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U.S. designer Michael Kors has announced plans to open a new store in Tokyo's Ginza district in the fall.

The 7,800-square-foot flagship, located on Chuo Street, is the first free-standing Michael Kors store to carry menswear items.

The store's interior will utilize Kors' classic "jet set glamour" theme, which includes white marble flooring, zebra-skin accents, stainless steel fixtures and Macassar wood.

"Japan is a key market for our continued development in Asia," John Idol, chairman and CEO of the brand, said in a brand statement, according to Luxury Daily.

"The importance of Tokyo to luxury and fashion retailing makes this the right place and time to open our first store showcasing every facet of the Michael Kors brand. We look forward to offering the full breadth of our product assortment, presented with our signature glamour, chic and superlative service, to our Japanese customers and tourists traveling to Tokyo," Idol added.

Michael Kors already has many stores within Tokyo but this new location is in a prime shopping area, which will reach both residents and tourists.

The first floor includes large windows surrounded by Bianco Dolomiti marble and will offer handbags, accessories, watches, jewelry and eyewear; while a lower level will offer men's attire and accessories.
According to Luxury Daily, a video screen covers both the second and third stories.

Both Michael Kors Collection and Michael Michael Kors women's ready-to-wear will be housed on the third floor, along with a large shoe range.

In related news, Kors was named the 2014 Most Searched For Fashion Designer By Bing. The designer placed second on 2013's chart — he was beat by Victoria Beckham. She did not make the list at all this year, according to WWD.
When avant-garde designer Rick Owens celebrated the 20th anniversary of his eponymous label this fall, he did so on a grand and unusual scale, installing a towering replica of his torso, 25 feet tall and painted stark white, one arm raising a fiery torch, above the entrance to Selfridges in London. Created by frequent Owens collaborator Douglas Jennings and set against the department store’s columned facade, the sculpture, part of an art-meets- fashion collaboration called The World of Rick Owens, was a striking if slightly unsettling sight. Besides the designer’s likeness, Owens’s “world” also included elaborate visual installations in store windows, a capsule collection and a curated space featuring furniture and design pieces offering insight into the designer’s wonderfully weird mind. All told, it was one of the boldest displays yet of the merging of art and fashion outside of a museum space. And it was at the fore of a growing phenomenon, spurred by an effort to lure customers, generate buzz and compete against edgy online retailers nipping at traditional retail’s heels: the department store as art gallery.

"As luxury and retail is an extremely competitive space, it’s important for brands to continuously innovate in order to keep their relevancy,” says Dalia Strum, a digital strategist and instructor at The Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. “Online shopping is on the rise and brick and mortar locations need to provide a value-add for potential consumers. These installations have proven to continuously draw attention and traffic due to their quick turnover.”

Merging fashion and art in the department store isn’t an entirely new phenomenon; retailers such as Bergdorf Goodman and Barneys in New York have historically collaborated with artists on their window displays during the holidays, says Georgie Stout, founding partner and creative director of New York-based design consultancy 2x4. Selfridges is treading lightly into the New Year with its January street window takeover termed “Bright Old Things,” which spotlights an eclectic mix of well-known and under-the-radar artists, from an architect-turned-topiarist, to a punk musician/artist, and a furniture designer, all ranging in age from 40 to 80+.

Luxe retailer Bergdorf Goodman, meanwhile, has taken to elevating fashion as art in its legendary Fifth Avenue store windows all year long, starting this past May with a celebration of the Costume Institute’s Charles James exhibit. Bergdorf’s enlisted contemporary designers such as Ralph Rucci, Mary Katrantzou and Rodarte to put their own spin on James’ structured creations; those one-of-a-kind pieces, surrounded by historical references to the couturier’s work, could be purchased directly from the windows. In September, Bergdorf’s partnered with Sotheby’s to preview the auction house’s Contemporary Art Sale and created gallery-esque windows featuring works by the likes of Damien Hirst, Andy Warhol and Dan Flavin, serving as a backdrop to showcase the store’s fall fashion. Even Bergdorf’s recent holiday windows highlight art in all its forms, from architecture, to sculpture, painting and dance.

“Department stores have been transforming themselves from a merchandise-driven environment to an experiential setting of lifestyle goods, epicurean offerings and even services,” says Tom Julian, one of the directors of New York-based The Doneger Group, a retail and merchandising consulting firm. “Art can allow a traditional retailer to become more historical, more cultural, an edgy retailer can be more directional, and an emerging retailer can be seen as an innovator, all thanks to the art theme.”

Those experiences are progressively making the leap beyond the window display and inside – or, in the case of Selfridges’ Rick Owens exhibit – outside, the department store environment. In May, London’s Harrod’s department store presented the “Pradasphere,” an in-store exhibit taking up a wide expanse of store real estate on the fourth floor, tracing the Italian design house’s inspirations ranging from art, architecture and film. Iconic looks from the past 100 years were housed in glass cases, and a Prada-inspired café was created in which to ponder the brand’s intellectual approach to fashion. “Creating social spaces inside of retail, where the public can engage with a brand at a more intellectual level, and connect artists and other collaborators work to the fashion brand as well,” says Stout. Continue reading…

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Newport International Runway Group Latest Trends - On Christmas Day, Dean Newcombe and fellow Tokyo fashion model Sofi Bevan swapped the comfort of the catwalk for something considerably less glamorous: a weeklong 391-km trek across often-mountainous terrain in freezing weather. Newcombe trekked 14 to 16 hours a day, starting at sunrise from the beaches of Choshi in Chiba and ending up on New Year’s Eve by the shores of Niigata. Bevan kept pace, with a few days off to heal severe blisters and boot rash.

Why did they do it? “I started feeling like I would rather be giving to a charity than wrapping a gift under a tree. I would rather dedicate my holiday season to support a cause I believed in,” says Newcombe.

While the Briton has applied to register his trek as a new Guinness world record, the real motivation for the journey was to raise awareness of appalling garment factory conditions in Bangladesh, an issue that briefly captured the world’s attention after the devastating Rana Plaza building collapse in 2013, which claimed the lives of more than 1,100 garment workers. Walk4Work, as the models’ project was called, was intended to send a strong message about the need to change the way clothing is manufactured around the world.

“This walk wasn’t an abstract idea. It was very close to my heart,” says Newcombe, who has been to Bangladesh, where he visited schools and met with workers at a local fair-trade NGO called Thanapara Swallows Development Society. Newcombe decided that more had to be done to raise awareness that where we buy our clothes has real consequences — an idea that the heart of a movement toward “conscious consumerism” that has been gathering momentum for the last 20 years, largely under the banner of “fair trade.”

“Fair-trade collectives produce everything by hand or by sewing machines — not automated machinery,” explains Newcombe. “I fund-raised for the Swallows foundation on this walk because they’re a perfect example of optimal conditions for garment workers: a small village where the workers all know each other; they live nearby; they work for a reasonable eight hours a day, five days a week; they earn wages that are substantially higher than the average Bangladesh garment factory worker; and they live at home with their families, not in urban slums — and, they make beautiful garments that are handwoven and hand-embroidered.”

To raise awareness of fair trade as an ethical alternative to sweat shops, Newcombe decided he would try to endure what millions of sweat-shop workers in the developing world endure every day: exhausting, relentless hard work.

“I think it’s amazing that he has the tenacity and physical stamina to do what he did,” says Safia Minney, CEO and founder of the People Tree brand, a pioneer in fair trade. “A lot of people don’t know about the suffering of garment workers.”

Most of the world’s clothes are the product of a system that relies on the exploitation of garment workers in developing countries, says Minney, whose book “Naked Fashion” tells the tragic yet ultimately hopeful tales of some of these garment workers. “It’s women 16-25 years of age who are exploited in factories in the developing world, and it’s the same age group buying the most from ‘fast fashion’ franchises.”

This issue made headlines in Japan last month after a Hong Kong-based human rights group called out Uniqlo — arguably the poster child for cheap-and-cheerful fast fashion — for sourcing garments from “unsafe” factories in mainland China.

In “Naked Fashion,” Minney writes as both an insider and pioneer of the “sustainable fashion revolution,” an informal international community of fashion designers, media professionals and retailers who want to use their experience and skills to change the fashion industry for the better.

When Minney asked Newcombe to be an ambassador for her company in 2013, he joined a select group of celebrities that include actress Emma Watson, voice actress Laura Bailey and model Jo Wood, who share an enthusiasm for raising awareness about fair trade and ethical living. Yet despite the celebrity endorsements, fair-trade clothing makes up only a minuscule 1 percent of the global clothing market, a fact Naoko Tanemori, general manager of People Tree Japan, sees as a reflection of the lack of awareness among consumers about the concept.

“We did a survey two years ago. We found out that while 50 percent knew of the words ‘fair trade,’ only 26 percent knew what it stood for,” she explains. “In England, more than 80 percent know that is a movement of responsibility.

“Fair trade works through the labels. It gives the consumer enough information attached to a garment they are considering buying to make ethical choices. On People Tree garments, the labels provide the name of the collective, its location and explanation about craftsmanship and organic materials that went into production.”

The People Tree store in Tokyo’s Jiyugaoka neighborhood is a beautiful light-filled space with classic high ceilings tucked away on a quiet backstreet. Where there’s embroidery, its handmade. Where there’s a print, it’s often silk-screened by hand and made with organic cotton, silk or wool. The designers are graduates of Japan’s elite fashion colleges, and it shows in the exquisite details and attention to quality.

But there is a rub. Fair-trade garments tend to cost more, and not only because the wages of the workers are higher: Being made of high-quality natural fibers and not synthetics adds to the cost, as does the fact that the garments are made in small batches, as opposed to being mass-produced.

Minney established Global Village, the forerunner of the People Tree shop, in 1991 based on the belief that given enough information, people would opt for fair trade. Guided by that conviction, she began educating her target audience here in Japan through newsletters and lectures.

“Since 1991, when we began, I’ve seen changes,” she says. “People are really prepared now to buy organic food and produce as a way of supporting social change. In Europe you have the younger consumers who are going vegan; their parents were vegetarian and they are going one step further.”

People Tree fashions can also be purchased online, with sales marking the end of each season.

There are many other options for conscious and ethical fashion consumption, Minney also suggests. These include buying less, buying at second-hand shops, swapping clothes with your friends, or even sewing your own. She also recommends putting pressure on your favorite brands by asking them for details about their ethical standards and sustainability.

While it’s People Tree’s mission to change the style-conscious fashion world from the bottom up — and in particular to change corporate practices completely — Patagonia, a U.S.-based outdoor clothing company, focuses on sustainability, choosing fabrics and recyclable materials that draw attention to saving the Earth’s resources. Patagonia provided the tough snow-proof clothing that got Newcombe and Bevan across the Japan Alps.

The total amount of money raised from Newcombe and Bevan’s walk — more than ¥700,000 — came from small donations by avid followers of Walk4Work, who logged on to Facebook, Twitter and the People Tree websites to catch the latest news and views from the couple’s trek.

The grand sum will enable around 25 women to enter the fair-trade fashion business, and continue to live with their families.

Newcombe, while pleased with the outcome, is not about to rest on his laurels. On Feb. 26, Newcombe will set off on his next challenge, Tokyo 2 Tohoku, a run, bike or walk challenge open to everyone and organized by Newcombe’s nonprofit organization Intrepid Model Adventures and Ribelie Media.

Newcombe will set off with a team from Tokyo, running an average of 30 km a day for two weeks. They are scheduled to arrive in Onagawa, Miyagi Prefecture, on March 11. Funds raised will go toward projects organized by Katariba, an NPO working in the children’s education sector in tsunami-hit Onagawa.
With the rise of fast fashion stores like Forever 21 and H&M, clothes and accessories are easier – and cheaper – to come by than ever. And while a pair of $10 jeans and an $8 necklace are hard to pass up, there’s also a dark side to production on such a mass scale – namely, making the fashion industry the third most polluting industry on earth after oil and agriculture.

That’s the likes of why Stella McCartney, G-Star RAW, Loomstate, Bionic Yarn and the manufacturer Saitex have joined forces with the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute to revolutionize the fashion industry through Fashion Positive, a new initiative aimed at accelerating innovation in high-quality materials, products and processes to improve how clothes are made across the industry.

The program helps fashion businesses in five categories of sustainability: material health, material reuse, renewable energy, water stewardship and social fairness.

At the initiative’s star-studded Second Annual Innovation Celebration Friday night, Lewis Perkins, senior vice president of the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute, said the program is helping industry leaders create the future of fashion.

“It’s really retooling what we’ve been doing for 150 years, since the industrial revolution” Perkins said. “Now we realize that energy is not cheap and water is not indefinite, and we really have to look at different systems.”

The initiative’s first goal is to create Fashion Positive’s Materials Library of ethical materials and suppliers that other companies can then use to create their own products. Perkins defined this ground-up approach as a “continuous improvement roadmap” for sustainability, which also happens to make money for those involved.

“There’s a big shift that’s occurring, the whole industry has awakened to the fact that it’s wasteful, there’s toxicity, low price points are driving human rights issues, wage issues,” Perkins said. “We have to do something, and the whole industry knows it.”

Investors like Schmidt Philanthropies and the DOEN Foundation are funding the initial challenges associated with finding sustainable souring materials, modernizing manufacturing equipment and ensuring worker safety and healthy work conditions. And, naturally, creating products that are appealing — and sellable – to consumers.

While the issues won’t be solved overnight, the program is hoping to have partnering brands and designers reach the Cradle to Cradle Certified GOLD-level standard by 2016. And what’s more fashionable than that?
Events called "fashion week" are held in most of the world's major cities twice a year. Typically, 30 to 100 designer brands - mainly from the host country - spend three to five days holding runway or other fashion shows to unveil the collections and fashion accessories they plan to introduce to the market half a year later.

As the clothes are worn by professional models and presented under special lighting with music, the shows are believed to be the best way to present designers' new looks.

Not all brand names can participate in such events, however. The ones that can are usually those enjoying profits from fairly large operations, since such shows naturally come with a high price tag. Most brands introduce their new styles in an exhibition format, in which clothes are simply hung up for display.

The most famous fashion week is held in Paris, the capital of fashion. The second most important one, in terms of scale and number of participating brands, is in Milan. This is then followed by the fashion week in New York and the one in London. Tokyo Fashion Week rounds out what are called the five largest fashion weeks by people in the Japanese fashion industry.

However, Tokyo Fashion Week, which ended its showing of 2015 spring/summer collections last month, hardly matches up to the other four because it lacks famous brands. Such world-famous Japanese names as Issey Miyake, Comme des Garcons, Yohji Yamamoto and Sacai do not introduce their new collections in Tokyo but in Paris. Anrealage, which made a name for itself at the Tokyo Fashion Week in recent years, also has moved its collection venue to Paris.

Needless to say, few journalists and buyers come to Tokyo from abroad to see the Tokyo collection. However, many of those who have walked the streets of Tokyo say the city is home to some of the world's most outstanding fashion sensitivity. I find the words are not entirely flattering, though. Simply put, the importance of the fashion week of a city does not necessarily reflect the degree of fashion sensitivity found in its streets.

Let me introduce two collections I thought were very special during the latest Tokyo Fashion Week. They were also very typical of the Tokyo collection.

Lad Musician, designed by Yuichi Kuroda, organised its 40th show during the week.

Lad Musician has always presented shows in a unique manner by, for example, accompanying them with so-called shoegazer rock music typified by guitar effects and creative guitar noises, as well as theatrical smoke.

The latest show had fantastic features, too, thanks to a presentation using laser beams, LEDs and other effects.

The show, held under the theme of the rock band Spacemen 3, actually seemed to be an homage to the shoegazing band that broke up in 1991. Sonic Boom, a former Spacemen 3 member, gave a live performance during the show.

Kuroda designs minimal and simple styles, but the show itself was great entertainment with its music and visual presentation. It can be regarded as a kind of otaku world, but it was as beautiful as fireworks in the summer night sky, if you could forget it was part of the fashion business.

The other impressive show was that produced by Nozomi Ishiguro Haute Couture. It organised the evening fashion festival Kawaii Hate Night at Club Diana in Tokyo's Hibiya district on Oct. 27, which included a runway show.

To attract general audiences, a photo session took place in collaboration with a street snap magazine. A special version of a T-shirt jointly made with the magazine was sold, and a live concert was held.

The main event, of course, was the 2015 spring/summer collection of Nozomi Ishiguro Haute Couture held in cooperation with rock band Flying Dutchman Effect.

Ishiguro, who worked at Comme des Garcons' planning department, advocates designs with a message. According to Ishiguro, Kawaii Hate Night reflects a "hatred for Japanese girls and women who keep using the word kawaii." The remarks sound very Ishiguro, a designer known for a spirit of rebelliousness.

Ishiguro believes it does not mean anything if a designer just makes clothes and then lets models work the runway. He thinks actions and statements must accompany clothes.

His belief might have made the latest festival happen by symbiotically combining the euphoria of a rock festival with a fashion show.

Both Lad Musician and Nozomi Ishiguro are truly unique. Tokyo must be the only city where fashion designers like Kuroda and Ishiguro can proudly show such a personal collection.
Suzy Menkes reports on designers proud to portray their national heritage in their clothes, including Huishan Zhang, Rahul Mishra, Leonard and Manish Arora.

Draped Indian saris, silken Mao jackets, and kimono coats used to be the preserve of old-style Parisian couturiers searching for a theme of the season.

But I am inspired by the idea that in this interconnected world, fine designers are emerging from across the globe. They yearn to show in Paris for the consecration of their dreams, but their strength is in the workmanship that they find in their home countries.

I have selected four designers whose influences derive from their homeland and whose design talents are open to the world.

Huishan Zhang

I had two opportunities to see Huishan Zhang’s work – and it only grew in importance the second time around.

I caught the end of the show presented in London as an English tea party. I was late, so I saw only the delicately embellished, after-dark dresses of a designer who has been travelling between his native Qingdao, China and the UK, where he studied at Central Saint Martin’s. He also did a stint working with Dior Haute Couture.

Rahul Mishra

It was the penultimate collection on the final day of the four-week marathon. But fashion can always come up with good karma. And Rahul Mishra’s collection touched me.

Here was what the designer called a “Ferryman’s Tale” as he recounted in streamlined but intensely decorated clothes a design journey to Japan and the inspiration of that country’s traditional artworks,  then back to his native India through multiple villages wherecraftsmen worked on hand embellishment. Then the final clothes winged their way across the world to land in stores from Paris to New York.


Leonard is a French company known for flower prints, delicate and majestic. The orchid is its signature.

The house is marking 50 years of creativity with a celebration planned for Tokyo – one of several Asian countries where Leonard has a major following.

Daniel Tribouillard, who heads this family brand, has hired a variety of talents, but recently he decided to take on Yiqing Yin – a Chinese-born but Paris-raised designer who lives and built her fashion business in Paris.

Manish Arora

I have seen magnificent collections from Manish Arora both in his native India and in Paris.

I can conjure up the wild, theatrical, dizzyingly patterned, printed, and decorated creations from a designer for whom too much was never enough.

I also remember some of his India/Europe collaborations. In fact, I think he was the first designer to go crazy with colours and patterns on sneakers. It must have been soon after the turn of the millennium that I saw on a trip to Mumbai his Fish Fry Sportswear collaboration with Reebok, which was way ahead of the great footwear trend of the moment.

Newport International Runway Group Tokyo Fashion

8 Anti-Diva Design Stars Who Are Transforming Fashion Now

The fresh green shoots of fashion are gathering in a baking New Jersey cornfield for their generational portrait. Joseph Altuzarra and Danielle Sherman, creative director at Edun, have driven out from their studios in New York City. From London, Simone Rocha, Peter Pilotto, and his design partner, Christopher De Vos, are blinking in the blinding sun. Their London compatriot Jonathan Anderson of J.W.Anderson is looking dazed after landing from Tokyo, direct from the opening of a new outpost of Loewe (his new gig). Anthony Vaccarello has arrived from Paris, Marco de Vincenzo from Rome.

Though it’s up in the 90s out here on the farm, there’s no sign of anyone wilting or complaining. Hanging in the shade of the location truck, they’re behaving true to peer-group form—being sociable, joking, keeping one another going. They’re happy to be here, this hardy crop. They’re the anti-divas, the grounded ones. The children of the crash.

Their background stories could make an economist’s mind boggle. All eight began slap-bang in the carnage of the global financial crisis, sending out their delicious micro-varieties of clothes—colorful, individualistic, well made, and expertly targeted things—into a fashion world that had turned dull and conservative. “What happened with our generation?” Altuzarra is trying to explain how things went right. “We really had to sell those clothes. Because we’ve built these brands during a recession, there is a pragmatic approach to clothing. You have to be unique—be your own brand.”

It’s been less a style movement than a careful infiltration by fresh, creative, business-sensible minds coming from behind the scenes and out of cupboard-size studios in New York, London, Paris, and Rome. Altuzzara vividly remembers starting up in his Manhattan apartment in 2008. “I was at Givenchy, and I thought that if I wasn’t going to do it then, well, when? We opened selling the day after the market crash. Which”—he laughs—“was awesome.”

A fearlessness came into it. Vaccarello says he didn’t feel a moment’s angst when he left Fendi and gambled his livelihood on a tiny collection of five jackets and five swimsuits in Paris in 2009. “It was the perfect time!” he insists. “I’d saved up—I never wanted to borrow from a bank like designers did before—and I knew my customers were waiting.”

What counted vitally was a laser-like instinct for knowing whom you’re speaking to—whether that means Vaccarello and his talent for sexily sliced tailoring or someone like Sherman, his polar opposite, who started her career with Ashley and Mary-Kate Olsen as the perfectionist designer of T-shirts at The Row. “Everything I do has to be quite functional and have an integrity and honesty,” she says. A fabric geek, Sherman took a route behind the scenes, where she learned to work closely with local factories, and then to Asia with Alexander Wang. (“I was his twelfth employee!” she boasts.) She’s now quickly upgrading Edun to a polished designer level for New York Fashion Week while building the collection’s ethical production to 85 percent–made in Africa status.

Now aged between 28 (Rocha) and 37 (Pilotto), these crash babies have become adult professionals attracting all kinds of fashion attention amid an upsurge of sponsorship, mentorship, and prizes that arrived to support young designers in the mid-2000s. Altuzarra benefited from winning the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund in New York; Peter Pilotto, Anderson, and Rocha from London’s NEWGEN sponsorship; Peter Pilotto, meanwhile, also won the BFC/Vogue Fashion Fund in London. In France, Vaccarello took both the Hyères prize and the Paris ANDAM prize, and in Italy, de Vincenzo emerged through Italian Vogue’s Who Is On Next? competition. It’s made them all much more open to building relationships than the designers who went before. As independents, they’ve been meshed into the culture of publicity-generating collaborations—most recently, Anthony Vaccarello x Versus Versace; J Brand x Simone Rocha; Altuzarra for Target. With Instagram and Web video, they’ve moved even faster.

Rocha, with her sweet-but-tomboyish dresses and Lucite-heeled brogues, and Peter Pilotto, with its mesmerically textural colors, have quietly gathered customers from across the globe—a far cry from the fate of London’s lone-wolf indie designers in the nineties. They get out and travel, learning to calibrate their collections for different climates and cultures—and they’ll never boast about just how successful they have been. Pilotto practically has to have his arm twisted before he admits, “Well, we sell to 200 stores on six continents. There’s only one we don’t sell to—Antarctica!”

This serious, savvy generation has even transformed the attitudes of major luxury-fashion conglomerates, which are suddenly in a flurry of competition to sign them up. Altuzarra is in expansion mode, designing in a renovated office after negotiating a minority investment from France’s Kering group. “Having a partner like Kering, who are able to fold you into their manufacturing capabilities, is something that makes a huge difference,” he says. Anderson, with a new minority investment from LVMH, has moved out of the unheated basement in Shacklewell Lane where he and his stylist Benjamin Bruno froze in the winters; now he’s in a three-story building with an e-commerce studio. In Rome, de Vincenzo is turning out his beautifully elaborate, streamlined clothes with a different kind of LVMH backing: He’d worked as a highly rated Fendi bag designer for ten years before telling the company he was desperate to start his own collection of clothes. “Silvia Fendi was brilliant,” de Vincenzo says. “She said I could stay and have my own studio. I think it is a unique arrangement.” LVMH, Fendi’s parent company, smartly got to keep its star bag designer—and to bet on his future in ready-to-wear on the Milan runway.

Now their talent and knowledge are beginning to be almost as highly valued by the fashion establishment as Premier League footballers are in sport. The analogy works for the 30-year-old Anderson: As he shoulders the dual responsibilities of managing his own brand and being creative director of Loewe, he talks about it in sporting terms. “My dad was an Irish national rugby player. He’s always drilling it into me: ‘It’s all about your team!’ ”

What’s really different about this generation, though, are the family, friends, and loyal stylists around them. “I like growing with the people who know me and support me,” says Vaccarello. Rocha’s mother, Odette, is her business partner. Anderson’s brother, Thomas, is his HR director. Altuzarra’s mother, Karen, is chairman of the board, and Altuzarra’s words stand for the whole group: “I believe in creating this like a family—one that has worked together from the beginning. To me, that’s a beautiful thing.” If there is a common denominator among all these disparate talents, the thing that has taken them all past survival to the point of flourishing, it is their normality, their loyalty. They’re rooted.

I’m a snob about Japanese fashion. After living and shopping in Tokyo for a couple of years, I could no longer go shopping in the US — I had no patience for it. The styles, silhouettes, creativity, and perfection of fashion in Tokyo just don’t exist anywhere else in the world.

You might be thinking I'm a pretentious snob, right? But I promise I’m actually on decently sound footing here.

Valerie Steele, a fashion historian at the Fashion Institute of Technology and director of the school's museum, is with me. "In Tokyo, you have access to so many really brilliant designers," she says. "I think shopping in Tokyo is the best shopping in the world.”

Apart from the creativity, she says, ”Japanese are very concerned with quality and with attention to detail — much more than Americans who really wouldn’t know a good garment from a bad one for the most part. ... But the Japanese are looking very carefully at every detail, the material, construction, etc. and have very high standards of what qualifies as good, well-made clothing.”

Uniqlo, Japan’s largest apparel retailer, opened a store in New York City in 2006. I was over the moon. Finally, I could get Japanese clothing in the US.

In Japan, Uniqlo isn’t exactly considered "fashion." It sells relatively cheap, well-made basics. But basics cut in a Japanese style, with that attention to detail? Here in the US, that is a kind of fashion. And Uniqlo has become really popular.

”The key example I think of is the little puffer jacket that Uniqlo launched," Steele says. "Now you see everybody wearing it, everyone from kids on the street, housewives, workers, to the trendiest fashion people.”

And with their special "techno-fabrics" and collaborations with well-known designers, Uniqlo has become a mainstay in the retail and fashion worlds. This fall, Uniqlo nearly doubled the number of stores it operates in the US, opening new branches from Los Angeles to Boston.

There’s also been a lot of appreciative gushing over Uniqlo’s Japanese-inspired customer service. Employees are taught to present and take customer credit cards with two hands, in formal Japanese style.

“You greet the customer always smiling, perfect posture, things like that," explains Delese Baker, a store supervisor at Uniqlo’s Soho store. "At meetings, everyone’s supposed to stand feet apart, hands in the front — always have your badges, notepads.”

There are even "Six Standard Phrases" that every Uniqlo employee has to memorize: phrases they chant to each other at store meetings. There are a lot of rules, and expectations are high. "These shirts right here that are button-down, you’re supposed to be able to fold seven in a minute,” Baker explains cheerily.

It all makes for a pleasant shopping experience. But all the nitpicky rules, rigorous standards and emphasis on perfection have also generated some flack.

Japan is known for its rigid work culture, where long hours are the norm. But even by Japanese standards, Uniqlo has a particularly bad reputation. 

Fumihito Matsuo, a former Uniqlo store manager in Tokyo, says the working environment at Uniqlo was just bad — strict enough to be the military. “In Japan, Uniqlo is known as a 'black company,'" he says.

"Black" or "evil" companies are ones that exploit their workers, harrassing them and forcing them to work excessive hours and unpaid overtime. Some ex-workers in the US have said it’s worse than the military — it's more like a slave ship.

And it’s not just a few people complaining. In 2011, Japanese journalist Masuo Yokota published a book called the "The Glory and Disgrace of the Uniqlo Empire." The book alleges almost slave-like treatment of Uniqlo’s factory workers in China and store employees in Japan. Uniqlo sued for defamation, but lost both the case and the appeal. They’ve now taken the case to the Japanese Supreme Court.

Matsuo thinks things may have gotten somewhat better since he quit a year ago, but he insists the book tells it like it is.

Larry Meyer, Uniqlo’s US CEO, points out that perfection has trade-offs. “Retail is not for the lazy. We are a team. Our brand is a function of how well our team represents our brand. To that extent, it’s not a free for all," he says. "If you want to be an individual artist, I’m fine with that; you don't have to work for me.”

He says there are mechanisms here and in Japan to ensure that people are treated fairly and are properly compensated.

And even Matsuo points out that working for the company had its upsides. For a 23-year-old only a couple years out of college, he had a lot of responsibility and opportunities to advance.  He wouldn’t want to work there again, but he still shops there.

“As a brand, I still like Uniqlo," he says. And, of course, so do I.

Offering non-Japanese people free entry to Moshi Moshi Nippon was a risky move on the part of Asobisystem, but it seemed to have paid off.

Nearly 15,000 punters showed up for the Sept. 28 event at Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium, and organizers say that 7,000 of them were non-Japanese.

Speaking to some attendees, the main draw was a chance to see Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, the Asobisystem management company’s star act, for free. She played a lineup of hits: “Fashion Monster,” “Ninja Re Bang Bang” and, of course, “Ponponpon.”

Likely motivated from Kyary’s overseas notability, the Moshi Moshi Nippon has sought to draw in like-minded fans of Harajuku’s kawaii brand of culture. This has included TV shows, websites and events in France, England and the United States.

A long line of non-Japanese, including teenagers and 30-somethings, wound its way outside the site and reception was pretty smooth. Translators, marked with their job description in green font emblazoned on black T-shirts, wandered around the venue in case of questions. Moshi Moshi Nippon looked less like a music festival and more of an Asobisystem showcase.

A viewing area was roped off near the front of the stage and labeled “foreigners only,” which caused some people on social media to wonder if the special treatment would ostracize them from Japanese fans. They needn’t have bothered, though, because the non-Japanese attendees seemed to be more interested in the antics of the Japanese fans than what was on stage.

Hard-core idol fans were out in full force, with acts such as Silent Siren and Dempagumi.inc playing the main stage and other stages catering exclusively to up-and-coming idol acts. They performed otagei, specially rehearsed cheering dances, everywhere — even outside the venue at the DJ-centric Matsuri stage.

The smaller and busier Nippon Stage even offered non-Japanese and Japanese alike the chance to learn more about the idol subculture they likely only know via megastar groups such as AKB48. Nearly 30 new groups, such as drop, Camouflage and Cheeky Parade performed there and the audience was filled with dedicated fans.

Those fans were what really made the Nippon Stage entertaining. They screamed out lyrics during the performances, and dance moves looked as if they were influenced by martial arts at times — many non-Japanese stood in the back and watched with fascination. Not bad for a free ticket.

At Comme des Garcons, Zen-Loving CEO Rewrites the Rules of Retail

On a gray spring morning in Paris, behind the facade of an 18th century building on the Place Vendome, a flying insect has somehow made its way through an arched doorway, past a limestone courtyard and into the headquarters of Comme des Garcons International, where it is now buzzing around the head of Chief Executive Officer Adrian Joffe.

Not for long.

As Joffe sits at a glass table in his office, calmly discussing the relationship between artistic integrity and profit, he suddenly raises his right arm and executes a rapid swatting motion reminiscent of an Andy Roddick first serve. In a split second, the fly is gone and Joffe continues speaking, making no acknowledgment of the interruption aside from a barely perceptible grin.

To those who aren’t familiar with Joffe -- a seemingly mild-mannered executive with a background in Zen Buddhism and linguistics -- this matter-of-fact extermination of another living being might seem surprising. But as Bloomberg Pursuits magazine reports in its Autumn 2014 issue, those who know him well would recognize one of his most-marked qualities: not a killer instinct exactly but, rather, a clean efficiency, a knack for swiftly removing distractions so as to focus on what’s important.

Innovative Brand

Comme des Garcons, founded in Tokyo 45 years ago by the reclusive designer Rei Kawakubo -- Joffe’s wife since 1992 -- is perhaps the most enduringly innovative fashion brand of modern times. From the start, Kawakubo’s goal has been to rise above market forces to freely create new things, be they jackets with three sleeves or androgynous, abstract garments that upend standard notions of clothing, gender and beauty.

Despite its renegade bona fides, Comme, as its devotees call it, is also a business, and it’s up to Joffe to help keep it profitable. At a time when the art-commerce balancing act is a daunting challenge for many creative companies, Joffe, who has no formal training in either art or commerce, has become an unlikely master of juggling both. His ideas often seem uncopyable -- until they’re widely copied. Such was the case with Comme’s guerrilla stores, one-off, limited-run boutiques that served as the prototypes for today’s ubiquitous pop-up shops.


Pharrell Williams -- whose new unisex scent with Comme puts him in an esteemed club of fragrance collaborators that includes the design firm Artek and London’s Serpentine Gallery -- says that creativity remains Joffe’s top priority, with commerce running a very close second.

“Money doesn’t make ideas; ideas make money,” Williams observes. He describes Comme des Garcons as a kind of brilliant biosphere, with Joffe as the curator who gives Kawakubo’s creations their essential context. “If Comme is like a snow globe, Adrian is the water,” Williams says.

Joffe certainly doesn’t fit the standard profile of a 61-year-old CEO -- and not just because he dresses in head-to-toe black, often with a pair of graffitied Doc Martens on his feet. The shoes are a limited-edition Comme collaboration adorned with slogans by his wife, including, significantly, “My energy comes from my freedom.”

One of Joffe’s many tasks at the company is to act as interpreter and gatekeeper for the resolutely private Kawakubo, who speaks little English and shows no interest in making herself understood to the outside world.

“That’s the worst part of my job,” Joffe says. “It’s hard to explain her, and I don’t really want to. But I am somewhat of a realist, and for business, you have to try.” Continue reading...