After Seoul (read the first editorial dedicated to it here: SEOUL.), it’s Tokyo’s turn, a megacity where tradition and technology merge, resulting in a unique, recognizable, and authentic street style. We take a look at the boldest looks, the most striking trends, established brands and those to be discovered in Japan’s famous capital, where technology and tradition coexist perfectly.
The most streetwear experts will say that this style was born here, in the late 1980s and early 1990s. One thing is certain: Tokyo played a crucial role in the spread of street fashion. It all started in the late 1950s with the distribution of American films in the Land of the Rising Sun. One film in particular triggered an unprecedented fever for American style: ‘Rebel Without A Cause’ from 1956. In the poster for the Japanese market, James Dean wears a Levi’s in dark denim and selvedge at the hem. The film received unprecedented acclaim and the young Japanese, who in a way had always drawn from American fashion, reusing the uniforms of soldiers from the last world war, triggered a rush for Dean’s style, especially for the jeans worn by the actor: Levi’s.
Due to intern policy restrictions on imports from the USA (understandable given that the war had ended relatively recently), the denim most desired by young Japanese became a precious and extremely rare commodity. The Levi’s company ran for cover by producing a line directly in Tokyo, but it was not enough. Production cannot meet such a high demand. At that point, Japanese tailors and craftsmen decided to produce their own version of denim in-house, using superior quality fabrics. Thus, was born a product that would distinguish Japanese culture by its high quality and tailoring applied to street fashion. This is the first step towards the true birth of streetwear in Tokyo and the rest of the country.
But let us come to the 1990s, another milestone in the history of Japanese style. Once again, American culture plays an important role, this time in the spread of rap music. As young people embrace this hip-hop and skateboard culture, they start adopting the look of their favourite rappers, but reinterpreting it with a unique Japanese-style sensibility. The first streetwear brands were born, inspired by American streetwear, but with a refined touch, superior fabrics and sartorial workmanship.
These were the years of vibrant street culture and fashionable neighbourhoods such as Harajuku and Shibuya, where a streetwear shop called ‘Nowhere‘, founded by three young and talented designers: Jun Takahashi, Nigo and Hiroshi Fujiwara, would change Japanese fashion forever.
Tokyo Streetwear has a completely different attitude from all other styles born on the streets: its ability to combine elements of high fashion and urban style cannot be compared to any other fashion. In fact, the Japanese are known for their attention to detail and ability to skilfully mix clothing from luxury brands with vintage pieces and streetwear brands. This approach has characterised Tokyo style since its beginnings. Moreover, individuality is a fundamental aspect of streetwear born here, with the possibility of freely expressing one’s personality through clothing. Evidence of this can be seen in the many trends that emerge every year in districts such as Ginza and Tsukiji.
While other fashion capitals often focus on global trends and brands, Tokyo has its own individual aesthetic and style, rooted in its culture. This results in an eclectic and avant-garde style signature that continuously evolves, in turn influencing other metropolises around the world. The marked sartorial minimalism of a traditional matrix often meets with an excess of colour, overlapping patterns and disparate fabrics, combined with sagacity. Even when some styles from the past make a comeback, they are reinterpreted with ultra-modern details and a fresh approach, creating a new, never-before-seen style.
Tokyo is home to several renowned streetwear brands that have gained international prestige. Brands such as A Bathing Ape (BAPE), Sacai, Hiroshi Fujiwara’s Fragment Design, Ambush, Wacko Maria, Neighborhood and Undercover have set new standards in streetwear, raising the bar in terms of craftsmanship, sophisticated design and quality materials, and fusing the concept of high fashion with urban wear. Streetwear brands such as FDMTL, for example, have based their core business on tailoring and the highest quality fabrics, especially denim treated with traditional details such as sashiko embroidery and indigo prints, creating garments that tell a story of tradition and modernity.
Another example is Denim by Vanquish & Fragment, a successful collaboration between the Vanquish brand and renowned designer Hiroshi Fujiwara. The Denim by Vanquish & Fragment collections are characterised by high-quality denim garments enriched with modern cuts and elaborate washes. The brand’s aesthetic is a balanced mix of elegance and rebellion, with punk influences and iconic elements of Japanese design.
We cannot fail to mention the punk aesthetic of designer Jun Takahashi and his brand Undercover, born in Tokyo in 2003. Known for its avant-garde style and conceptual experimentation, Undercover offers a unique mix of contemporary design and sophisticated details. Undercover’s aesthetic is not reassuring, but features unusual cuts and bold, sometimes shocking prints that do not go unnoticed.
We conclude with White Mountaineering, a Japanese brand founded by designer Yosuke Aizawa in 2006. Combining outdoor aesthetics with urban elegance, the brand creates functional, high-quality garments characterised by technical details, patterns and meticulous attention to materials. Their ability to fuse fashion and functionality has made the brand a benchmark for lovers of hiking style and outdoor adventures.
Our adventure through the crowded streets of Tokyo comes to an end here. We’ve retraced the roots of the streetwear culture of Japan’s capital city, taken a look at the street style born here and the brands you absolutely must know, to get a clear idea of the style signature of this incredible metropolis, a hotbed of designers, avant-garde and haute couture.
Discover our special selection of Made in Tokyo brands:
Don’t miss the next episode of Streetwear Spotlight Cities, we’ll take you to Los Angeles!