Fashion’s World Cities Cover Image

Fashion’s World Cities


Christopher Breward and David Gilbert (eds)

Berg Fashion Library

Table of contents

Placing Tokyo on the Fashion Map

From Catwalk to Streetstyle

Yuniya Kawamura

Book chapter

DOI: 10.2752/9780857854117/FASHWRLDCIT0011
Pages: 55–68

This chapter focuses on the evolution of Tokyo as a fashion city. The history of Western clothing in Japan is still new. Ever since it first appeared in Japan in the mid nineteenth century, the Japanese have been fascinated by Western dress. One hundred and fifty years later that fascination persists but Japan’s position in the global order of fashion is in transition. Tokyo is emerging from a history where it featured as a city of consumption, where people competed with one another to purchase expensive Western brands for status, to becoming a city of production where some of the most innovative designers in the world are establishing themselves. It is also attracting attention as a city that creates a unique form of street fashion.

The chapter suggests that there is a significant contrast between the idea of Tokyo as a new fashion centre in the 1970s and 1980s that worked through the exoticization of Japanese designers in established Western centres, and the new street fashion in the 1990s. Two different ways of placing Tokyo in fashion’s world order are thus discussed, in addition to the practice of purchasing brands that originated from major fashion centres in the West, Paris in particular, among women in Tokyo. French fashion is universally believed to be the epitome of high fashion because of haute couture. Paris has always represented modernity in fashion, and it holds an exclusive symbolic status in the minds of Japanese consumers. Yet Tokyo today holds a unique position in the urban hierarchy of fashion where consumption and production take place simultaneously with much intensity, making Parisian models less relevant. Tokyo is no longer just a city in which Western fashion is widely appreciated and consumed but is becoming a centre that produces innovative fashion ideas in its own right.

Western Clothing in Japan as a Symbol of Modernization since 1868

After a long period of isolation from foreign and neighbouring countries, Japan opened its doors and moved towards Westernization in the Meiji era (1868–1912). This was a period of radical economic, social and political reforms. The emperor supported and encouraged the modernization and military build-up of Japan. The government’s new slogan was ‘Civilization and Enlightenment’ following Western patterns. The most visible transformation was seen in clothes. This new cultural phenomenon, a shift from kimonos to Western styles, was a sign of sophistication and membership of the upper class. They were first adopted for men’s military uniforms, and French- and British-style uniforms were designed for the Japanese army and navy since this was the style that Westerners wore when they first arrived in Japan. After 1870, government workers, such as policemen, railroad workers and postal carriers, were required to wear Western male suits. The emperor and the empress took the initiative and wore Western clothing and hairstyles at official events. By the end of the nineteenth century, the court adopted Western clothes and formal imperial kimonos were worn only in traditional ceremonies.

During the Taisho period (1912–26) wearing Western clothing continued to be a sign of sophistication and an expression of modernity. Working women, such as bus conductors, nurses and typists, started wearing Western clothes as occupational uniforms. After the Second World War, fashion information from the USA and Europe began to spread throughout Japan. People in metropolitan centres in Japan, especially in Tokyo, began to consume Western fashion at a very rapid pace in the 1950s and 1960s, and whatever trend was popular in the West was imported to Japan or exact copies were reproduced locally.

However, no matter how fashionable Japanese consumers became, Tokyo was never included in the global hierarchy of fashion centres nor did it receive any recognition as a fashion city in the same way that Paris, Milan or New York did, until the 1970s. For decades, Tokyo was considered a market for Western corporations to invest in. Helped by the booming economy in Japan in the 1980s, companies from the USA and Europe were aggressively entering into Tokyo, either setting up subsidiaries or opening up freestanding stores. For Western designers, the Japanese market, especially in Tokyo, provided a great commercial opportunity, but for Japanese designers, it was never a country or a city where fashion was produced. According to Akira Baba (in Lockwood 1995: 8–9), the president of Kashiyama, a major Japanese apparel manufacturer, there are two types of merchandise in Japan: (1) products used for daily consumption and (2) fashion goods. For Japanese consumers, ‘fashion’ is still a Western concept. As Koenig (1974) indicates, in democratic societies, people feel the need to make subtle differences with others, and in a society like Japan where people believe in homogeneity and conformity, they use fashion and clothing as the means to indicate those slight differences. Similarly, Wilson (1992b) also suggests that the need to distinguish oneself is perhaps strongest with regard to the group to which one has the strongest affiliation.

French luxury goods function as a status symbol because, first and foremost, they are expensive in Japan. The image of French companies in Japan is very strong in consumer goods (Thuresson 2002) and this explains the fact that in 2001 the largest importer of French luxury products of the Colbert Committee,[1] an organization that represents French luxury brands, was Japan, which accounted for 51 per cent of the member companies’ total sales in the Asia-Pacific region (Le Comité Colbert 2002/2003).

The Exoticization of Japanese Designers in Paris since 1970

Tokyo as a fashion city and Japanese designers gradually began to attract attention vicariously through the emergence of Kenzo Takada (known as Kenzo) in Paris in 1970. He was the very first Japanese designer to take part in the biannual ready-to-wear Paris fashion collections. Kenzo was famous for mixing plaids, flowers, checks and stripes, a combination that no Western designers ever imagined (Figure 4.1). The quilting technique he used was rooted in Japanese traditions, and square shapes and straight lines that derived from the kimono were also used. There was something particularly Japanese in the way he reconstructed Western clothing. Immediately after his first show in Paris in June 1970, it was one of his designs in Sashiko, the traditional Japanese stitching technique, which appeared on the cover of Elle, one of the most influential magazines in France.

Figure 4.1

Kenzo Spring/Summer 1996 Collection. Photograph: Courtesy of

His biographer Ginnette Sainderichinn writes: ‘Kenzo is a magician of color. Since the mid 1960s, when he moved from his native Japan to the city of Paris, he has devoted himself to the creation of wearable, vivacious clothing: a fashion without hierarchies’ (1998: 17). He has made a major contribution to the democratization of fashion. However, his identity as a Japanese designer was the focal point of his position and career in Paris, and he was constantly reminded of his ethnic background in the Western press. Kenzo’s sudden appearance and his almost overnight success in Paris as a designer provoked an interest in Tokyo among the fashion professionals in the West, as an exotic, mysterious city, where there could be more creative designers, like Kenzo, hidden or waiting to be discovered.

As Georg Simmel pointed out in the traditions of modern Western fashion there ‘exists a wide-spread predilection for importing fashions from without, and such foreign fashions assume a greater value within the circle, simply because they did not originate there… . the exotic origin of fashions seems strongly to favor the exclusiveness of the groups which adopt them’ (1957 [1904]: 545). Fashion needs to be exotic and foreign, and Japanese designers, such as Kenzo and those who followed after him, fulfilled that definition. So-called Japanese fashion was different and completely new to the eyes of French fashion professionals.

At the beginning of the 1980s, the placement of Tokyo on the fashion map became even more pronounced when the three controversial avant-garde Japanese designers, Issey Miyake, Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons, rocked the Paris fashion world by introducing clothes that were creative and unconventional to say the least, and their designs were definitely not Western. Miyake had been in Paris since 1973, but when the other two arrived, the three together created the Japanese avant-garde[2] fashion phenomenon, although it was never their intention to do so.

They destroyed and reinterpreted Western conventions of the clothing system, by suggesting different ways of wearing a garment. They also redefined the nature of Western clothing itself. Western female clothing has historically been fitted to expose the contours of the body, but these Japanese designers introduced large, loose-fitting garments. Like Kenzo, the integration of kimono elements into their designs is clearly evident, especially in their earlier works. It was a combination of Japanese and Western elements that forced the destruction of both in order to reconstruct something completely new. In this way they also redefined the nature of fashion, not only clothing. The conception of fashion is synonymous with the conception of beauty. Therefore, by introducing a new fashion, they simultaneously suggested a new definition of aesthetics.

Hanae Mori was the first Japanese couturier to be officially named by the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne[3] in 1977 and introduced something that the other ready-to-wear Japanese designers did not. Her style, methods of dressmaking and the clients she catered to in and outside Japan distanced her from any other Japanese designers. She recognized that haute couture is the product of high culture and a phenomenon of an elitist society. Thus Mori did not challenge the Western clothing system as the others had done. Nor did she use fabrics bought at a flea market or worn by Japanese fishermen or farmers. Until her retirement from the couture organization in July 2004, she stayed within the realm of Japanese high culture and introduced the ultimate luxury and beauty of Japan to the West using Japanese cultural objects, viewed through the rules of Western aesthetics.

Jennifer Craik (1994: 41) points out that during this period the Japanese influence partially redrew the boundaries of fashion away from ‘Western’ ideals of the body, body–space relations and conventions of clothing. The principles of Western fashion increasingly incorporated non-European influences, traditions and forms into mainstream practice, and Western appreciation for Japanese fashion, which many believed to have originated in Tokyo, quickly intensified. At the same time, the 1980s were the decade when Tokyo appeared to have been included in the order of major fashion cities along with Paris, Milan, New York and London. Coincidentally, it was the time when Japan became economically powerful. Because of the strong exchange rate, Japanese tourists were flocking to expensive designer label stores on the street of Champs-Elysées in Paris and were buying the merchandise literally by the dozens.

The Marginal Status of Tokyo as a Fashion Centre until the mid 1990s

The 1970s and 1980s were not the first time that clothes with oriental inspirations appeared in the West. In the late thirteenth century, Marco Polo had brought the first marvels of China to the West (Martin and Koda 1994) and in the early twentieth century famous French designers, such as Jeanne Lanvin, Paul Poiret and Coco Chanel incorporated Asian- as well as Japanese-inspired textiles, prints, calligraphy and pattern constructions, such as kimono sleeves, into their original designs. What was different in the late twentieth century was that the Japanese designers of the 1970s and 1980s came from the East. What made them unique was not only their clothes but their position and status as non-Western fashion outsiders. The marginality of these Japanese has become an asset. Before Kenzo, there were virtually no Asian designers on the Western fashion scene. Tokyo was considered an exotic city that produced very different but talented and creative fashion designers. After the first generation of Japanese designers, such as Kenzo, Miyake and Mori, other Japanese were arriving in Paris one after another.

Tokyo became known indirectly through the marginal status of these designers. At the same time, they were brought to the centre with French legitimization. But the Japanese fashion phenomenon was not enough to include Tokyo among the major fashion centres. For instance, Tokyo was not strong enough to attract Western journalists to attend and cover the Tokyo collections. As Lise Skov accurately points out (1996: 148): ‘It is ironical … that Rei Kawakubo, as one of the designers who brought ‘Japanese fashion’ to fame, simultaneously reinforced the interest in the Paris collections.’ Designers flocked to Paris because Paris provided and still provides the kind of status that no other city could provide, and there was no way that Tokyo could provide the same added value.

Furthermore, it was believed that the widespread popularity of ‘Japanese fashion’ in the 1980s was a decisive factor in placing Tokyo on the list of international fashion capitals (Skov 1996: 134). Yet Tokyo was still falling far behind Paris in the production of fashion and setting of trends until the 1990s. This was due to the fact that there was a lack of an institutionalized and centralized fashion system in Japan (Kawamura 2004a). Tokyo as a fashion city did not have the kind of structural strength and effectiveness that the French system took for granted. Through the exoticization of Japanese design in Paris, Tokyo did find a place on the fashion map, and many buyers and fashion insiders went to Japan but were disappointed to see Japanese consumers wearing Western brands.

As Wilson states (1985) fashion is an outstanding mark of modern civilization, and Craik (1994) questions whether fashion can be confined to the development of European fashion and argues that the term ‘fashion’ needs revision because fashion is too often equated with modern European high fashion. It was not possible, until recently, to produce, market and distribute fashion that was not baptized or consecrated by the West. However, this has been changing over the years with the emergence of street fashion creating a separate system of fashion with a new business model. Modern fashion, which is consumer driven, comes not only from the West but also from the streets of Tokyo.

Tokyo’s Efforts to Create a Stronger Fashion Identity

Japan’s neighbouring countries in the Asian region have fallen behind in building credible fashion centres because their cities have a reputation for garment manufacturing that has nothing to do with the local fashion culture. Unlike other Asian countries that are known for their cheap labour rather than for their design creativity, Tokyo’s fashion identity had been strong among the Asian countries while its position was weaker in the broader context of the world’s fashion cities. Among Asian countries, Tokyo is the fashion capital. Japanese fashion magazines are widely read in Korea, China and Taiwan, and tourists from neighbouring countries regularly visit Tokyo to purchase Japanese brands.

What fashion cities need is the symbolic production of fashion. The material production of clothing is less important. Tokyo still needs to reinforce place-based resources or images to establish fashion as a symbolic cultural product. Tokyo is becoming a true fashion city not only by consuming fashion but also by producing fashion, both of which are the necessary characteristics of a fashion capital.

One way to promote a fashion centre is to organize fashion shows on a regular basis. Tokyo has done this but has not been successful. When the Council for Fashion Designers (CFD) was formed in 1985 to systematize all fashion-related events and activities in Tokyo and also to facilitate the relationships among designers, buyers and the media, a French journalist wrote sarcastically:

Is Paris going to have its Oriental rival soon? Those Japanese creators who do not look for the consecration on the Parisian podium are hoping some day to have the same power to replace Paris with Tokyo … Japanese are trying to include Tokyo among the traditional route of fashion, such as Milan, New York and Paris. But isn’t it ironical that many of the Japanese brands have French names, such as Coup de Pied, C’est Vrai, Etique, Madame Hanai, Madame Nicole and so on. How can Tokyo replace Paris? (Piganeu 1986: 3)

The CFD organization is now rebuilding its internal structure and is collaborating with the Japanese government (Fujita 2005). Yet, they have managed to invite only fifty-two designers and apparel companies for the Tokyo collections in November 2005, which is fewer than half of the participants in the Paris or New York Collections. Thus, the structural weaknesses of fashion production in Japan forces Japanese designers to go overseas, especially to Paris which remains supreme, at least in the minds of the Japanese consumers as well as the designers.

Street Fashion and Subcultures: Bringing Tokyo to the Centre

Street fashion has been in existence on the streets of Tokyo for decades. Especially in Harajuku, where between 1979 and 1981, there was a group called Takenoko-zoku (literally translated as the Bamboo Tribe). A number of different teenage subcultures and fashions followed, such as the New Wave that was influenced by the British rock scene, Karasu-zoku (the Crow Tribe) who were the followers of Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto, and Shibu-Kaji, which was a casual look worn in Shibuya, a fashion district in Tokyo. However, these subcultures were short-lived fads that did not spread far, remained within their own group and gradually disappeared.

What is new and different about the current street fashion that emerged at the beginning of the 1990s is that different institutions of fashion got together to make use of and take advantage of the marketing potential of the teenagers. There is a strong interdependent relationship between the industries and the individuals involved. Trends that were spread by teenagers were completely independent of the Western fashion system or the mainstream fashion establishment in Japan. They have led the way in a creative mixing and matching of contrasting eclectic styles that have been extensively copied in the West (Polhemus 1996: 12). High-school girls in Tokyo are the key to any trend. The popularity of a pair of white loose socks amongst this group was one of the first such trends to emerge.[4] Dick Hebdige, in studying subculture in 1970s and 1980s London, explained that girls have been relegated to a position of secondary interest within both sociological accounts of subculture and photographic studies of urban youth, and that the masculinist bias was present in the subcultures themselves (1988: 27). But in the case of subcultures in Tokyo, they are dominated by women, and by teenage girls in particular.

Fashion has always been a reflection of the current situation of the society. Ironically, Japan’s economic slowdown over the past decade may have played a role in today’s longer-lasting street fashion. There is a widespread feeling of disillusionment, alienation, uncertainty or anger, which has spread through Japanese society from adults to children. This has led to the breakdown of traditional Japanese values, such as perseverance, discipline and the belief in education, especially among children. Their norm-breaking attitude is exhibited through their appearance, which is a way to make themselves seen and heard.

Diana Crane explains that the fact that, in the past decade, the major Japanese companies have been investing in young and exceptionally innovative Western designers suggests that the Japanese have not been able to satisfy their enormous demand for fashion talent (1993: 70). This was true until ten years ago, but the new type of fashion, that is street fashion, has a different structure. Furthermore, as Crane (2000) points out today’s fashion is consumer driven, and market trends originate in many types of social groups, especially adolescent urban subcultures, and this is exactly what is happening today in Tokyo. The most recent fashion phenomenon in Tokyo originates from various subcultures. Since the mid 1990s, teenagers in Tokyo have been producing and guiding fashion trends that are unique and original, and many fashion professionals in the West are now paying attention to the latest styles in Tokyo.

This again placed Tokyo on the fashion map but in a different way. Attention is no longer on fashion designers who were professionally trained or have formal experiences in the industries but on the amateur, untrained teenagers on the streets, who simply love directional, expressive clothing. They are the producers, marketers and distributors of fashion. Pop culture trends, including fashion, are extremely fickle, and tastes can change overnight, but to find out what is hot and popular, the industries rely on Japanese schoolgirls.

Tokyo in the 1970s and 1980s was not the place where the trends were created, but that presumption has changed. Tokyo is becoming a city that engages in producing creative and new ideas. It is becoming a true fashion force.

Segmentation and Diffusion: The Case of Harajuku in Tokyo[5]

Street life is made of multiple subcultures and each has its own taste, lifestyle, attitudes and fashion. Shibuya used to be the place where street fashion was found because of the emergence of the Kogal phenomenon.[6] At weekends, these girls occupy the Shibuya 109 Department Store,[7] which is the landmark of Shibuya. Today, each district within the city of Tokyo is very much segmented according to different groups of teenagers. Besides Shibuya, street fashion in Tokyo is found in Harajuku, Daikanyama, Ikebukuro and Jiyugaoka, among many others, and each district has its distinctive look. One girl in my fieldwork study said: ‘If you are in Jiyugaoka and dressed in a Shibuya style, you would be totally out of place. That’s something really embarrassing, and no one would do that.’[8] The teenagers know how they should dress depending on where they are going. The physical environment of an area helps street fashion to grow and spread, and it provides a space or a stage for the teenagers to be fashionable. It gives them the opportunity to socialize, communicate and interact with each other, all of which are necessary for any subculture to form. Furthermore, those behaviours must be repeated for the group to continue and be maintained, and the same style and fashion need to be exposed repeatedly for the public to recognize them as a subculture.

One of the primary reasons that the youth culture came out of Harajuku, which has become known as Tokyo’s teenage town, was Hokosha-Tengoku, or Hokoten (literally translated as ‘pedestrian paradise’). Between 1977 and 1998 a section of the main road in Harajuku was closed to traffic on Sundays, and this place became a public sphere, which was a new idea in Japan. Many young people who were dressed in their often handmade creative fashion gathered there. Hokoten was terminated in 1998 and Harajuku gradually returned to its original state, but Harajuku remained a place where teenagers congregate to meet and chat with their friends who want to dress in certain styles.

Harajuku now produces distinctive subcultures. In the back streets of Harajuku known as Ura-Hara, there are many so-called select shops, small boutiques where the owners’ tastes in selecting, mixing and remixing merchandise are highly valued by customers. The stores are run and managed by semi-professional designers, those who just graduated from fashion schools or artists, such as graphic and textile designers. There are a number of collaborative projects between the store owners and the artists. Those who shop in Ura-Hara are the most fashion-conscious teens, and the street style in Harajuku is a hybrid of original handmade items and styles that are reminiscent of Western subcultures, such as London punk fashion with plaid, bondage pants or skirts and spiked belts, or American Harlem hip-hop styles with baggy T-shirts and jeans that fall down to the hips. Many of them sew their own outfits because creating a one-of-a-kind style by combining them with ready-made items is important.

Another subculture emerged from the teenagers that hang around with their friends on the bridge near the station. They wear clothing based on cartoon characters in anime, and this trend is called Costume Play, abbreviated as Cos-Play. This movement refers not only to dressing as a specific character but also as a waitress or a nurse. The Gothic Lolita is one of the most popular costumes found in Harajuku since 1999 (Figure 4.2). The girls are photographed by magazines and scouted by model agencies.

No fashion is diffused locally or globally without the mass media. The production process of fashion is always strongly connected to fashion magazines (Moeran 2005). In any type of fashion, magazines are the most important medium to build the status and the reputation of a designer, to spread specific fashion trends and promote new merchandise. The dissemination process is a crucial stage between production and consumption. An object is first manufactured, and then it is transformed into fashion through the process of dissemination. In this respect, street fashion in Harajuku has been well documented by the monthly magazine called Fruits published in 1997 by photographer, Shoichi Aoki. His goal was to report on cutting-edge street and youth fashion. His photographs depict a revolutionary Japanese fashion movement since the mid 1990s. The attention was not on the designers but on the consumers who have become the producers of street fashion. The diverse styles in Fruits are continuously evolving and often unique. Aoki writes:


Because Western clothing has a short history in Japan, there is a strong tendency for people to dress in the same style as each other. Essentially this tendency has not changed. In Japan, having a different style is a kind of risk. Even the designer brand boom of the 1980s did not change that. People only took suggestions from the designers in the same manner as everyone else… . Therefore the fashion movement that came about in Harajuku was a revolution. This kind of fashion was not suggested by designers, but rather, the fashion of the young inspired the designers. On the streets of Harajuku, there was no risk in having a different style. In fact it was considered worthwhile.

 (Aoki 2001: 2)

Almost all street fashion magazines published in Japan are distributed only domestically, but with the wide influence of the Internet, and through word of mouth, Japanese fashion is steadily going global. For instance, the street magazines are found in Japanese bookstores in New York and are read not only by Japanese but also by local teenagers and fashion students. Similarly, some of the Japanese magazines published in English, such as International Katei Gaho, are featuring Japanese fashion. What is now required is to create the diffusion mechanism which has internationally recognized publicity and promotional vehicles, such as fashion press, major fashion shows and events that are noticed by fashion professionals worldwide.

Figure 4.2

Gothic Lolitas on a bridge near Harajuku Station. Photograph: Yuniya Kawamura.

The Harajuku teenagers’ radical fashion has become the inspiration for young designers known as the street designers. Some of them, for example, Jun Takahashi of Undercover or Keita Maruyama, now take part in the Paris collections, because for the Japanese, French legitimization and recognition are the fastest way to success. Those who are not going to Paris, such as the brand Bathing Ape, are now arriving in New York, seeking the legitimization of other fashion cities.

The Significance of Paris among Women in Tokyo

While Tokyo is now being placed on the fashion map and being acknowledged and included in an urban hierarchy of fashion, Japanese consumers still have a voracious appetite for Western brands, and Japan has undoubtedly been playing a major role in the global surge in fashion consumption. Western designers are generally favoured by Japanese consumers more than their Japanese counterparts. As the concepts of fashion and modernity are closely linked (Wilson 1985; Breward and Evans 2005) the increasing number of Western brands in Tokyo can be interpreted as a sign of modernization as well as Westernization, and it also meant that Tokyo was transforming into a major metropolitan city. Despite more than a decade of economic downturn, consumers are still purchasing European luxury goods. No matter how bad the economy gets in Japan, there are those who are willing to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars for big names like ‘Gucci’ and ‘Prada’.

Paris is the imperial fashion city. It has become the symbol of fashion that adds values to designers’ names because of the efforts taken by the system to maintain and reproduce that ideology and maintain the belief. Paris as a fashion city has held an exclusive place in the minds of modern Japanese consumers ever since Pierre Cardin visited Tokyo and introduced his brand in the 1950s. It carries far more weight than London, New York or Milan, where biannual collections are held. Even for Kenzo himself, the Japanese market was only secondary to his business, and his core customer base was in France because their acceptance and legitimization guaranteed his worldwide fame and reputation, which were followed by financial rewards. One of the Japanese magazine editors in my study said: ‘Every time we do a feature story on Paris or French fashion, the circulation figures go way up for that particular month. It may seem redundant sometimes, but we do that a few times a year for that reason. Milan and New York come next. London is so, so.’[9]

In contrast to street fashion, which is a teenage phenomenon, statistics show that 94 per cent of women in Tokyo who are in their twenties own something made by Louis Vuitton, according to Saison Research Institute, and goods made by Gucci sit in the closets of 92 per cent of women in Tokyo in their twenties; almost 58 per cent own Prada and almost 52 per cent Chanel (Prasso and Brady 2003). The country has developed a leisure class, known as parasite singles, who still live at home with their parents, giving them plenty of disposable income. The most popular brand among this group is undoubtedly Louis Vuitton, and the company has been actively investing in the Japanese market, by increasing the number of stores throughout Japan, especially in Tokyo. When the world’s largest Louis Vuitton store in the Omotensando district, which is near Harajuku, opened in September, 2003, it set a single-day sales record for the company, selling 125 million yen, or about 1.05 million dollars worth of merchandise, and more than a thousand people waited in a long line for the grand opening (Prasso and Brady 2003). Other luxury retailers, such as Salvatore Ferragamo, Cartier, Christian Dior and Gucci, have also opened new stores or are planning to do so soon. French companies have been very successful in entering into the Japanese market. Despite Japan’s weak economy, consumers remain passionate about imported brand-name goods.


Japanese street fashion used to be explained by the existence of one or two conspicuous subcultures, such as Ganguro in Shibuya in the mid 1990s, but today they have multiplied in different directions and fragmented into smaller groups, and thus, the phenomenon appears to have slowed down. However, much of Japan’s cultural output that travelled mostly to other parts of Asia is now transcending cultural boundaries and is spreading worldwide. Japan’s street fashion influence on popular and youth cultures is spreading globally. Paris as a fashion capital has been successful because its institutions accepted the fusion of the local and the distant, and there was international exchange of clothes, design and designers between Paris and other cities. The Japanese designers who became successful in Paris took advantage of the system in Paris while Japanese teenagers are creating their own fashion with their own force making a major contribution to the construction of Tokyo as a fashion centre. Fashion’s world cities are determined by the flows of goods, ideas and people. This is what Tokyo needed for a long time, and it is finally happening.


[1] The Colbert Committee (Le Comité Colbert) is a trade association for French luxury products that organizes promotional activities for its member companies. It was founded in 1954 by Jean-Jacques Guerlain, a perfume manufacturer, and Lucien Lelong, a couturier and the former president of La Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne. There are sixty-one member companies among ten industry sectors as of December 2004.

[2] The general meaning of the term avant-garde implies a cohesive group of artists who have a strong commitment to iconoclastic aesthetic values and who reject both popular culture and middle-class lifestyle, They are often in opposition to dominant social values and norms (Crane 1997: 1).

[3] The Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne, which was officially set up in 1911, is part of the larger organization called the Federation Française de la couture, du Prêt-à-Porter des Couturiers et des Créateurs de Mode, which was established in 1973. For details, see Kawamura (2004b).

[4] The loose socks were probably the first trend that the teens in Shibuya created. Unlike the other street fashion, which was very much influenced by Western designers, this was typically Japanese. They are pairs of white, baggy knee socks, which are deliberately pushed down to the shin like leg warmers. This trend was started not by the fashion industry but by high-school teenagers, and the marketing potential of these girls became strongly apparent. Fashion trends can no longer be dictated only by the designers or the industries.

[5] This is based on my ethnographical study conducted in Harajuku during January, July and August 2005.

[5] This is based on my ethnographical study conducted in Harajuku during January, July and August 2005.

[6] Tokyo’s distinctive street fashion is said to have begun in the mid 1990s by young teenage girls known as Kogal. They are known for wearing short plaid skirts that look like their own school uniforms and knee-high white socks, and occasionally with heavy makeup and artificial suntans.

[7] The stores inside the department store cater to Japanese teenagers. It is the fashion mecca where fashionable teenagers shop and where well-known sales girls who have appeared in street fashion magazines work. Street fashion in Shibuya functions in conjunction with the building. These girls are the trendsetters, merchandisers, stylists and designers.

[8] Kumiko Okuma interviewed in Tokyo, on 22 July 2005.

[9] Yoko Sato interviewed in Tokyo, on 1 August 2005.