Fashion from the Far East Flourishes in NYC

By Shafat Chowdhury • Jan 30th, 2014 • Category: Features

As models marched down the runway clothed in long, black outfits, the audience stared in wonder. The world of menswear constantly sees new winners as clothing lines ascend to the apex of fashion. Such was the case at last fall’s New York Fashion Week, or NYFW, when Japanese designers rose to prominence in what is widely considered as the pinnacle of presentation. The work of designers such as Hiroki Nakamura and Jun Takahashi received widespread approval and applause as their noir workwear based outfits stole the show.

NYFW, which was once the haven for classic Americana–or the “Mad Men” look, as some have labeled it–became a gateway for Asian-influenced clothing in late 2013. The blazers and vests that once strutted down the runway were replaced by fishnet tail parkas and black linen tunics. New brands such as Nakamura’s Visvim and Takahashi’s Undercover have become pillars of menswear in the current rise of Japanese high fashion.

With such a stronghold over men’s fashion, some wonder where this Japanese influence in clothing was while the Americana look thrived in the world of menswear.

“Companies like Visvim, Engineered Garments, and Undercover have been around for quite a while but they maintained a low profile in the indie scene,” says Shinji Nakata, an independent stylist based out of New York, while discussing the rise of Japanese high fashion.

“It took years for the likes of Nakamura, Takahashi, Kurazawa, and others to become important because their designs were so abstract,” he says as he tinkers with his dark rimmed glasses. “The idea of taking everyday workwear and then providing all different fits and colors seemed unpopular at first but the individuality of their pieces is what made them stand out.”

Although Japanese menswear did have a hand in the indie scene, it did not take off until designers started to display their work in larger crowds. The transfer from being prevalent in the indie scene to popping up in mainstream menswear took place during the Paris Fashion Week of 2011, when Japanese designers presented their work to the masses.

While brand names such as Christian Dior and Comme des Garcons were popular in Paris that year, Visvim and Engineered Garments exhibited their respective pieces for the Spring and Summer of 2012 along with the Fall and Winter of 2012. They may have been newcomers at the time but the work of the Japanese designers garnered much attention due to their originality.

Creativity and originality prosper in high fashion, but what is it that makes the work of Japanese designers so special? It’s the blending everyday casual workwear with one-of-a-kind fits and colors. With a heavy focus on looser fits and dark steel-toned colors, Japanese designs provide an alternative to the Americana look closely linked to tailored suits and fine knitting. The “dark and drapey” style, as Nakata calls it, deconstructs the idea of traditional formalism, which departs drastically from the customs of American and European designs.

To truly grasp the concepts of Japanese high fashion, you have to visit Nepenthes NYC. Located at 38th Street and 8th Avenue in Midtown Manhattan, Nepenthes NYC, an exclusive premier Japanese clothing store, is widely considered to be the hub of Japanese menswear in New York City. With a customer base ranging from college students with snapback caps and Jordans on to businessmen in form-fitting suits, Nepenthes NYC offers a shopping experience like no other.

“The popular demand of our designs didn’t really take me by storm because we do things differently,” says Nepenthes NYC stylist Keisuke Shimizu as he reflects on the rise of Japanese menswear. “That whole classic dapper style was being repeated over and over and now it died out.”

Others have shared the same sentiments as Shimizu and feel that repetition crept into classic American menswear staples, hence its “death.” In stark contrast, others feel that the rise of Japanese high fashion only serves to propel American menswear to even greater heights.

James Tirado, a writer for Four-Pins, a subsidiary of Complex Magazine, believes that there is no such thing as death in menswear. “No way,” says Tirado. “The beautiful thing about fashion, about menswear, is that it’s so competitive; never will one style be completely dominant and kill off the others, it just doesn’t work like that.”

Japanese designers continue their climb to eminence with musicians like John Mayer and rock band The Novembers endorsing brands such as Visvim and Undercover. Some designers have even begun collaborating with the likes of high-fashion mavens, such as Yves Saint Laurent and Mark McNairy.

Shinji Nakata believes these collaborations are great because for the work of Japanese designers to be globally recognized, the likes of Hiroki Nakamura and Jun Takahashi need to make their pieces easily marketable while retaining a sense of exclusivity.

The future seems bright and ever-growing for the Japanese in terms of the menswear scene as they amass a larger audience over time. Still, this provides the spark for competition from rival designers and brands.

“If you spend enough time in fashion, you’ll realize that dominance on the runway is short-lived,” cautions James Tirado. “And even if a trend ‘dies,’ expect a rebirth.”

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