Nothing gets a menswear man hotter under his collar than if it’s constructed from heavy Japanese cotton, is sewn by a Japanese artisan in a Japanese factory, and is only available to shoppers who reside on the four islands. Frankly, Japanese fashion is so lustworthy that access makes living there worth the daily risk of tornadoes, earthquakes and rampaging sea lizards trampling downtown Tokyo while you’re trying on your new Beams shirt.
Unfortunately, most of it is as hard to obtain as a Japanese working visa. Perhaps because its makers have realised that when you produce clothes that are both innovative and well-made (a sweet spot so many western brands can’t seem to hit) exporting it is churlish when you could keep it all for yourself.
“The feeling there is that, if you want to buy the brand, you have to go and see it,” says Daniel Todd, buyer at Mr Porter and the man who helped convince the likes of Orslow, Sasquatchfabrix and Teatora to be more generous with their wares.
That close-to-the-chest attitude stems from Japan’s beyond impressive retail culture, where staff take such care with customers that it takes 10 minutes for them to wrap your purchase and walk you to the door. When you get that kind of real life care, it’s no wonder that online shopping is anathema to most Japanese. “There’s a culture of why go anywhere else? Everything is here,” says Todd.
It was Beams (who’ve been stocked on Mr P for a few years and served as a gateway to untold addictions to Japanese fashion) who gave Todd the much-needed co-sign, introducing him to brands that otherwise might have been otherwise wary of cosying up with a foreign, online-only retailer.
“Going there and meeting the brands makes them realise that you’re in it for the long-haul, not just for one season. We try to build a relationship. You need to meet people and make the effort.”
The results of that sweat are more impressive than simply hard-to-cop garms, brought west. In Sasquatchfabrix’s showroom, for example, Todd spotted clothes cut in Sashiko material, a super-traditional Japanese quilting fabric that’s been used since the 8th century. Together, the brands worked on applying it to updated silhouettes – a matching pair of shorts and boxy tee – to embody the tension between past and future that resonates through Japanese culture.
“It’s so traditional, but the way we styled it had a streetwear edge. It was about taking classic design and giving it a modern spin.”
That ethos permeates the entire collection. Much of what makes men clammy over Japanese fashion is the attention to how it’s built – think the old looms that make Japanese denim from brands like Orslow the world’s best – coupled with modern design cues. “If a guy’s into good stuff, then he’s probably looking to Japan,” says Todd.
In Teatora’s hands, a suit is done up as a nylon shell, so it packs down and doesn’t crease. Hand an Oxford shirt to Kics Document and you’ll get back something cut in heavyweight cotton, for perfect drape, but with a popper fastening and drawstring waist so it doubles up as an overshirt. It’s fashion that perfectly blends function and aesthetic.
Todd’s heading back to Japan in April, and hoping to come back with another half-dozen brands to help western customers get in their closets. “Five, 10 years ago, if you wanted Visvim, you had to pay someone to go to the Visvim shop and buy it, then send it over. But this opens it up.”
Now, it’s on Mr Porter, and a host of other retailers besides, which introduces more men to some of the world’s most grail brands. For now, though, Todd’s got his eye on more eastern up-and-comers. “Unused is a brand that I really like. And Wacko Maria is getting some really good press. What they do feels very on-trend.” Fingers crossed they’re as impressed with him.
The Mr Porter and Beams present… collection is available now at Mr Porter, priced from £55.