Have you ever heard of the Japanese Designer Kansai Yamamoto? Yes, no or maybe? Just to give you a little hint (or reminder for those who know him), he is one of the most colourful, experimental and legendary designers who clothed David Bowie for his Ziggy Stardust Tour. 山本 寛斎 is just fabulous!
Image above: Kansai Yamamoto and David Bowie trying on one of Yamamoto’s creations. Sourced here.
It was just my luck, that strolling through London, as one does, I should veer off the road into a thrift store and discover…drum rolls please…a Kansai Yamamoto sweater from the 80s!With a beautiful appliqué dragon and “Kansai Yamamoto” appliqué signature below it.
The thrift store ladies gave it away almost for free, asking with much concern on their faces: “Are you going to wear it out or just at home?” Yes, of course, OF COURSE I am going to wear it out! I don’t care if I look like I just arrived fresh from the 80s in a time machine, this is a Yamamoto original and my tribute to his great talent.
Check it out:
The discovery of this vintage piece is coincidentally perfectly timed with the Louis Vuitton 2018 Cruise Collection Show in Kyoto, Japan – held on May 14, 2017! Nicholas Ghesquière made a vivid tribute to Yamamoto and it turns out he is a fan of his just like moi.
Louis Vuitton 2018 Cruise Collection – Image source here.
In March I gave two mini-lectures to the Business School students at the London College of Fashion on the subject of international branding and talked about brand names inside and outside of Japan. Here is part of the lecture which I hope you will enjoy!
The Pretenders: A look at pseudo-international brand names
Superdry is a fashion brand with a logo that features Roman letters and the Japanese Kana und Kanji alphabets – they are two of the three alphabets commonly used in the Japanese language. If you wanted to use the logo to figure out where the brand is from, you would be faced with quite a challenge, similar to finding out whether the American Hamburger really originated in Hamburg….
But let me explain!
Image 1: Superdry Logo.
Yes, the 3 Superdry founders really have been to Japan (so this part is true) at some point in the past, but they never lived there, they are not from Japan, they do not even speak “Nihongo” (Japanese language in, erm, Japanese) let alone know how to write it. They did, however, fall in love with things like the Asahi Super Dry beer and many other products which claim to be “super”-something. This led the founders to start a fashion label based in the small British town of Cheltenham which is not very exotic I would say.
Now the famous Superdry logo is based on graphics also inspired by Japan and it is very popular in many countries around the world. It is also an important USP (unique selling proposition) for a fashion brand. But what exactly does this Japanese combination of letters mean? When you read Superdry’s famous graphics 極度乾燥(しなさい) you hear “Kyokudo Kanso (shinasai)” which can be translated to something like “Extremely dry (do it now)” – and it is not a polite request at all but rather an order which parents might give to children. In 2011, the Superdry founders admitted that this is pure gibberish which they like to print on their merchandise, but that did not deter the fans.
They are pretenders!
Image 3: Superdry advertisement.
Ok, so the founders are pretending that their brand is from Japan. Fair enough. But why are people ready to wear gibberish on their clothes, so much so that Superdry, which was founded in 1985, was able to offer an IPO about 6 years ago? For those who might not be familiar with the financial market, an IPO is an Initial Public Offering on the stock exchange and means that a company or brand is thriving and can promise investors further growth in the future.
Did the founders think that everything that looks Japanese is so cool that it will always sell? And do Japanese think the same way? Interestingly, or perhaps logically, there is not one Superdry store in Japan.
This is however, a strategic step by the brand, as Japanese people would not know what on earth they are supposed to think of the phrase of “Jinglish” – a mix of Japanese and Englisch. In fact, in Japan the popular items are T-Shirts with English or French Prints and fashion brands which sound Western – the exact opposite of Superdry’s appeal in the West.
Image 4: Department store Shibuya 109, Tokyo.
They sound almost authentic, these Western brands which are called Dainy by JURIANOJURRIE or YUMMY MART by PEACH JOHN, Delyle NOIR as well as Ober Tashe. These are just some of the labels which are on offer in one of the most famous department stores in Tokyo, the Shibuya 109 – or “Ichi-Maru-Kyu” as the locals call it by spelling out the number. This is a fashion mecca for lovers of J-Fashion where young and fashion-conscious people flock to in the search for fashion styles like „Kawaii“ (= super cute), „Gyaru“ (super girly) or „oshare“ (highly fashionable).
Image 5: Liz Lisa.
And just like the exotic names of the aforementioned fashion brands, customers also love T-Shirt with prints in „Jinglish”: „World Difference Execute“ or „Trusting To Luck. Everything is in your hand“ or „Much Like Hold“ they read. (More trends of Japanese T-Shirts are here: http://mrstsk.tumblr.com/post/80665324669)
Image 6: T-Shirt with „Jinglish“ print.
In Japan, the English-inspired prints are not limited to shirts nor to Tokyo, but you can find thm on all sorts of products (chocolate, cosmetics, bath essences etc.) and all over the country.
Image 7: Fancl Japan
One wonders why Japanese people might find foreign language gibberish so cool and one speculates what a customer values in such a product which is pretending to be foreign.
Afterall, Peach John or Fancl are also pretenders as they are local Japanese brands!
In the case of Superdry it is probably the attraction of a foreign alphabet which is impossible to decipher, and costs around €100 if printed on to an “extremely dry” sweatshirt which paradoxically does not absorb moisture nor shield you from the rain. The printed letters convey the poular image of Japanese products being high-tech and superior in quality. The customer transfers these characteristics onto the brand – irrespectable of its true qualities.
The Branding Journal reasons: “Research has shown that European consumers aspire and exhibit inclination towards Japanese brands and this is reflected in their purchase decisions. Moreover, packaging/products scripted in Japanese tend to exude a certain degree of quality and “wow” factor in the customer’s perception.” (http://www.thebrandingjournal.com/2016/03/the-superdry-appeal/)
Superdry has thus managed to turn this perception into a print and logo and then into its brand value. This same psychological mechanism can probably be applied to the Western brand names in Japan. Pretending to be a foreign brand seems to pay off quite well!
And how did Superdry admit its brand origin? Watch this video and see if you can spot the “truth”!
What happy news for a Japanophile and Ghibli-lover like me: There are rumours that Hayao Miyazaki, genious and Sensei of all things “kawaii” and anime will be coming out of retirement to produce another full-length film!
I have just read about the happy news on Oyster Mag and am re-posting their article below. Enjoy!
Studio Ghibli co-founder and legendary animator, Hayao Miyazaki, is planning to return to the movie biz after a three-year hiatus. Turns out you just can’t keep a good man/certified genius down. During a recent NHK television special titled Owaranai Hito Miyazaki Hayao (The Man Who Is Not Done), Hayao announced that he’s planning to come out of retirement to make a new feature film.
The movie is based on a story he’s been working on for 20 years called Kemushi no Boro (Boro the Caterpillar) which he’s currently developing into a 12-minute short for the Ghibli Museum. According to Hayao, the story follows “a tiny, hairy caterpillar, so tiny that it may be easily squished between your fingers.” Cuteness factor is already so high. Unhappy with what he’s been able to accomplish in just 12 minutes, Hayao is planning to extend the story into a full-length film. Legend!
The project hasn’t been given the green light yet, but with Hayao’s track record — Princess Mononoke, My Neighbour Totoro, Spirited Away, etc., etc. — there’s no way this isn’t happening.
Today’s post is once again influenced by my love for Japan, Tokyo and the amazing buildings that you can find there.
Riddle me this: You do construction work in a multi-million people city and find a natural hot spring. What do you do with it?
Answer: You do some more construction work and put a multi-million-yen building on top of it, call it a traditional-yet-modern Japanese Inn and connect the hot-spring up to the 17th floor.
This is very close to what really happened in downtown Tokyo very recently. The result is the magnificent Hoshinoya Hotel right smack in the middle of Tokyo’s business district Otemachi – a 5-star treat with a real Japanese flair.
“A clever addition to Tokyo’s hotel scene, the city’s first luxury ryokan fuses contemporary design and traditional craftsmanship with high-tech touches. The tower is encased in a black metal grid repeating a traditional Japanese kimono motif.
Inside, there is a dramatic double-height genkan entrance with a seasonal flower display, indigo walls, sliding paper screens, expanses of aromatic Japanese wood and modern-style cotton jersey kimono outfits for guests.
The 84 guestrooms are split into groups of six on 14 floors – with each floor resembling a self-contained ryokan inn, with its own Ochanoma lounge. Here, at a communal wooden table or on low sofas, staff serve o nigiri rice balls, coffee, tea or seasonal sakes.”
Hoshinoya is good at hospitality and excellent service, because that is what Japan is good at. In the style of a tradition al Ryokan (Guesthouse or Inn) the staff takes care of the guest and makes sure that he or she longs for nothing. This concept is known as “omotenashi” in Japanese and it is truly lived to its fullest potential.
Omotenashi – long-for-nothing at the Hoshinoya.
What does it cost to whatch your dreams on a fluffy futon, after soaking in the Onsen, enjoying a dinner delight of the most delicious traditional Japanese cuisine and staff bringing you tea and slippers before bed time? It will be in the region of $590 to $1000, depending on season and room options. But remember: When you are there, you must take off your shoes at the entrance and show your best manners.
Sliding washi screens and tatami mats with soft futon beds make up the standard room at the Hoshinoya Hotel.
Shibuya Crossing in Tokyo – as seen from the Starbucks in Tatsuya Records
The lights turn green and hundreds of people flood the giant intersection simultaneously from 3 directions. There is not one empty square meter, yet everyone is polite enough to walk past each other without bumping or hitting one another. I take another sip of my Macha latte. „Oh my God! This is like soo unbelievable!“ I hear an American tourist comment next to me. They too have been overlooking the famous Shibuya Crossing in Tokyo from the familiar safety and comfort of the 1st floor Starbucks. Well almost familiar. After all it is only Japan that serves a green-tea latte and the matching green-tea cake. In fact, lots of things are green tea flavoured here…
The Starbucks is part of Tsutaya records. Centrally located this multi-storey music store is in one of the most hip shopping districts of Tokyo. It also serves as a well-known meeting point for both natives and tourists.
I leave my English-speaking neighbours to their intellectual conversation and start wandering towards the CD racks via the escalators. A group of freshly blonde girls in short skirts and high boots are just coming up from street-level and are chatting excitedly. „Neeee? So nan desu ka…“ They all have their keitaidenwas (mobile phones) in their hands and giggle their way to the second floor. In this part of town all the kids are super hip and show off their styles while shopping. Most boys try to sport a funky haircut and look like a rock-star and the girls’ ultimate goal is to create cuteness-overload or as they would express it – be super “kawaii”.
This includes shoes that limit your speed of walking to that of a sick snail and hairdos with a myriad of clips. The mobile phones are pimped up with crystals and you know those little dangly things you can attach to your phone? Well the girl on the escalator had about 10 of them on hers, and I could only guess it’s a phone because she was holding the giant bundle of toys to her ear. Kawaii!!
I walk into the Jpop section.
There is everything: Soul, hip-hop, rock, girl-bands and boy-bands. Of course I can only look at the covers as I don’t read more than a handful of Japanese letters. Ooh, there’s a nice-looking fellow on this CD and I can even read his name! It’s written in Engrish. Engrish? You ask me. Hai! It’s a language of its own, which you only find here in Japan on a vast number of things and products. Bands excel and advance on this linguistic journey, which is perhaps synonymous to cool, young and different.
I jot down 10 names of the coolest and weirdest ones:
10. Momoiro Clover Z
9. Generations from Exile Tribe
6. The Alfee
4. Siberian Newspaper
1. Egg Brain
LazygunsBrisky Jpop Band
Later in my hotel I am going to play acoustic onomatopoeia on-line in form of a game called “guess how XXX sounds”. The rules are simple: You go on myspace or youtube and check to see if your word-association was right. “After all WHAT does a Siberian Newspaper sound like?”
But why Siberia? Why a newspaper? Perhaps because I happened to be born in Moscow myself, I really want to find out why this band identifies itself with 77% of the total area of my country where temperatures can get down to as much as −71.2 °C. Siberia is the birthplace of tennis ace Maria Sharapova and Hollywood star Yul Brynner, as well as the source of the New Russians’ wealth in form of Gazprom-owned natural gas.
SiberianNewspaper Band –
L to R
Takayuki Manabe (Classic Guitar)
Shusaku Yamamoto (Contrabass)
Yusaku Tsuchiya (Violin)
Masakazu Hilao (Percussion)
Takao Amori (Acoustic Guitar)
Kazuhiro Fujita (Piano)
“There is not the meaning about the name of the band superficially. Admiration to the continent. Some inferiority complexes. My brain does not stop if I start to devise it. I think it means “freedom” may be.” explains Yusaku to me.
He is the amazing violin I heard, the centrepiece of this acoustic sextet with an unusual instrumental constellation, and he is extremely polite and helpful when I request an interview.
Yusaku tells me: “Just one year after Siberian Newspaper was formed by the guitarist Amori, we were performing in Britain at the 2006 UK festival “In the City”. BBC radio loved the tracks so much that they were consequently broadcast worldwide.”
“We played in Manchester in 2006. This experience is one of most important things about the band. The audience seemed to catch our music at very sensitive feel. I was the first time that I felt the reaction that was such a physical. I was excited very much. We are influenced by traditional music, classic, Gypsy music, jazz and heavy metal and our motto is to struggle, thirst, despair, sometimes succeed, sometimes give up. However, the Japanese music scene has been patternized and is about to forget the splendid element of the individual.”
This is so very true, because especially in the West, when you ask about Japanese music, most people will immediately think of Jpop. But there is so much more to the creative music scene in Japan! And this particular band did new classical pop, so to speak, and went on to release their 4th Album in 2012, entitled “0” [zero], exploring this field of individuality further and wider. It is available on iTunes, for those who cannot buy it in Japan. They also covered the Four Seasons by Vivaldi on a special album.
4th Album released by Siberan Newspaper in 2012
I want to know how much the Japanese fashion scene is part of this groups life. So I ask: And what about fashion? Does fashion influence you?
“We choose the fashion which is not formal. But I am careful not to lose dignity and a style. Since I live in Tokyo I go to Omotesando and Harajuku well before gigs and do shopping. I am excited when I buy clothes for gigs. Then I travel to Osaka where our band is based.”
But Omotesando happens to be one of the most expensive shopping streets of Tokyo with all the top-notch designer brands. Harajuku is the complete opposite, it is crazy, cheap, insane youth culture and fashion frenzy. How is this compatible in one style?
“I like good clothes of the form even if cheap, even if expensive. I like mix style.” He explains. He’s also goes to Tsutaya Records in Shibuya but is not so fond of the fashion there.
“I think Shibuya culture is ladies culture. And Shibuya culture loves showy clothes. I do not feel charm in it so much.” And Siberia?
“No, I have not been to Siberia. But I want to go in the near future.”
For those who would like to find out more about SiberianNewspaper have a listen here:
Today, I would like to repost this report which recently appeared on NHK World (Japan) about Junko Watanabe and her cloth books. Not to be confused with the famous fashion designer Junya Watanabe, Junka has been using textile design in a way which reaches the youngest members of our society. Children with disabilities or difficulties have seen benefits from cloth books over the last 30 years.
Watanabe’s work reminded me of my “cut & paste project” which I came up with during my first year at Central St. Martins. The idea was to let children and adults take control of the final design by making interactive clothes. There were playful parts which could be removed and reattached, coloured with fabric markers. Here are a few images of the prototypes.
This t-shirt sends a message about pollution. You can manipulate the tree leaves. Put them up if they are healthy, push them down if your tree got too polluted.
This skirt prototype has velcro elements. You can change their position and customize the elements, for example with fabric crayons from pentel.
My professors were not very enthusiastic of my idea and wondered who would ever want to purchase this. However, over the last 10 years more and more interactive design items have come onto the market! I am happy to see that more designers are thinking the same way.Back then I never considered that children with disabilities could be the end-consumers who’d benefit the most from such products.
Junko Watanabe’s interactive cloth books are not a commercial product but rather a humanistic gift. What an inspiring woman!
Please have a look at NHK’s story about Mrs Watanabe.
NHK WORLD – Culture & Sports
Nov. 17, 2014
The Fabric of Education
A Japanese artisan has a unique take on the classic picture book. She crafts each one by hand from fabrics, adding a personal touch that seems to connect with readers. And now her creations are reaching children around the world. NHK WORLD’s Mikiko Suzuki has the story.
This is a classroom at a school for disabled children and their parents in Tokyo. Students with disabilities get the chance to experience something new here.
Junko Watanabe created the special books they are exploring. She has been making them for 35 years as a way to give disabled children opportunities to earn.
Watanabe uses felt, kimono material and other fabrics.
Details include embroidery… buttons…and string. Children can practice tying and untying, buttoning and unbuttoning while touching the books. These exercises can foster independence.
“Sometimes a mother calls me to let me know a cloth book inspired her child’s first words. That makes me so happy it brings tears to my eyes.”
Watanabe has assembled a group of volunteers who help make the books and donate them to libraries around Japan.
So far, the group has given more than 20 thousand books to around 500 libraries. This library in a Tokyo suburb has 300 of them.
Eiko Naito and her 8-year-old son Daisuke live nearby. Daisuke was diagnosed with Down Syndrome at birth.
When he was a year and a half old, he started coming to the library with his mother to borrow cloth books. A book introducing musical notes really caught his eye.
“We also borrow regular books. But he is really drawn to the cloth ones. If I bring a big bag of them home, he’ll say, ‘I want to see one of those!'” Eiko Naito / mother
Now Daisuke can play the piano. It’s a simple song, but it requires both hands.
“The cloth books have broadened his world. He learned how to read from them. And he got interested in knowing more about the things around him.” Eiko Naito / mother
It is tough for Daisuke to interpret the notes, move his fingers and listen to the music all at the same time, but he keeps trying.
Now Watanabe and her team are sending the cloth books to children around the world…especially those living in poverty or without access to education.
Some books were sent to an orphanage in Myanmar that takes care of 200 kids. Many had lost their parents in ethnic conflicts, or were abandoned due to poverty.
Other books were sent to students in Africa. They reflected cultural differences, like the way people there count with their fingers.
“People learn their own country’s language and think and act in that language. Just one cloth picture book is something people can explore and learn from. That’s why I want to pass them on to future generations around the world.” Junko Watanabe
Watanabe believes all children, regardless of their circumstances, can learn something from her picture books. And she hopes this seed of an idea takes root around the world.