During New York Fashion Week, Japanese department store Isetan had a pop-up store in SoHo to introduce traditional and modern Japanese craftsmanship. Named NIPPONISTA, the project featured select pieces of Japanese fashion, art, food, and design that were chosen as part of the 2013 Cool Japan Strategy Promotion Program by the Ministry of the Economy.
“Cool Japan” has been the buzz phrase in New York lately, with Her Excellency Tomomi Inada’s recent visit to Japan Society to discuss her role as the Minister in charge of the Cool Japan Strategy. Japanese department store giant Isetan Mitsukoshi Holdings has been promoting Japanese craftsmen since 2011 under their JAPAN SENSES campaign, and they were eager to bring their Nipponista pop-up store to New York.
The broad scope of the Cool Japan concept was represented at Nipponista through fashion, art, design, and food. Eight buyers at Isetan – all young females – chose the items displayed based on their individual departments in which they work as well as their personal taste.
“Someone working in fashion can be inspired by a piece of clothing based on her taste in music,” says Hirotsugu Shibata, General Manager of the Business Development Division, Strategic Planning Headquarters for Isetan Mitsukoshi Holdings. Shibata credits these buyers’ youthful sense of creativity for selecting products that beautifully represent the excellence of Japanese craftsmanship in new and inventive ways.
“They are young, and their opinions are not cluttered with thoughts about politics and things like that,” Shibata says of the buyers who curated the pop-up. “So they chose things that best represent Japan now, contemporary styles but true Japanese traditions.”
The eight women, who made the trip from Japan to New York, chose a wide variety of styles from established designers such as Yohji Yamamoto and Kansai Yamamoto, but also young artists who respect traditions while adding contemporary flair.
Shibata wouldn’t name a favorite item, but he pointed out shoes and a purse that he found particularly appealing. The shoes, made by Hender Scheme, change color over time, and the leather is easy to clean and manage. The purse by SIRI SIRI is made of intricately woven pieces of slim bamboo encased in plastic. The bamboo reminds Shibata of old Japanese products, such as baskets, while the plastic frame and gold chain show the modernity of the design.
Goods from top designers and artists such as Yohji Yamamoto, Kansai Yamamoto, Hiroshi Kanzaki, Horiguchi Kiriko, and many others filled the space at 47 Greene Street. While some products were for sale, Shibata says that the New York consumer is not his target audience – yet. Rather, Shibata wants to capture the attention of store managers, buyers, and others who have the power to push for these items to be imported from Japan.
“With the pop-up located in SoHo, it is a good opportunity to meet people from the fashionable stores nearby,” says Shibata. When a manager from agnés b. visited, Shibata was surprised that the Japanese fashion selections weren’t the only things that caught his eye. “He was very interested in the food, especially the sake.”
The selection of food and sake was the responsibility of Mai Saito, an assistant buyer in the food department at Isetan Mitsukoshi. She chose three products that represent a fresh way of thinking without compromising Japanese tradition, and they all new products in Japan.
Saito selected Ina Food Industry’s packaged kanten, a gelatinous seaweed that has a 400-year history in Japan and is easier to produce through the company’s new manufacturing techniques.
“Yukihira” dashi by Kansou Grocery makes preparing dashi, a soup stock that is the main staple of Japanese cooking, easy with packs that blend kombu (kelp) and katsuobushi (bonito flakes), cutting preparation time from 30 minutes to only one or two minutes.
Saito was attracted to sakes by the Nagai Sake brewery, particularly the sparkling sake and the dessert sake, which had their world debuts at the Nipponista pop-up. Staying true to the traditional ways of brewing sake, Nagai Sake strives to create new styles that can be served with different kinds of cuisines.
Here are a few Nipponista highlights:
YOHJI YAMAMOTO – Designer Yohji Yamamoto is launching a new collection in May, and his handbags, scarves, and shoes were presented at Nipponista.
KANSAI YAMAMOTO – The bold colors and designs found in Kansai Yamamoto’s garments are from vintage kimonos and futons called “boro” that date back to the Edo Era.
ANREARAGE – Designer Kunihiko Morinaga’s mantra in making clothing is “God is in the details.”
MINTDESIGNS – Dress from mintdesigns, a company run by Hokuto Katsui, who studied at Parsons School of Design, and Nao Yagi.
SOMARTA – Before designer Tamae Hirokawa established her studio SOMA DESIGN, she worked under Issey Miyake. Her high quality bodywear is based on the concept of “second skin.” Her work was part of the collection in FIT Museum’s JAPAN FASHION NOW exhibition in May 2011.
SIRI SIRI – In addition to the aforementioned bamboo purse, Japanese jewelry brand SIRI SIRI had several pieces at Nipponista that encompass the company’s dedication to traditional craftsmanship with unique materials.
SHIHARA – The graphic figures of designer Yuta Ishihara’s jewelry reflect form and functionality with clean lines that fit the movements of the human body.
MAISON DES PERLES – While at Nipponista Moto Kobayashi conducted live demonstrations of her work, handmade embroidered accessories using glass beads imported from France.
HIROSHI KANZAKI – Each one of Kanzaki’s sculptures is made of the same block of wood, a traditional style known as Ichiboku-zukuri, which has its roots in the Heian Era (794-1185). Kanzaki creates large-scale wood sculptures of everyday items.
HORIGUCHI KIRIKO – Kiriko is the traditional craft of glass carving. The Horiguchi family has been practicing the craft since the Edo Era (c. 1603-1867).
NOUSAKU – The functional art of NOUSAKU uses malleable materials that allow the owner to bend and shape the products by hand, forming his own style. A flat plate can become a flower vase in minutes.
NUBOT – Playful and practical, Nubot makes video chats more fun with dolls that add personality to your iPhones.
OGATA – The “Bean Stool” from this Sendai-based company is popular design using a painted wood pattern in the shape of a bean.