Japan was anything but immune to the widespread trend of streetwear that started in the early 90’s. While brands like Stussy and Supreme were making waves stateside amongst the skate scene, streetwear was also taking flight in major cities all around the world including Tokyo. It wasn’t long before the Japanese found their cool factor and not only dipped into the trend but dominated it. Now, fashion enthusiasts, designers, and critics around the world, turn their attention to Tokyo as they eagerly await the next big trend. But at the heart of Japanese streetwear is a sense of individuality.
Japan wasn’t always the mecca of street fashion. In fact, only a few generations earlier, Japan was under the strict mores of “kibishī kisoku,” that governed their people for thousands of years prior. It took Japan a few years to break out of this norm and find their own identity and in doing so, they didn’t settle for shallow trends. The streetwear transformation that hit Japan in the early 90’s is not merely a carbon copy of the American culture.
While many of their styles and designs mimic a grungy, punk 90’s Americana aesthetic, it is really much more complex than that. In fact, it is a representation of the modern nature of the Japanese culture and their ever modernizing influences that can be seen around the world. But more than that, it is also the discovery of an entirely new identity – one that has had a major impact on the rest of the world.
So, who exactly are the mastermind designers responsible for the hottest streetwear brands in the world? While this list is based on the most recognized streetwear designers coming out of Tokyo, the disruption and lasting contributions they made to the Japanese streetwear culture forever cannot be disputed.
If you are familiar with the fashion world, the name Rei Kawakubo is probably a familiar one to you. Rei Kawakubo is founder and designer of the famous brand, COMME des GARÇONS which was first established in 1969. The brand caught fire in Japan throughout the 70’s before officially debuting in Paris in 1981. COMME des GARÇONS is a unique brand in that they use heavy fabrics, dark colors, metals, studs, rips and tears, and many other punk, underground aesthetics to achieve their unique look. As one can imagine, this brand was extremely sought after back then as much as it is now.
What makes Rei Kawakubo such a pioneer in fashion is her ability to not only deconstruct fashion, but deliberately turn it on its head altogether. In fact, it was her first runway show in Paris in 1981 where she debuted her first COMME des GARÇONS line. The heavy use of black and distressed fabrics were highly criticized by French fashion critics. But the negativity only fueled Kawakubo’s creativity.
Fast forward a few years and you’ll see Rei Kawakubo cutting holes into a brand new Louis Vuitton handbag to deliberately remove its primary function for a collaboration project between COMME des GARÇONS and Louis Vuitton. While Kawakubo’s work has always been controversial, she is now highly praised for her innovation and originality.
Shinsuke “Shin” Takizawa
Amongst one of the most recognizable OG Japanese street wear brands is NEIGHBORHOOD by designer mastermind, Shin Takizawa. NEIGHBORHOOD first earned their street cred when they opened their doors in 1994. The brand draws from Shin Takizawa’s deep passion for American
motorcycle and rock subcultures creating what some would consider timeless apparel. Shin Takizawa uses lots of leather, flannel, and distressed fabrics to put his own distinct twist on “biker gang” aesthetic.
But the Americana motorcycle subculture was only the beginner. Shin Takizawa expanded the brand into military prep, Native American, and even early 20th century industrial workwear styles that have launched the brand into a unique and incomparable style to other brands. While they produce many timeless pieces, NEIGHBORHOOD is best known for their authentic denim, particularly from their “Savage” series.
Jun Takahashi and Nigo
Jun Takahashi and Nigo are the brilliant designers behind the brand UNDERCOVER. Influenced by Takahashi’s deep passion for the punk rock music scene, and of course his favorite band the Sex Pistols, UNDERCOVER fully embraces the anti-social, in your face apparel aesthetic. The aggressive, heavy metal fashion has actually been the epitome of the Japanese streetwear scene for some time. In fact, it is some of Takahashi’s earliest work that is most loved and sought after by fashion enthusiasts and collectors around the world.
No one sums up the brand better than Jun Takahashi when he said, “We make noise, not clothes”. The brilliant designer has been heavily influencing modern fashion and pushing the standards of normal every day wear through distinctive perspective and passionate creativity. He has played such an important role in the world of fashion and pushing street wear to where it is today. Perfectly combining a blend of professional and punk, grunge, his work stands out amongst the rest as one of the leading streetwear brands in Japan.