From shoes to bags to menswear, Japanese brands were well represented at Pitti, continuing for FW13 the tradition of unique, high quality items with a strong aesthetic vision and commitment to excellent materials. I covered several of these in Florence; though each is quite different, the thread that binds them is a focus on quiet, simple luxury without pretension or hype. Even when the individual styles weren’t ones I’d buy for myself, I still appreciated the vision and clear sense of purpose of each of these brands.
Context: It is tempting to think of Japanese fashion as Tokyo fashion: a monolithic clothing empire influenced by the huge city of lights, electronics, and culture that sometimes bewilders as much as it fascinates. This comparison, however, is much like assuming Manhattan encapsulates the full range of cultures and aesthetics of the entire USA. Throughout Japan are small towns, villages, and factories with decades, centuries, or even millennia of history producing regional products. With the brands featured below, each fuses influences from different places in Japan, ranging from the rural mountains of Yamagata and Niigata to the southern cities of Okayama and Hiroshima.
Spellbound by Simplicity: Smaller-scale Junya with a rural Japanese feel.
Spellbound uses special dyes and fabrics from Okayama to create a unique twist on traditional workwear and casual staples. While I wasn’t thrilled with the somewhat unflattering silhouette, the special attention paid to the use of unique fabrics makes the brand worth a look (or, more accurately, worth touching and trying on!)
Also check out their Facebook page
H’Katsukawa from Tokyo: Christian Carol Poell meets Silvano Lattanzi at Rei Kawakubo’s house.
Following an internship with shoemaker Paul Harnden, designer Eichi Katsukawa creates artisanal, unique shoes built around fun, enjoyment, and durability. While certainly avant-garde in materials and design, he’s very careful to make shoes that you can wear, not simply exhibit on a shelf. Talking to him at length at Pitti, I enjoyed his artist's approach to design, with a craftsman's attention to what his customers might actually need and want.
Kaoru Kaneko: Tod’s finds Hokusai in Milan
Born in rural Niigata and now centered in Milan, Kaoru Kaneko produces a small range of shoes, bags, and accessories that blend together Italian staples (like the men’s slip-on loafer) with Japanese aesthetics. His “one-piece” slipper is made from a single piece of calf leather, folded and sewn together, giving it an almost origami-like shape. However, his background in industrial design ensures that the shoes are functional and comfortable. I own a pair of these and, years on, they are going strong.
Quilp: Yohji travels to London with his cobbler’s stand
Part of the “Leather Shoes with Japanese Stroke” group of small Japanese shoemakers, designer Masao Morishita has collaborated with Tricker’s on a range of men’s shoes that take the famous English standards and add small Japanese twists: hand-painted details, subtle changes in color or leather style, or little tweaks in the shape of the toe or heel.
H'Katsukawa from Tokyo:
Spellbound by Simplicity: