While Japanese culture has inspired fashion for centuries, the country has carved out a reputation for diverse styles and daring looks that combine clean, modern shapes, cartoonish colours and vintage influences. Japanese clothing brands are renowned for quality and craftsmanship and in the past few years have been making a mark in the fashion world. Here are our 10 best Japanese fashion brands to know.
Commes des Garçons is a heavyweight among the Japanese clothing brands. It’s headed by the iconic Rei Kawakubo who started the company in 1969 (and is also the founder of London’s Dover Street Market). She was referenced by Alexander McQueen and Viktor and Rolf as a defining influence in their careers, too.
With the designer’s use of dark colours, raw finishes and punk influence, Kawakubo and her contemporaries became known as “The Crows” of Japanese fashion. The brand challenged beauty ideals and fashion norms in the eighties, fusing masculine tailoring with feminine corsetry. Nowadays, the Comme des Garçons Play logo – a heart with eyes – is instantly recognisable and pops up in collaborations with other clothing brands like Converse and H&M.
Perhaps the most well-known of the Japanese clothing brands, Issey Miyake is a powerhouse with multiple clothes ranges, sunglasses, bags, a prominent fragrance line, watches and even lighting. As a designer, Miyake was captivated by technology and structuring fabrics to move with the body. He’s also the man behind Steve Jobs’ signature black turtlenecks – after Jobs’ asked him to make a few, he got 100 of them in return.
The fashion brand takes elements of origami and pleating to create simple styles with distinct folds. It’s a theme that flows through all the different lines, including the Baobao geometric tiled bags, the light shades made from recycled PET and even a limited edition Evian water bottle.
Yohji Yamamoto has had a quiet but impactful influence on fashion throughout the last 35 years. He’s an alum of Tokyo’s Bunka Fashion College that also trained the likes of Junya Watanabe and Kenzo Takada. Considered a master tailor, Yamamoto’s designs have had a global influence on trends. He began wanting to design “men’s clothes for women” which becomes clear in the Japanese fashion brand’s oversized silhouettes and mixtures of billowing and robust fabrics.
The creation of the infamous Adidas Y-3 trainers has since expanded into a whole collaborative range and sits among the best-selling sportswear lines.
Named after Ebisu, the god of money, this Japanese clothing brand had humble beginnings. Their focus on creating high-quality denim using traditional methods meant they could only produce 14 pairs of jeans a day. Unlike a lot of the other Japanese fashion brands based in Tokyo, Evisu was started in Osaka in the nineties by designer Hidehiko Yamane.
Although they do produce women’s clothes, it’s the men’s line that has catapulted the brand to global recognition, with frequent mentions in rap songs by Jay-z, Lil Wayne and Kanye West. Yamane rejected the modern, mass-produced, low-quality denim that was made by machines and instead committed to using traditional machines. Each of the seagull logos on the back pockets was hand-painted, originally by Yamane himself, and they’ve come to be an iconic emblem in the designer denim world.
Kei Ninomiya’s fashion career began at Comme des Garçons as a pattern cutter. After just four years, Rei Kawakubo told him he should be showing his designs under his name, and so Noir Kei Ninomiya began.
The brand borrows influences from CDG with avant-garde tailoring and a monochrome colour scheme. Ninomiya avoids sewing where possible, instead relying on linking laser cut pieces together. He takes classic styles like leather biker jackets, trench coats and pleated midi skirts and twists them with belt buckle braces, ruffle trims and ballooning shapes.
Another designer born out of the Comme des Garçons empire, Junya Watanabe was described by the New York Times as “one of fashion’s foremost thinkers”. His brand’s clothes take a collage approach to traditional fashion – cutting up common silhouettes and rearranging pieces to create a new look.
Watanabe often uses ‘monozukuri’ to describe his work, referring to his interest in technology and synthetic fabrics in his creation process. Collections have included oversized sleeves, layered tailoring and trench coats reimagined as military-style dresses.
Probably the cutest of the Japanese clothing brands, Gelato Pique focuses on sleepwear and loungewear collections aiming to emulate “dessert after a full-course meal”. Each fabric they use is based on something delicious: gelato, smoothie, powder and soufflé depending on their texture.
With super-sweet pastel colours and themed prints, the brand has a massive range of collections including a collaboration with Youtube sensation Pewdiepie and wife Marzia in their clothing brand that is heavily influenced by Japanese culture, Tsuki.
Coming out of 13 years at the Tokyo department store United Arrows, Keiko Onose aimed her Cyclas designs at the “power woman” – someone moving from their career to jet-setting across the world, to attending an event. She has created a range of mix and match pieces that can fit together to suit any occasion.
The Japanese fashion brand’s clothes are created with the country’s sensibility in mind; combining comfort, colour schemes and silhouettes that allow the customer to build a cohesive wardrobe over time that won’t go out of fashion. Think simple shapes, neutral colours and layered outfits.
Hiroki Nakamura’s fashion line sits firmly within the luxury price point of Japanese clothing brands. Visvim’s products are very particular – handmade, designed under natural light and created using a mixture of modern and traditional techniques. While synonymous with quality and craftsmanship, the brand embraces the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi which appreciates the beauty and fluidity of imperfection, as shown in their use of natural dye which is impossible to completely control and replicate for each piece.
Fans of the brand include a whole host of celebrities like Eric Clapton, Rihanna, Kanye West and John Mayer. With prices like £800 for jeans and £2000 for a coat, you’ll be needing a celebrity budget.
Comedian Naomi Watanabe is already a fashion influencer in her own right. Her colourful, cartoonish style has captivated her 9.4 million Instagram followers, so it makes sense she would launch her brand. Repping for the plus-size community, Punyus is a collection of fun, wacky prints and bright colours with a distinct sense of humour.
Rejecting the common concept that ‘one-size fits all’, the Japanese clothing brand offers a much broader size range, with Watanabe aiming not to discriminate against any size.