Introduction

When it comes to menswear, the heavyweight nations are always at the style eye’s forefront. The French: simple luxury with sharp clean lines. The Italians: effulgent tailoring that makes a refined statement. The Americans: ready-to-wear sportswear inspired by varsity tradition.

But what of the more abstract? What of the pieces that provoke reaction while maintaining sartorial finesse? Is there a country that can safely boast originality as their main fashion strength?

This week, FashionBeans looks toward the land of the rising sun for inspiration – a country that is still shrouded in mystery despite an age of unprecedented travel accessibility. Yes, we’re talking about all things Japanese.

Distanced from the usual western world norms, Japan’s rich history and often mind-boggling customs have produced a youth culture that is indeed separate. Technology, pop culture and style – all three have very different meanings to the Japanese. It could take months, even years to try and interpret such a country, but concerning fashion, there’s plenty we can learn and adapt into our own wardrobes.

Cast away all the usual stereotypes of Hello Kitty, leggy anime girls and toilets that could be Transformers – here are five Japanese brands you should know, to help welcome in the New Year and rejuvenate your personal style…

1. A Bathing Ape

Think Beastie Boys hosting a 1990s rave at Rydell High and you’re almost there. A Bathing Ape (or BAPE) is the brainchild of Japanese music producer Nigo and is a true melting pot of sartorial inspiration.

Urban luxe is transformed via statement prints and a dedication to strong craftsmanship and tailoring, and it’s rare for a brand to successfully combine novelty with quality. Don’t think it’s just for the fashion butterflies though.

Some pieces, granted, are most definitely for the extroverts of our kind. Yet there’s nothing wrong with pushing boundaries, so long as you do it within your own comfort levels. More cordial threads lie in solid yet colourful varsity jackets, muted sweats and 1980s-inspired bombers that are all strong casual choices. Never be afraid of a bright hue.

BAPE is perfect for guys that want to shake up their staples. We all need a good set of tees and polos but with so many mass-produced options, it’s easy to fall prey to monotony. If we’ve still not convinced you, the label’s endless list of high profile collaborations most certainly will: Pharrell, UNKLE, Kanye West, A$AP Rocky, Kid Cudi, Kreayshawn… enough said.

Renowned For: Luxe streetwear, statement pieces and sought-after limited editions.
See More: Autumn/Winter 2013 Collection
Official Website: www.bape.com

Example Lookbooks

Mr Bathing Ape Men's Lookbook

Key Pieces
  • Sweat Varsity JacketSweat Varsity Jacket
  • Abc Busy Works TeeAbc Busy Works Tee
  • 1st Camo Ape Face Sta Tee1st Camo Ape Face Sta Tee
  • Ribbed Sta Check Bd ShirtRibbed Sta Check Bd Shirt
  • Color Camo Full Zip Hoodie JacketColor Camo Full Zip Hoodie Jacket
  • Very Ape Varsity JacketVery Ape Varsity Jacket
  • Stussy 1997 Type-01 Denim PantsStussy 1997 Type-01 Denim Pants
  • Bape Check Patchwork Bd ShirtBape Check Patchwork Bd Shirt
  • Leather Bape StaLeather Bape Sta
2. COMME des GARÇONS

A more recognisable name from the Asian fashion market, COMME des GARÇONS is a true example of Japanese high fashion. Yet despite a Paris debut in 1981, flagship stores in Seoul, New York and Hong Kong and a firm fashion following, there are still many who are in the dark (and thus can see the light with CDG’s entry on our list).

The label first began in the early 1970s as a creative venture by Rei Kawakubo, selling distressed, deconstructed fashion to great applause. Sartorial innovation has only grown from there.

COMME des GARÇONS’ runway shows often border on the avant-garde yet the label has tackled the wearability aspect with a strong yet original ready-to-wear mainline, along with its accessible ‘SHIRT’ and ‘PLAY’ sub-lines.

Sweats and tees are the label’s bread and butter while a personal highlight is the accessories line: premium quality wallets and tech covers that pack a tiny statement punch.

The brand’s iconic ‘love heart’ logo is becoming an increasing sight on the streets of the UK and in good time, we can expect to see a full-on western invasion. I, for one, gladly surrender.

Renowned For: Statement accessories, signature love-heart branding.
Official Website: www.comme-des-garcons.com

Example Lookbooks

Comme Des Garcons Men's Lookbook

Key Pieces
  • Play Mens Letters T-shirt WhitePlay Mens Letters T-shirt White
  • Play Mens Red Heart Cardigan NavyPlay Mens Red Heart Cardigan Navy
  • Comme Des Garcons Play Mens P1t100 T-shirt – WhiteComme Des Garcons Play Mens P1t100 T-shirt - White
  • Comme Des Garcons Play Mens P1 T168 Sweatshirt – GreyComme Des Garcons Play Mens P1 T168 Sweatshirt - Grey
  • Comme Des Garcons Play Unisex Play Pro Leather Mid Trainers WhiteComme Des Garcons Play Unisex Play Pro Leather Mid Trainers White
  • Comme Des Garçons Half-zip Embossed-leather WalletComme Des Garçons Half-zip Embossed-leather Wallet
  • Comme Des Garçons Embossed-leather CardholderComme Des Garçons Embossed-leather Cardholder
  • Comme Des Garçons Embossed-leather PouchComme Des Garçons Embossed-leather Pouch
  • Comme Des Garçons Zip-around Embossed-leather WalletComme Des Garçons Zip-around Embossed-leather Wallet
3. Beams Plus

While the majority don’t have a spare couple of hundred pounds lying around for zany couture, a more diluted option comes in the form of Beams Plus. Channelling a distinct workwear aesthetic, the label provides classic clothing with a focus on expert quality. Americana is a key influence that can be seen in varsity-logo mittens, button-down safari shirts and subtly printed ties.

A more sober entry on our list, Beams Plus deserves full recognition for deviating from traditional Japanese fashion. Idiosyncratic design is replaced by all things classic and if you like to keep things on the tailored side, this brand is most certainly for you.

The corduroy flannel trousers from the current AW13 collection are a real stand-out, and the fusion of old school construction and year-round practicality is a hallmark of the label. Age old apparel, plus a little bit extra.

Renowned For: Contemporary classics with a focus on quality and craftsmanship.
See More: Autumn/Winter 2013 Lookbook | Spring/Summer 2013 Lookbook
Official Website: shop.beams.co.jp

Example Lookbooks

Beams Plus Men's Lookbook

Key Pieces
  • Beams Plus Slim-fit Suede JacketBeams Plus Slim-fit Suede Jacket
  • Beams Plus Buffalo Check Wool-melton CoatBeams Plus Buffalo Check Wool-melton Coat
  • Beams Plus Cotton-canvas Tote BagBeams Plus Cotton-canvas Tote Bag
  • Beams Plus Slim-fit Embroidered Brushed-cotton ShortsBeams Plus Slim-fit Embroidered Brushed-cotton Shorts
  • Beams Plus Slim-fit Wool Harris Tweed WaistcoatBeams Plus Slim-fit Wool Harris Tweed Waistcoat
  • Beams Plus Candy Stripe Button Down Shirt Blue & WhiteBeams Plus Candy Stripe Button Down Shirt Blue & White
  • Beams Plus Camouflage-print Cotton Bow TieBeams Plus Camouflage-print Cotton Bow Tie
  • Beams Plus 60/40 Mountain Parka KhakiBeams Plus 60/40 Mountain Parka Khaki
  • Beams Plus Military Down Jacket CamoBeams Plus Military Down Jacket Camo
4. Head Porter Plus

On the streets of Tokyo’s Harajuku district, a grunge culture of all things skull-and-crossbow monochrome was founded. Subsequently, a style frenzy erupted amongst the Japanese youth and a longing for the more traditional came round once again. Enter Head Porter.

Like our previous entry, this critically-acclaimed brand relies on classic design principles. Head Porter creates original men’s bags that are produced by Porter, another Japanese brand who are revered for their exceptional products and craftsmanship.

However, even though a great bag has become an essential purchase for the modern style-conscious gent, it is the Head Porter Plus sub-line we find ourselves gravitating toward. Offering casual yet classic, high quality menswear they have quickly become a go-to for the basics that form the backbone of any successful, versatile wardrobe.

Their stellar range of Oxford shirts highlights their mastery of staples; pieces don’t require overworked statements to have an effect and the devil really is in the detail. Contrast placards, velour bib sections and quilted textures – Japanese style isn’t always about going overboard with blue hair dye and samurai swords. Thank God.

Renowned For: Premium quality bags and contemporary wardrobe staples.
See More: Autumn/Winter 2013 Collection | Spring/Summer 2013 Lookbook
Official Website: www.headporter.co.jp

Example Lookbooks

Head Porter Men's Lookbook

Key Pieces
  • Head Porter Plus Simplicity Oxford Shirt BlueHead Porter Plus Simplicity Oxford Shirt Blue
  • Head Porter Plus Varsity Jacket BlackHead Porter Plus Varsity Jacket Black
  • Head Porter Plus Balmacaan Coat NavyHead Porter Plus Balmacaan Coat Navy
  • Head Porter Plus Overdyed Zip HoodyHead Porter Plus Overdyed Zip Hoody
  • Head Porter Plus Nylon Hooded ParkaHead Porter Plus Nylon Hooded Parka
  • Head Porter Plus Camo JacketHead Porter Plus Camo Jacket
  • Head Porter Jackson Day Pack NavyHead Porter Jackson Day Pack Navy
  • Head Porter Lesson Boston Bag GreenHead Porter Lesson Boston Bag Green
  • Head Porter Jackson Zip Wallet OrangeHead Porter Jackson Zip Wallet Orange
5. Undercover

Forging a strong reputation through collaborations with Nike and UNIQLO, Undercover by Jun Takahasi is now available at the likes of MR PORTER and oki-ni – impressive alliances for a company still somewhat in its infancy.

First gaining international attention when he opened the legendary Nowhere store in Tokyo with the aforementioned Bathing Ape founder Nigo, Jun Takahashi went on to establish Undercover in the 1990s and it quickly became one of the world’s most sought-after streetwear labels.

Combining elements of traditional streetwear with high fashion sophistication, Undercover’s collections are cutting edge and stylish. Perfect for those that want to add a directional edge to their casual wardrobe, classic staples are given a contemporary update via contrasting materials, colours and cuts – helping to produce some truly unique garments.

For example, bomber jackets feature tweed detailing and leather embellishments while ribbed seam trousers blur the line between dandy and punk. Elsewhere, smock shirts sit nicely next to sweats and hoodies and even accessories incorporate on trend digital prints.

In short, Undercover has something for everyone.

Renowned For: High-end streetwear, classics with a twist.
See More: Nike x Undercover Gyakusou Holiday 2013 Collection | Nike x Undercover Gyakusou SS13
Official Website: www.undercoverism.com

Example Lookbooks

Men's Undercover Clothing Lookbook

Key Pieces
  • Undercover Loopback Cotton-jersey HoodieUndercover Loopback Cotton-jersey Hoodie
  • Undercover Mens Bruit Crew Neck KnitUndercover Mens Bruit Crew Neck Knit
  • Undercover Jacquard-knit Wool-blend SweaterUndercover Jacquard-knit Wool-blend Sweater
  • Undercover Mens Cotton OvershirtUndercover Mens Cotton Overshirt
  • Undercover Sport JacketUndercover Sport Jacket
  • Undercover Slim-fit Panelled Cotton-blend JeansUndercover Slim-fit Panelled Cotton-blend Jeans
  • Undercover Beige Check ScarfUndercover Beige Check Scarf
  • Undercover Shearling-trimmed Leather And Quillted Shell Bomber JacketUndercover Shearling-trimmed Leather And Quillted Shell Bomber Jacket
  • Undercover Leather-trimmed Check Wool Bomber JacketUndercover Leather-trimmed Check Wool Bomber Jacket
Final Word

There you have it, five Japanese brands you can consider to update your style in 2014. While the usual names of Onitsuka and Evisu are firmly engrained on the sartorialist’s mind, we just couldn’t forgive ourselves without mentioning UNIQLO.

A high street giant (and with good reason), this quintessential Japanese brand delivers on all fronts: practicality, simplicity, style and affordability. A one-stop shop for all your wardrobe basics – whether you’re a gym bunny or an office slogger – they produce timeless, high quality menswear that belies its price point. What could be better?

So this New Year, take a look to the eastern side of the globe for some much-needed inspiration – there’s more to it than you think.

What do you think to the Japanese brands we showcased today? Any there any you would add? Let us know in the comments section…