There’s something undeniably special about Japanese style. There are certain heavyweight nations that are always discussed when it comes to menswear, but Japan often doesn’t get the recognition it deserves. We know in theory that it’s a nation filled with cutting-edge designs, but it’s a world that feels difficult to navigate if you’re not already on the inside. It’s time for that to change, so we’ve put together an introductory guide to some of the most iconic and interesting Japanese menswear brands in the game.
When we talk about names that put Japanese style on the map, we have to mention Jun Takahashi. The legendary designer founded his label, Undercover, in 1991 while still at school and has been a fashion world favourite ever since his first runway show in 1994. His achingly cool streetwear combines elements of urban style with high fashion sophistication. The garments are inspired by youth and rebellion – they’re deconstructed, slashed, reconstituted and emblazoned with powerful graphics that make a totally punk, anti-fashion statement. Undercover is Japanese menswear at its very best.
If you’re new to the Visvim brand, the clothes probably look like something that would be worn by a farmer from the future. In reality, the brand was founded in 2001 by designer Hiroki Nakamura and has become famous for its vintage-inspired, rustic aesthetic (and the luxury price point it’s available for). The brand has grabbed the attention of all the clothing nerds on menswear blogs, but more interestingly, it has also created unlikely fans in celebrity circles, like Eric Clapton, John Mayer, Kanye West and A$AP Rocky. Fun fact: the name means nothing, Nakamura just liked the way “vis” and “vim” looked next to each other.
Mastermind Japan is responsible for an endless list of interesting collaborations, from Carhartt, to adidas, to Moncler, to Stussy. Sadly, the brand retired just after the Spring/Summer 2013 season, but that makes it no less influential. Exclusivity reigned supreme at this Japanese menswear house. Designer Masaaki Honma often produced no more than 3 of each item, which frequently featured punk-inspired graphics, unique use of raw materials and the label’s iconic skull and crossbones logo. Mastermind Japan made a special limited comeback earlier this year via the Origami commerce platform, so perhaps there’s a future for it yet.
Designer Shinsuke Takizawa was heavily involved in motorcycles and the surrounding counterculture when he started the Neighborhood brand in Tokyo in 1994. The concept was to craft basic clothing inspired by unique interpretations of elements from motorcycles, the military and the outdoors. The result is a collection that includes denim, leather jackets, motorcycle goods, eyewear, interior items and more. There’s even a children’s line called Neighborhood One Third, based on the idea of making Neighborhood items at 1/3 the normal size. 2009 saw the introduction of the Luker By Neighborhood line, which adds a British influence into the mix.
Nonnative has been crafting quality casual and contemporary clothing since the early 2000s. Founder Satoshi Saffren and designer Takayuki Fuji are inspired by a carefree and youthful lifestyle, which translates into garments inspired by work- and outerwear with subtle military hints. Nonnative’s underlying philosophy is that quality should be experienced first-hand to be fully appreciated, so expect meticulously sourced materials as standard. The aesthetic is clean, casual and functional, in a subdued colour palette of black, white, khaki, olive and navy. The collections are timeless and durable, mixed with new fabrics and inventive details to balance practicality with aesthetic.
No, you didn’t read that wrong. Yes, that’s the real spelling of this Japanese menswear brand. In 2000, Daisuke Obana founded the N.Hoolywood label and his store “Mister Hollywood” in the famous Harajuku district of Tokyo. His first show took place in a club in 2002, followed by the debut of N.Hoolywood Compile during Paris Fashion Week in 2007. Daisuke Obana describes himself as “an American brand geek,” an ethos that clearly comes across in his Americana-inspired collections which have referenced everything from Prohibition, to Western films, to Ernest Hemingway.