The Japanese are well and truly killing the streetwear game this year. Only a few years ago, Japanese brands were one of the best kept secrets in fashion, but in this digital age, it’s clear that this is no longer the case.
Boasting psychedelic colour schemes and wacky, bold designs, streetwear in the Land Of The Rising Sun is unlike anything we’ve seen in Western countries, and that’s exactly why we love it so much. With that in mind, we’ve made it our duty to showcase the top five Japanese streetwear brands that you need to know.
A Bathing Ape really needs no introduction. Founded back in 1993 by Tomoaki Nagao, or Nigo, as he prefers to be called, the imprint started out like many others, producing graphic tees and sweats which utilised psychedelic colour schemes, later expanding to everything from jeans, to toys, to even toilet paper.
If you didn’t know already, the brand’s unique name comes from the Japanese saying, “A bathing ape in lukewarm water,” a phrase describing somebody who is overindulgent – poking fun at some of their own hyper-consumer customers.
In the early Noughties, a number of rappers including Pharrell Williams and Soulja Boy exposed BAPE to a Western audience, and the brand’s iconic BAPESTA sneakers and Shark Hoodies quickly became wardrobe essentials for many streetwear aficionados around the world.
I have to admit, strictly speaking, COMME des GARÇONS would not be considered a streetwear brand, but honestly, no list about Japanese fashion would be complete with mentioning them. Founded back in 1969 by Rei Kawakubo, COMME des GARÇONS grew in popularity in Japan throughout the ’70s before debuting in Paris in 1981.
When the imprint was first introduced to the City Of Lights, it was dismissed by critics as “ragged chic”, however, CDG used this to their advantage. Producing nothing but the most show stopping pieces, the fashion world simply couldn’t ignore the brand’s avant-garde aesthetic, and soon thereafter, everyone wanted a piece.
From designs that bloat and transform the natural human form, to perfumes that some have described as smelling of burnt rubber, COMME des GARÇONS is unlike anything else in the industry, and we can’t wait to see what the future holds.
Founded twenty years ago in 1997 by fashion designer Masaaki Honma, Mastermind Japan is the epitome of simple yes sophisticated. At its core, MMJ is characterised by two elements: the colour black, and its iconic Skull & Crossbones motif which you can recognise from a mile away.
Whilst this may sound quite limited on paper, MMJ really pushes the limits when it comes to what they can achieve. Inspired heavily by punk and goth aesthetics, the imprint adopts highly technical production techniques to create eye-wateringly cool pieces with eye-wateringly high price tags.
Mastermind Japan is renowned for rubbing shoulders with high fashion. For example, the Creative Director of Chanel, Karl Lagerfeld, once stated that Mastermind Japan was one of his favourite labels. Additionally, MMJ is one of the very few brands that have collaborated with historic French luggage manufacturer, Maison Goyard.
Founded in 1994 by Shinsuke Takizawa, or Shin, as he prefers to be called, NEIGHBORHOOD is one of the OGs of Japanese streetwear. Originally part of the Harajuku streetwear scene of the early ’90s, the imprint is inspired by Shin’s passion for historic motorcycle subcultures, creating classic American clothing such as leathers, shirting, sweats, flannels and headwear, all with a distinct biker gang twist.
Although recently NBHD have expanded into a more military style aesthetic, they’re still renowned for their authentic selvedge denim, manufactured to strict traditional specifications and customised with intricate, natural distress washes.
Besides Rei Kawakubo, Yohji Yamamoto is arguably the most famous Japanese fashion designer of the 20th century. Contemporary in its design, the brand has produced consistently stunning pieces throughout its thirty five year long history, and even to this day, it is among one of the most timeless brands in existence.
Yamamoto’s pieces always have one thing in common, they’re either painted all over in black or they don’t exist at all. In fact, the designer himself has described the colour as saying, “I don’t bother you — don’t bother me.”
Beyond his namesake label, Yamamoto has worked with adidas Originals on the hugely successful Y-3 line, birthplace of the Qasa, one of fashion’s most coveted sneakers. This is no mean feat when you consider the fact that many comparable brands still struggle to make a shoe with half the appeal of a simple Ultra Boost.
What do you think of our list of the top five Japanese streetwear brands that you need to know? Do you agree with it or do you think there should be a few more worthy mentions? Let us know in the comments below, and be sure to check out our list of the best sneaker releases of 2017!