Streetwear goes a long way worldwide, even in Japan. But it’s the distinct individuality that comes from repackaging western influences that has pushed Japan’s streetwear brands into a category of their own. There’s a mystical allure to the streets of Harajuku and Japan’s fashion landscape that leaves outsiders intrigued and keen to dive in deeper.
In the 2000s, burgeoning creatives from the west like Pharrell and Kanye West caught on. The interest in Japan’s style of fashion and the Japanese streetwear brands driving the hype very much blew up. Soon, many musicians, street artists and designers were making the pilgrimage to Tokyo to experience the magic for themselves.
Before long, high-profile “east meets west” collaborations began to emerge. The world, as we know it, began to discover the pioneers of this era – from the likes of Nigo, Hiroshi Fujiwara, and Jun Takahashi, to Rei Kawakubo.
Now in 2020, the mysteries of the divinely fashionable Japanese may have been lifted. But if you’re just getting started in the scene, here are some of the best Japanese streetwear brands to keep on your radar. Check out the list below.
A Bathing Ape (Bape)
Founded by Nigo, Bape became one of the first few Japanese streetwear brands to gain prominence overseas. The brand is famous for its camo print apparel, shark hoodies and t-shirts emblazoned with the signature Ape head. Just like Supreme, Bape has grown into more than just a clothing line. It’s a lifestyle – one that has seen fans buy anything from kitchenware and toiletries to face masks; basically any item with its iconic imprint.
Comme Des Garçons (CDG)
The ideals that define Comme Des Garçons as a whole may not typically categorize this heavyweight label as streetwear. The anti-fashion framework that exists in the output of genius designer Rei Kawakubo is, after all, lauded for its imaginative construction – almost works of art in itself. But while the main line carries artistic creations that may not suit everyone’s tastes, it forms the basis of the street-ready offerings from its various other lines that have captured the world of streetwear. If you’re looking to dip your toes in Rei Kawakubo’s massive universe, check out these CDG diffusion lines – Shirt, Play, Wallet, and Black.
The terms used to describe Hiroshi Fujiwara – among them, the godfather of Japanese streetwear, tastemaker and trendsetter – clearly show the legacy of the man who is the undisputed king of collaborations. He’s had a hand in launching many iconic labels. But Fragment Design presents the highest level of authority in which the legendary designer operates. The presence of Fragment Design’s signature lightning bolt logo is all it takes to cause a flurry of interest. And the coveted stamp has featured in collaborations with an endless list of recognized brands that include Nike, Stussy, Starbucks, Visvim and Louis Vuitton, among others.
Another one of Hiroshi Fujiwara’s creations, The Conveni presents an interesting concept of selling streetwear and lifestyle offerings in a convenience store setting. Call it a friendly neighborhood streetwear store if you like but the unique concept and accompanying products make it one of the Japanese streetwear brands to keep an eye out for. Think streetwear staples like hoodies and tees, AA batteries, and grocery bags simply branded with “The Conveni” – truly the kind of merchandise worth copping.
The style of Wtaps’ clothing is telling not just from its garments, but also from its name. Fans of first-person shooter games will recognize the inspiration behind the brand’s name – which is pronounced “double taps”. Founded by Tetsu Nishiyama, Wtaps is a manifestation of the designer’s love affair with military wear. The brand has gone on to establish itself as a mainstay in the world of streetwear, with mighty collaborations including Supreme and Carhartt WIP (another brand heavily influenced by workwear and military wear).
Behind Japan’s intriguing fashion culture is its ability to riff off western influences and create something that’s unique to them. Visvim embodies this by blending Native American styles with Japanese craftsmanship. Following the success of its cult sneaker, the Visvim FBT – a silhouette inspired by Native American moccasins – the brand expanded into ready-to-wear clothing. Brand founder Hiroki Nakamura describes his desire to create “future vintage” products that will be appreciated for a long time to come, and that’s not difficult to see as Visvim prides itself in its quality construction. The label – which counts John Mayer among its diehard fans – is definitely for those with a particular taste.
Like Hiroshi Fujiwara, Nigo is a creative force who never stops. With Human Made, he conjured up a brand in 2010 that is entirely the opposite of his star creation, Bape. Once again, the Japanese fascination with vintage American workwear takes center stage, but for Nigo, it presents a stage of maturity in his life – designing clothes that he would wear that run contrary to Bape’s aesthetic. In a way, Human Made’s collections reflect Nigo’s personal tastes in vintage clothes, which are further accentuated with his creative use of graphics.
Shinsuke Takizawa’s Neighborhood is among the original set of brands –along with Bape and Wtaps – that led the golden years of the Harajuku streetwear scene in the 90s. Each brand offered different styles of clothing inspired by different subcultures that now make up the streetwear umbrella. For Takizawa, the lifestyle and history of motorcycle culture shaped the process of his designs. But it was also an expression of his own interpretation, which differed from the typical “biker style”. At a time where distressed denim and faded canvas were difficult to manufacture, Neighborhood made them staples in its collections. Now the brand has expanded its offerings – military‚ heritage‚ denim‚ and outdoor – and continues to push boundaries with its designs.
Jun Takahashi founded Undercover in 1990, and together with Bape’s Nigo, set up a store called “Nowhere” to sell both of their clothing lines. While Nigo would go on to leave Bape, Jun Takahashi remains at the heart of Undercover’s operations to this day. Ultimately, the label represents Takahashi’s creative spirit, channeling influences from punk, art, and music into beautifully crafted clothes. It’s high-fashion streetwear that exudes chaos and elegance at the same time. Undercover will always play a key part in the history of Japanese streetwear brands.
Former professional footballers Nobuhiro Mori and Keiji Ishizuka generated noise when they established their bar in Tokyo, and scored another victory with their subsequent venture into clothing, not least in terms of aesthetics. Wacko Maria, founded in 2005, has truly established itself as a brand to watch, with influences ranging from punk music and Latin American culture, to movies. Despite its signature provocative motifs, the most coveted pieces are those which simply feature text. You’ll immediately know what you’re looking at when you see “Wacko Maria,” “Paradise Tokyo,” and “Guilty Parties” emblazoned on apparel.
So if you’re tired of your look, then consider checking out some of the Japanese brands on this list to find the one that best expresses your style and individuality. We have no doubt that at least one of these labels will take your fancy.
Looking to get started in streetwear culture? You might find this streetwear sizing guide for Asians useful too.
Which one of these brands are you looking to dive into next? Did we miss out on any of your favorites? Let us know in the comments below.
Featured image: Wonderwall