Tokyo has long been a hub for avant-garde design, but its increasing reputation as a breeding ground for great menswear brands has little to do with the extravagant end of fashion. It is, instead, to do with an emerging wave of Japanese brands with a commitment to high-quality, wearable pieces that fit seamlessly into men’s wardrobes.
A simpler approach to dressing, which puts the spotlight on excellence and integrity of manufacturing rather than on passing trends, is part of a growing movement in menswear, and one that Japanese brands have adopted earlier and better than most. Speaking to Mr Porter magazine, director of Beams Plus Shinsuke ‘Alex’ Nakada described Japanese men as having a ‘healthy spirit of enquiry’ when it comes to clothing. ‘We are interested in all of these processes, the reasons for those processes and their associated historical backgrounds … we want to know the reason why these details are developed in the first place,’ explained Nakada.
Beams is one of Japan’s most successful retail businesses, and its Beams Plus menswear line – launched in 1999 – has cornered the market for heritage- and workwear-inspired apparel, influenced by post-war Americana style. Filtering these concepts through a distinctly Japanese lens, Beams Plus has become a go-to brand for excellently made staples that can blend into any aesthetic. This is the brand to check out for elevated leisurewear and for versatile pieces that can be dressed up or down – think beautifully cut sweaters in luxurious fabrics, or flattering unstructured blazers.
Blackmeans is another brand fusing Japanese style with influences from elsewhere. The label takes inspiration from cultures across the world, injects them with a punk aesthetic and realises the designs via traditional Japanese craftsmanship. The result is a range of exceptional leather jackets – all handmade and finished in Japan – ranging from classic all-black biker styles to pieces in brightly coloured leathers, embellished with studs, spikes and more. The catwalks were awash with biker jackets this season, so there’s never been a better time to discover Blackmeans.
Blue Blue Japan
Blue Blue Japan has made a name for itself with its commitment to traditional techniques, in particular its use of natural dyeing methods. Its most iconic pieces are those hand dyed in pure natural indigo, the striking blue results of which are reflected in the brand’s name. Age-old processes are used to create a variety of finishes and products, from dark indigo jeans and stonewash-effect jackets to tie-dye designs and graphic prints. Not surprisingly, Blue Blue Japan’s distinctive pieces have gained the label a cult following both at home and, slowly but surely, abroad.
It’s not only under-the-radar Japanese brands that are worth seeking out. Seiko, one of Japan’s most successful watchmakers, has been producing timepieces for over a century. Combining the classic and the modern, the brand’s watches are elegant and unfussy; look out for the new Presage collection, and in particular the two recently launched limited-edition Presage models, which echo Seiko’s groundbreaking 1913 Laurel watch. One features a dial of lacquer, the other of enamel, with each individual piece overseen by the most skilled Japanese craftspeople.
Another brand with a rich history, Onitsuka Tiger began in 1949 as an innovative producer of specialist sporting shoes. Relaunched in 2001 by Asics, the label now produces collections inspired by its long association with sport. Its sneakers have become known across the world for their colourful striped designs, and have captured the growing market for retro styles. While Asics moves forwards with new technologies, Onitsuka Tiger is more focused on representing heritage in a modern way, and as sneakers become more and more a part of high-fashion dressing, the brand is once again on everyone’s lips.
‘I always consider how I might translate and represent our rich Japanese heritage through my designs in a modern and relevant manner,’ explained designer Shuhei Numata in conversation with Hypebeast. ‘Japanese authenticity, craftsmanship and originality are key words for the execution of my collections.’ This season, the brand’s collaboration with Italian menswear designer Andrea Pompilio brings together elements from the traditional winter wardrobe – camel-coloured wool, tartan, flannel – juxtaposed with modern elements such as nylon and brightly coloured inserts to produce sneakers that are contemporary yet timeless.
Whether in clothing or accessories, formal or casualwear, the best Japanese brands are presenting men with collections that focus on quality and excellence above trends, and which make the most of the nation’s rich history while looking to the future. Thanks to its offering timeless pieces that will fit easily into the stylish man’s wardrobe, and which demonstrate both great design and intricate manufacturing processes, it’s no wonder Japan is a leading light in the world of menswear.