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The Japanese Street Style Trends Bound to Influence Denim

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Street style in Japan is one part incubator for experiential design details, and one part homage to traditional indigo techniques and workwear designs.

Gordon Muir, denim industry veteran and founder of Japan’s Labor Made in Hiroshima, knows this well. With more than two decades of jeanswear experience working for companies like Diesel, Levi’s and now his own design consultancy, Muir has a finger on the pulse of what’s next in denim fashion.

“Japan is one of the best places in the world for denim,” he said.

In a recent webinar with Alberto De Conti, head of Rudolf Group’s fashion division in Milan, Muir shared his mood board for the coming seasons based on what he’s seeing on the streets and in the stores in Tokyo and Osaka.

Raw looks

As consumers and brands turn their attention to seasonless concepts, Muir said raw denim has the potential to become the staple in everyone’s closets. “It’s something that will be super commercial but also super classic for a long time,” he said.

Designers can kick up the casting of raw denim with ozone finishing or resin, but De Conti noted that fabric choice should be the main consideration when developing raw concepts. Raw denim, he said, remains one area of R&D that still does not have a technical solution that fits all situations. “Some fabrics work better than other,” he added.

Hem details

Novelty hem treatments have been on the up and up for four years in the women’s market, Muir said. And it’s still present in Japan, where he sees women tucking jeans into cowboy boots “for a Thelma & Louise look” as well as wearing buttoned hems that create extra volume in the leg. Other styles have a twisted inseam that adds a slight boot-cut silhouette. And though frays are a common hem treatment, Muir is seeing it more commonly used as a detail, for instance, on the edge of a yoke or pocket.

Shadows and splatter

Painted, pleated, crunched, scrunched and splashed denim is one way for designers to make a statement. “It’s really out there,” Muir said. “The Japanese aren’t ashamed of this. They actually love it more and wear it with pride up and down the streets. I’ll be curious to see how we take it through into our European and American markets.”

Denim industry veteran Gordon Muir shares his trend mood board inspired by denim street style in Tokyo and Osaka.

Tokyo street style

Bleached and overdyed denim, like the earth tone styles presented by Rachel Comey for Fall/Winter 20-21, also add interest to a sea of blue. These toned-down wearable hues, Muir added, mean the garments will have a longer shelf life in closets. In general, workwear colors pulled from vintage Carhartt garments are picking up momentum, especially in men’s. The colors, he added, have a “natural edge.”

Utility and function

Workwear, Muir reported, is everywhere in Japan. “The Japanese love this and embrace it very well,” he said. Overalls with patch pockets and pieces pulled from a gardener’s wardrobe look new in men’s wear.

Denim industry veteran Gordon Muir shares his trend mood board inspired by denim street style in Tokyo and Osaka.

Tokyo street style

Meanwhile, boxy, utilitarian fashion with a buttery soft hand feel is key in the women’s wear category. “I really think it is important these days to have everything up against the skin to be extremely comfortable,” Muir said.

Light and dark

Reinvented blacks may be a safe bet for brands, as there is no clear start date for when they can begin to rebuild their businesses due to the pandemic. By taking a seasonless approach to black, be it adding softer tones and worn-in processes, Muir said brands can add year-round appeal to black denim garments.

White and natural denim are coming through in Japan—and more so as mixed combinations, Muir said. Together, he added, it looks “extremely fresh and modern” with tonal subtleties.

Big ideas

Everyone loves a Trucker, Muir said, but modern versions of the traditional jacket feature winged or puffed sleeves, poncho silhouettes and belts. Volume, he added, is definitely something he expects to see more of in the future.

Denim industry veteran Gordon Muir shares his trend mood board inspired by denim street style in Tokyo and Osaka.

Tokyo street style

This focus on volume is amplified in women’s jeans. “Fits for women are bigger, bolder and stronger,” he said. From extreme high-rise with a full leg, to full-length skirts, Muir said, the trend offers a refined sensibility with chino pockets and gentle pleats.

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