Men’s wear – big and small in Japan
By Tyler Brûlé
Published: October 4 2008 01:18 | Last updated: October 4 2008 01:18
Here’s one for the boys. Is this the weekend that you finally give yourself a good two hours to go out and sort your wardrobe for autumn? Depending on where you happen to be today, this might be easier said than done. In fact, unless you’re reading this in Japan or Italy, finding a great independent men’s wear shop that’s not stuffed with predictable brands, displayed in predictable looking shops, is more than a challenge. The same might be said of women’s wear but I always get the sense that the female shopper is better served by buyers prepared to spend that extra day in Paris or Florence checking out a new knitwear label they hope they’ll be the first to stock.
There are many reasons why shopping for a well-designed, sharp yet sensible wardrobe is so challenging but two of the driving factors are that there’s a global shortage of competent men’s wear buyers and an absence of likeable sales people. I also have strong evidence that men are desperate for good garments because this column receives at least 10 letters a week from men and women eager to find a retail oasis that will solve all their sartorial needs.
This situation is so critical for some that there are even requests for the name of the label stitched into the blazer I’m wearing at the top of this page (for your reference, the jacket’s from Tomorrowland in Shibuya – more on it shortly). While I don’t spend that much time poking through hanging rails and shelves on my travels, I do find that the bulk of my purchases happen in a few select shops in Tokyo and a handful of stores in Italy.
From first glance it’s easy to see why you can readily part with money in Japan: when the whole shopping experience is so evolved – the stores are exquisitely designed, there are platoons of well groomed and attentive staff, and the variety of shops is endless.
For in Japan, there seems to be a men’s shop pitched at each and every stage of life.
On the side streets of Harajuku and on the lower floors of Isetan’s men’s store in Shinjuku (perhaps one of the best one-stop shopping experiences in the world), you can be a woodsy looking preppy boy who might have just strolled off the campus at Dartmouth except every garment will be so precisely researched and sourced that there’s not a chance in hell that anyone attending an Ivy League school would ever have access to such clothes because Japan’s most powerful retailers have bought up all the best pieces and bundled them in a container for shipment back home.
In a Ginza department store, you might see a whole floor specifically targeting a 52-year-old male, BMW-estate-driving golfer who likes to collect wine and take his family on holiday to Italy every other summer and is a sucker for sorbet-coloured cashmere zip necks and high-waist chinos with a woven belt.
However, the key drawback to shopping in Japan for men’s wear is sizes, unless, of course, you’re Japanese or slight of frame. You either have to have no bum, thighs or shoulders or an extremely evolved sense of humour to enjoy a day looking for shirts, jackets and trousers. The biggest frustration, aside from bursting out of garments and being told that you’ve just wriggled out of the largest size they stock in the whole country, is the fact that there’s so much wonderful stuff to buy.
But none of this helps your search for that perfect blazer or the three pairs of jeans you feel you need to make your autumn wardrobe complete, so where are you going to go to refine your look for the season? Having just completed the exercise over the past three weeks, here’s a sampling of the best shops that are hopefully within easy striking distance.
If you’re in New York, it’s hard to beat the keen eye of the buyers from Odin who’ve colonised a pocket of the Lower East Side of Manhattan and do a brisk trade in brands such as Engineered Garments (best jackets of the season) and Common Projects (best sneakers). It’s also worth checking out J Crew chief executive Mickey Drexler’s new retail experiment, Liquor Store, down in Tribeca. It mixes the best elements of J Crew with vintage pieces and lesser known brands selected for their timeless made-in-the-USA credentials. In Toronto, Nomad also does a brisk trade in clothes by Engineered Garments, Rag & Bone, APC and Canadian label Wings & Horns.
Across the Atlantic, A Gi Emme in Como continues to be the Fast Lane favourite for one-stop wardrobe surgery, but you can also do well on a Saturday afternoon at Storm in Copenhagen and both Albam and Oliver Spencer in London.
And, finally, to show that persistence really does pay, after three years pestering the nice people at Tomorrowland in Shibuya, I finally managed to persuade them to do a set of bespoke blazers for me every season. I can’t promise they’ll do the same for you on your first visit but a few polite inquiries might set you on course for a rather handsome addiction.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008