Japanese fashion was one of the best-kept secrets in menswear even a decade ago. That is clearly no longer the case.
Of course, fashion heavyweights like COMME des GARCONS, A Bathing Ape, and UNDERCOVER have been around for a long time, but it has only been in the last few years that the global fashion audience has become aware of the wealth of Japanese clothing brands that have been pushing the envelope of style and producing amazing, high-quality product just out of sight of the masses.
With that in mind, here’s a list of the greatest Japanese apparel labels that every Highsnobiety reader should be familiar with. It’s a time for the seasoned to reminisce on the finest of the best. For the uninitiated, the door to a whole new level of style is about to open.
NEIGHBORHOOD or NBHD, founded in 1994 by Shinsuke Takizawa (also known as Shin), is one of the pioneers of Japanese streetwear. NEIGHBORHOOD was a part of the early 1990s Harajuku streetwear scene, a Tokyo-based movement of friends and colleagues that effectively launched the Japanese streetwear scene, giving rise to brands including BAPE, UNDERCOVER, WTAPS, Hysteric Glamour, and GOODENOUGH.
Takizawa’s profound interest for vintage motorcycle subculture is reflected in NEIGHBORHOOD, which creates classic American clothes such as leathers, shirting, sweatshirts, flannels, and headwear with a particular biker gang twist.
NEIGHBORHOOD has expanded into military, prep, Native American, and even early-20th century industrial workwear styles in recent collections, but the brand is still best known for its authentic selvedge denim, which is made to strict traditional specifications and customized with intricate, natural distress washes that range from classic indigo fades to their iconic “Savage” series.
Shin’s protégé Tetsu Nishiyama, alias TET, founded FPAR, a T-shirt business inspired by the DIY aesthetic of punk and anarchist movements, in the early 1990s. He began WTAPS, pronounced double-taps, in 1996, based on the military phrase for firing two bullets at the same target in rapid succession.
WTAPS is a Japanese fashion label that combines authentic military designs with streetwear sensibilities and current ideas to create some of the most sought-after pieces in Japanese streetwear. WTAPS, like Supreme, is known in Japan for large lineups on release days and quickly sold-out merchandise.
In streetwear royalty, their Jungle Stock cargo trousers and M-65 jackets sit alongside Supreme’s box logo sweatshirts and BAPE camouflage, and are vital to any outfit – if you can get your hands on them.
On the internet, there isn’t a lot of information on designer Miyagi Hidetaka, the founder of MIYAGIHIDETAKA. But there’s a lot to be said about his fashion philosophy of quality above quantity. It’s an approach that has allowed him to maintain a low profile, focusing on creating garments that he and his colleagues like to wear rather than seasonal collections.
MIYAGIHIDETAKA celebrates Japan’s decade-long love affair with the paisley bandana, a garment steeped in history and subcultural ties. Hidetaka Miyagi began his career as a designer with Mythography, a footwear company founded in 2012. For the first time, his beloved paisley motif was put to his footwear in 2016.
MIYAGIHIDETAKA has taken the bandana print from sandals and shoes to puffer coats, pants, vests, shirts, and everything in between.
HIGHSNOBIETY / EVA AL DESNUDO UNDERCOVER 03
UNDERCOVER by Jun Takahashi is undoubtedly the pinnacle of Japanese streetwear. Early UNDERCOVER designs are now some of the most cherished and sought-after pieces for collectors, and the designer’s distinct aesthetic vision has influenced design to where current fashion sits today for nearly 30 years.
This Japanese apparel brand’s aesthetic is best described by its own motto: “We make noise, not clothes.” UNDERCOVER is the classic “punk” streetwear brand, combining pop culture imagery with punk, bondage, goth, and post-modern aesthetics to produce the quintessential “punk” streetwear brand.
JULIEN TELL / ASICS 19 HIGHSNOBIETY
ASICS was founded in 1949 by Kihachiro Onitsuka and has since evolved to become one of the most well-known companies in the world of sportswear, particularly for its footwear. ASICS is an acronym for the Latin phrase anima sana in corpore sano, which means “healthy soul in a healthy body,” and refers to the brand’s sporting underpinnings. Running trainers are ASICS’ main focus, and they consistently rank among the best running models of the year.
ASICS has broken the lifestyle barrier in recent years with shapes like the 360 Quantum and Gel Lyte 3, which served as the blank canvas for a number of high-profile partnerships with brands like Ronnie Fieg, Afew, Atmos, and others. ASICS seems destined to dominate both the technical and lifestyle industries in the future years, as sneaker tastes shift more in favor of utilitarian, running, and hiking styles.