Fast-fashion titan Uniqlo had already ventured into the domain of smartphones applications with not-so-exciting Uniqlo Calendar, fashion-style browsing Uniqlooks or again Uniqlo Wake Up applications. However, the Japan-based brand has finally released something that speaks directly to its target customers with UTme!, an application that lets smartphone users design their own T-shirts.
The idea is simple, and all you need is an iPhone or Android device. You input text, a picture or draw some shapes on your screen to make the design to be printed on your T-shirt to-be. But before finalizing, you can add cool effects such as mosaics, splashes and glitches just by shaking your phone to create the final touch. An easy and fun way to give customers more choice in what they wear and attract potential buyers.
Be aware, however, that if you’re aiming to become the next fashion phenomenon, UTme! might not be the right place to experiment as all the uploaded designs belong to Uniqlo, and are then available on utme.uniqlo.com for purchase by anyone.
Leon is the leading magazine for the more mature man in Japan
An unexpected surge in sales of fashion magazines aimed at men in their 30s and 40s has taken the magazine industry by surprise. Bucking the general downward trend in sales for print magazines, titles like Leon have been getting snapped up by style-conscious guys over the past two years.
According to the National Publication Association’s Publishing Research Institute, sales of men’s magazines for the 30-40 age bracket began to rise around 2010. Sales of these magazines were up a whopping 38.3% from Jan. to Nov. in 2012 compared to the same period the previous year, climbing from 2.66 million copies sold in 2011 to 3.68 in 2012. Just five magazines fit into this niche market, with Leon taking the largest slice of the market share, accounting for a third of sales. The other magazines are Oceans, Uomo, Men’s Ex, and 2nd.
Though Leon was responsible for creating the concept of the “choi waru oyaji” — which roughly translates as “bad-ass middle-aged dude” — personified by fashionable middle-aged guys like Italian heartthrob Panzetta Girolamo, this does not appear to have been the trigger for the trend. It’s more likely that the recent women’s magazine concept of the “ikedan,” or cool husband, has inspired women to buy men’s magazines for their husbands in an effort to get them to improve their appearance.
For single men in their 30s and 40s, it may have been the explosion in en masse dating activities, such as machi kon events, that drove them to the magazine racks for tips on sharpening up their looks, making them better equipped to duel it out with younger, more fashionable rivals. According to J-Cast, these guys aren’t a bunch of aging rams dressed up as lamb, they’re simply men who would like to take care of their looks, whether to score a date or simply to score brownie points with the wife.
The trend has, of course, had a positive impact on the clothing industry. Yano Research Institute reports that in 2011, sales for menswear (including suits, western clothing, and accessories) were up 2% on the previous year. Meanwhile, the Japan Department Stores Association reported a 1.7% rise in the sale of men’s suits in 2011 compared to the previous year. Furthermore, the men’s department of Isetan in Shinjuku reported that sales of suits and western clothes were up 2% for the period between April and September in 2012.
The growing market has inspired Hankyu department store, which previously concentrated on women’s clothing, to open up Hankyu Men’s Tokyo in Yurakucho in Oct 2011. Since then, they’ve clocked in impressive sales of over 12 billion yen. We expect to see other department stores follow their lead.
What was cool – or perhaps more importantly, cute – in 2012? Here are our top picks.
What would a year in Japan be without a newly coined look? This one isn’t exactly head to toe, like say the yama girls of years past. Its pièce de résistance is a hairstyle: the neko-mimi (cat ears), which basically involves twisting and rolling two chunks of hair to resemble cat ears. Then you can wear whatever you like with it, so long as it’s cute. Because cats are cute.
R25 cites model/fashion blogger/pop singer and official Kawaii Harajuku Ambassador (an honor bestowed by the mayor of Shibuya Ward) Kyary Pamyu Pamyu as the inspiration. Ms. Pamyu is known for her wacky looks and has also appeared with her hair twisted to resemble devil horns and bat wings. But it was the cat ears that caught on, perhaps because it’s the only style that can realistically be done at home. A neko girl website is packed with do-it-yourself tips and cute pose suggestions.
It’s not just the hair though. Samuel Thomas, Japan Times fashion columnist and Tokyo Telephone editor, told us that anything with cat ears – like hats, headbands and hoodies – were big sellers this year.
These two fans of boy-band Arashi got creative and made their own tattoo stockings with the band members’ names. Photo courtesy of Tokyo Fashion
Cat mania aside, the hit item for 2012 was without a doubt tattoo stockings. Interesting, considering that real tattoos will still get you banned from most public bathhouses (meaning they are still largely associated with the yakuza). However, these stockings, usually nude, are decorated with images that more resemble Western-style tattoos (also called “fashion tattoos” in Japan) – hearts and butterflies and Ed Hardy-like biker designs, for example. Too bad, because some full on irezumi-style tattoo stockings would be pretty cool.
Samuel also tipped us off to the origin of this one, citing Avantgarde, a small boutique in Harajuku, as the locus of the tattoo stocking trend. According to Trendy magazine, Avantgarde has sold almost half a million pairs since September 2011. Their sales on shopping site Rakuten for June through August 2012 were 200 times greater than sales during the same period of the previous year. During summer, really? As it gets colder, we’re seeing the same concept with white or gold patterns on black tights. Not quite the same double-take effect, but a clear evolution of the idea.
Mushroom character goods inspired by the smart phone game Nameko Saibai Kit. Photo by tsukacyi from Flickr
The most popular smart phone game in Japan is called Nameko Saibai Kit (literally “mushroom cultivation kit”). Yes, a simulated mushroom farm. But the mushrooms are, apparently, cute, and have launched a “star” character – the first to come out of a smart phone game.
The game, a free download from Beeworks Games, debuted in June 2011 as a spin-off of another popular game, Touch Detective (the main character in that has a pet mushroom who helps solve puzzles); to keep things interesting, new seasonal versions are added regularly.
According to Trendy – which ranks nameko goods as the #7 hit product of 2012 – there are now some 50 companies licensed to make mushroom mobile phone accessories, stationery, stuffed animals, etc. In total there are about 800 different goods on the market. Events this past spring to promote new items, at shops like KiddyLand in Harajuku, drew lines with waits of over an hour. Perhaps watching mushrooms grow is good training for patiently waiting in line?
JR Shinjuku Station on opening day for Bicqlo. (Rebecca Milner photos)
Bicqlo—the much-hyped Bic Camera and Uniqlo mash-up store—opened in Shinjuku today. And for those who weren’t aware yet of its impending existence, the floors of the JR station in Shinjuku were papered with announcements. Plenty did seem to know, as there were plenty of people inside (and plenty of press leading up to the opening). It wasn’t H&M-opening crowded (no lines to get in after the initial early birds got inside), but there was still a healthy line for the dressing room and enough pushing and shoving to make one question Japan’s prevailing image as a polite and orderly place.
So what exactly is Bicqlo? Sadly, not much more than an ordinary Bic Camera with a Uniqlo sandwiched in the middle. Fans of both brands might be tickled to hear the familiar Bic Camera theme song give a nod to Uniqlo, or see Uniqlo staff wearing Bic Camera-style happi coats. The merchandise, however, save for a few in-store-only Uniqlo items, is essentially the same.
It is all also the same color. As Uniqlo mannequins wearing the brand’s new fall line-up and accessorized with Bic Camera goods (cameras and electric kettles, for example) demonstrate, everyone seems to be working from the same color forecasting charts. Good news for those who want to match their jeggings with their appliances.
However, we’re wondering what Uniqlo is doing matching its clothes with suggestions of housework. The brand has worked so hard over the last few years to give itself a more fashionable image, first with the now-closed UT store in Harajuku and then through its designer capsule collections (with designers like Jun Takahashi no less) and, most recently, by sharing real estate with the decidedly upmarket Dover Street Market in Ginza. Paired with a vacuum, even if it is a sexy Dyson, that down vest just doesn’t look anything but functional — but perhaps that’s back where we’re at, economy-wise.
Indeed the bargain-basement prices that both stores are offering throughout the opening weekend (Sept. 27-30) seem to be the real attraction here. Those who spend ¥7,000 or more can also try their luck at winning limited edition collaboration goods from a gashapon-style capsule game. And, for the time being, you can exchange ¥1,500 worth of Bic Camera points for a ¥1,000 “Bicqlo Coupon,” which can be used at the Uniqlo here. (Unfortunately, it’s a one-way trade: Uniqlo purchases do not earn you points at Bic Camera.)
We’ve been seeing heaps of name-brand collaborations in Japan recently, like the Mos Burger meets Mister Donut shop Mosdo (which also plays on the Japanese fondness for squashing two words together to make a catchy new one). We also like the crossover advertising campaign that pairs Softbank’s popular and endearing “Shirato family” with the iconic Suntory Boss character, played by Tommy Lee Jones; like the individual campaigns, this mash-up is just plain clever.
Bicqlo wins on convenience: It really is useful to be able to pick up socks and printer cartridges in the same place. But as far as innovation, or even novelty, is concerned, isn’t the concept — cheap clothes and electronics in one store — essentially that of any big-box store, the likes of which are littered all over the (gasp!) suburbs?
In the hot and sticky Japanese summer months, staying cool can be a challenge. However, a resurgence in traditional suteteko (say stet-eh-ko) is making it a little bit easier. Fear not — these aren’t your grandpa’s long johns! Contemporary sutekeko are pants made of light-weight, breathable material and fall just below (or above) the knee. Once a boutique item (that we spotted a year ago), they are now available from major retailers like Uniqlo as well as dedicated shops. Great for lounging around the house, walking your dog or even on a first date if you dare . . . If it doesn’t go well, at least you’ll have the peace of mind knowing it wasn’t because of your sweaty legs.
Form meets function, but unfortunately not fashion. K-Pocke (say “kay po-kay”) is a new line of shirts with a uniquely designed pocket to safely secure your mobile device. Shake, rattle and roll all you want. Nothing will fall out due to the convoluted way it’s constructed, they claim. I’m as worried as the next person about dropping my phone. Unfortunately, I’m more worried about looking like Steve Urkel. Cool innovation, but it might have a better chance if it were still the 90′s — and if pants didn’t have pockets.
Maybe it was inevitable that the country that made manga world-famous would fall for a bag that looks like it was peeled out of the pages of a comic book. JumpFromPaper‘s whimsical bags (above), with their eye-fooling primary color blocks and heavy outlines, jumped up the ranks of trending topics on Twitter in Japan last week under the keyword “2-D bag.” The burst of attention coincided with TV personality Terry Itoh introducing the line on the mid-day variety show “Sukkiri!!” The bags’ designers are based in Taiwan, and though there are many retail outlets carrying the bags there, in Japan they are only available online for now.
Mihara Hideaki’s bags have a slightly more serious lineage. The designer’s bio says he studied leathercraft in Florence, but it’s not his leather work that’s getting second glances for some of his latest bags. The (variously spelled) Trompe L’oeil bags have belts and buckles, leather tassels and decorative chains printed onto canvas bodies. The great big buckles may not be fooling anyone, but the thinner faux straps look convincing, and the silk scarves printed on the sides of some look like they could flutter right off.
Acrylic designer Masako Ban takes that feeling of slightly retro whimsy and goes in the opposite direction. While JumpFomPaper makes 3-D bags that look flat, Ban uses holographic lenticular material on some of her messenger bags and handbags that gives their flat surfaces a disorientingly three-dimensional and rather futuristic look.
You don’t need to spend a lot to get in on the eye-fooling action, though — just get into the check-out line at Isetan. Brain magazine reports that the venerable department store, which has long had distinctive plaid paper shopping bags, has also added a paper bag with a photo-realistic print covering it that makes it look like a wicker basket. The bag is for purchases from their food shops.
Why all the trickery? Maybe it’s a way to play with luxe designs at a budget price. Or maybe people just want to make you look twice.
Focusing on Asian cities, Fukulog World Snap was launched this month
Don’t you hate it when you’ve created that perfect look, but apart from parading yourself up and down the boulevard, you’ve got no one to show it off to? How are you to know if your ensemble is spot on or way off target? Social fashion site Fukulog provides a solution. Every day 70 to 100 users post their look on the website for other users to see, comment on and approve of. The site, which was launched late 2009 in Japan, is now so popular that the company behind the project is set to launch the concept on the global stage.
Since Fukulog launched its Facebook page in February this year Honey Entertainment, which manages Fukulog, noticed that the site was making waves overseas. In a recent press release the company announced that over 67,000 of their Facebook fans were foreigners (at the time of writing the total number of fans of the page was 70,257). Reacting to this popularity the company launched Fukulog World Snap on July 15. Initially focusing on Singapore, Taipei, Shanhai and Hong Kong, Fukulog has recruited fashionistas from those city’s to upload portraits of trendy types spotted out and about.
Despite the fact that the Facebook page currently caters to foreign fans by including posts in English, phrases like “to share your favorite fashion coordinates” suggest that they’ve got a ways to go before they become a truly international site. Fukulog’s main site is currently only accessible in Japanese, but Honey Entertainment is aiming to provide the service in English and Chinese by September this year.
So, what’s so great about this service that gives it the potential to go global? As opposed to other street-fashion sites, it doesn’t have invisible arbiters telling users what’s hot or not. All users can vote freely and upload their own looks freely. Furthermore, users post info about where they purchased clothes and the site easily links to those stores’ websites. The site, which allows you to browse via brand ranking, is also a good barometer of what’s trending now on the streets of Japan.