the Insiders


Showing posts by Amanda Kaiser, Tokyo Bureau Chief
If there was any doubt about Yohji Yamamoto's fan base in his home country of Japan, it was definitely eradicated Thursday night. More than 3,000 people packed into a former Olympic stadium in Tokyo to take in his celebrity-studded men's show.

The show proved to be a reciprocal act of admiration between an iconic designer and his legion of followers, which ran the gamut from businessmen in suits to avant-garde artist types.

Backstage, Yamamoto said he wanted to pay tribute to his home country because he hadn't staged a fashion show there in almost 20 years. In turn, his fans showed their support for the 66-year-old designer just months after his company filed for bankruptcy protection. (Japanese private equity fund Integral Corp. has since taken over the business to restructure it.)

"Well Yohji's back, very simply," Yoshihiro Hemmi, the chairman of the fashion house, told me.

He said the show actually accomplished two things: It demonstrated how many people of all ages still identify with the designer and it also helped boost employee morale -- not a bad thing for a company emerging from financial collapse.

Jil Sander
When I interviewed Jil Sander last week about her fashion comeback and her consulting gig at Uniqlo, I asked her about how the fashion world had changed since she left the industry in 2004, parting ways with her former company’s then-owner Prada Group and the accompanying run-ins with Prada chief Patrizio Bertelli. One of the things she noted was how fashion has become more globalized over the past few years.

That rang true as I thought about the path that brought the designer to Tokyo.

This past weekend, Hennes & Mauritz launched the Comme  des Garçons collection in Japan, which coincided with the opening of the retailer's second store in Tokyo in the trendy fashion district of Harajuku.

More than 2,000 people lined up -- some for days -- to snatch a patchwork blazer or a polka-dotted cardigan at a fraction of CdG's regular price tags, although it's clear Rei Kawakubo's cult-figure status drove interest, not the lure of a great deal. I watched in wonder as her die-hard fans camped on slabs of cardboard and downed instant ramen noodles. Even in a country where lines seem to form for the most mundane of reasons -- Krispy Kreme doughnuts included -- it was an impressive turnout.

A young Bape consumer, photo by Yukie Kasuga
Since moving here late last year, I've been on the hunt to find the next Nigo, the designer behind street brand A Bathing Ape. But the fact is, the cartoon gorilla face is omnipresent -- there's not another brand here that can match Bape's cultlike following.

I guess if your brand is still cutting-edge cool 15 years after you've founded it, you must be doing something right. And if you're pulling it off in Japan, home to many a fleeting fashion trend and some of the world's most finicky shoppers, you must really know what you're doing.

Sure, teen and twentysomething Japanese hipsters love Bape's thick-soled, star-slicked sneakers and camouflage sweatshirts -- so much so that they'll patiently wait in line to enter the brand's stores in the Harajuku, Omotesando or Aoyama neighborhoods when traffic peaks.

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