The shop has a collection of men's elegant casuals, including unusual coats, jackets and matching trousers, and shirts for men with a strong sense of individual style.
Across the street Yohji Yamamoto's shop, Y's Super Position, is a two-story treasury of fashions for men and women. On one floor, oversize casual silk shirts (about $100) and interesting trousers are displayed on gray concrete tables.
The other floor is a cavernous space in which scaffolds and catwalks are used to create various levels where clothes are displayed and stored. There are eye-catching formal outfits and creations for high-powered business wear. Outfits cost about $300 and up.
Down the street, in the direction of the Nezu Art Museum, is the From First Building, a five-story rectangular red brick and glass structure. From First is one of Tokyo's top designer fashion centers. The building is almost as stylish as the fashions. Shops face an open-air inner courtyard, a retreat of space and quiet in the midst of bustling Tokyo.
Loose, Layered Garments
Issey Miyake's From First shop was designed by Kuramata Shiro. Smooth white walls and blond wood are an excellent backdrop for Miyake's textured fabrics fashioned into loose and layered garments. Women's slacks, tops, jackets, dresses and coats are shown. Prices begin at about $90.
Comme des Garcons, Rei Kawakubo's boutique, is on the second floor. The space is stark and almost antiseptic looking, with white tile walls. Stylish salesgirls, garbed in black, are as quiet as shadows as they rearrange Kawakubo's fashions, interestingly asymmetrical and muted in color. Prices begin at about $70 for a blouse.
Yoshio Inaba's MOGA (it stands for modern gal) boutique has a different look. The clothes are more tailored, more classically fashioned in a combination of Japanese and Western influences. Inaba uses a lot of textured silk to create clinging dresses. Dresses are about $280 and up.
Alpha Cubic, with several shops in the From First Building, is also international in style and provides a broad range of casual and business clothes. Colorful separates, including slacks, shirts and jackets, mix and sell for about $50 and up.
Sachiko Morioka's sweater boutique is a real treat. Her hand-knit vests, pullovers and cardigans feature vividly colored patterns. They're almost as unusual as their display, which is a pillow-supported mound of knitwear in the middle of the floor. Sweaters with delicate detailing are posted on the walls or draped over table tops. Sweaters cost about $100 to $400.
From First also has several European designer boutiques, including Alaia and other Parisians, and lesser-known Japanese ready-to- wear outfits.