Japanese Streetwear’s Influence on Music

Streetwear is the ‘it’ thing. Because lets be honest nowadays you can’t help but notice cool kids dressed in t-shirts, hoodies, and beanies that riff on high fashion labels. Although logo apparel have always been a big part of the streetwear aesthetic, recently they seem to have reached a new peak. For those of you who are not too familiar with streetwear it is commonly reconciled with the concept of graffiti and is defined as a distinctive style of fashion (and the accompanying lifestyle) with roots in skateboarding and skate fashion, while also carrying influence from hip-hop music culture. Urban wear and streetwear is still a rising movement in the grand scheme of things, and since the nineties it has become an increasingly popular avenue for musicians and artists. This month I am looking towards sartorial finesse that rejuvenates personal style and boasts originality. Yes that’s right. Konnichiwa Japan! Japan has always been in the style eye’s forefront with fashion as their main strength. With conceptual and almost obsessive attention to design in streetwear, the Japanese absolutely kill it when it comes to menswear. Music has influenced the product heavyweight brands produce and the way that Japanese consume these products, inspiration is one of the biggest thing for the changing of trends. Hip-hop has endured a turbulent love affair with fashion, positive originality and success from Billionaire Boys Club has made Pharrell Williams the most popular rapper and fashion label runner to rock streetwear. He personifies the organic relationship between music and fashion. I opt for the word ‘organic’ because I do not detect the trace of a stylist in Pharrell’s outfits; he truly owns his effortless panache. After all he said himself said “I wanted clothing I couldn’t find, so I decide to make it”. Pharrell’s style credentials are synonymous with his musical talents: original, polished and contemporary. I like to think of Pharrell as Peter Pan because not only does he NEVER seem to age (seriously though??) but he still retains and pulls off elements of youth culture in his style such as skate boarding, BMXing and early nineties hip-hop.

Behold the archetypal ‘Skateboard P’ look. A basic t-shirt, wayfarer sunglasses and a baseball cap are Pharrell’s onstage staple pieces (before this ridiculous hat got surgically attached to his head). Pharrell openly admits that he thinks of himself as a big kid and his onstage style reflects how youth culture has influenced (and still influences) how he portrays himself both sonically and visually. However, I’m guessing there was nothing childish regarding the price point of the Chanel rosary beads around his neck. I’m not usually in favour of branding, but in this instance the Chanel logo is less ostentatious than normal and supplies a subtle maturity to the outfit. Pharrell often utilises Chanel in this manner; using smaller accessories in order to inject status into more humble outfits. Clever. A gentle reminder that you are looking at a wildly talented and successful man perhaps? He is not just that cute faced guy in various hip-hop videos! His style has evolved from typical basic skateboard/streetwear into what I think could be called the modern gentlemen. In streetwear, personal influences from creative’s and designers are of extreme importance because apparel is very bit about selling a story, their story. Japan loves to imitate the style of their favourite musician. It isn’t an over the top statement, it’s a lifestyle.

Where did Billionaire Boys Club start though? Well we first got to sneak a look at Pharrell’s Billionaire Boys Club line in the video for “Frontin’”. Pharrell paraded his new brand throughout the video so fans could see what his new venture with BAPE creator Nigo was looking like. He generously dispersed the BBC t-shirts to his close friends, which allowed the brand to reach new destinations, and only a year later we saw the delectable ice cream sneaker. Slowly but surely Billionaire Boys Club is becoming a staple of hip-hop fashion. The storied brand has become a big status symbol in hip-hop. The N.E.R.D front-man’s success with everything from t-shirts, suits and shirts, to outerwear, to leather and to what I think is the highlight of the brand, the prolific accessories line. All of the pieces are produced in very limited quantities of the highest materials making them even more desired in Japan and worldwide. Artists in the music industry take note and follow the fashion fella Pharrell with his love of incorporating bright colours and innovative all over patterns. He is well known and appreciated for his unique style just by hearing his brands names dropped in hip-hop videos all over the globe. For you older guys out there, or even the younger ones with a keen interest you’ll know that Pharrell’s Billionaire Boys Club Story sounds quite familiar. That’s because it is familiar, it’s been done before in the 90’s by none other than Nigo himself. Nigo simply understands what people want and how to provide that service, he would release information of the days that BAPE stores would receive a delivery but only half of his batch of stock would make it to that delivery. Why? Well a couple of reasons, the first being he gave half away to his friends across the globe (more on that later!) and secondly so that the demand always stayed higher than supply. He wanted people to go without getting their hands on these t’s purely so they would be in the same spot queueing again the following month. It’s because of this that I’m such a long-standing BAPE fan. The camo, the trainers, the imagery I get and love it! The t’s are the labels bread and butter they are premium quality pieces that pack a tiny statement punch which have maintained brand authenticity. A Bathing Ape quickly became one of the worlds most sought after premium streetwear labels after it’s initial introduction in the ’90s. And from smashing the Japanese Market we saw Nigo, founder and owner, branch out after the 2000s with perhaps the most sensationalised and hype-fused brand that catapulted cult streetwear. Showing up on the backs of all the right tastemakers and fashionistas worldwide. The Japanese heavyweight truly is a streetwear icon who has influenced the music lifestyle industry for over a decade. Not only has Nigo made the exclusivity of his label difficult to obtain, that’s the nature of his clothing, but also he has never advertised making sure that the exclusivity factor is ever-present. Word of mouth, social networking and Nigo’s successful creative career as a music producer has recently brought him together with hip-hop giants, Jay-Z, Kanye, Snoop Dog (you can’t pay for advertising like that), that have given the brand and artists a one-upmanship. The creative superstar has had a wave of exposure in Japan; his household name is renowned for it’s impeccable aesthetics. His acute eye for detail has clearly inspired the Japanese fashion industry. Since ancient history streetwear means baggy jeans, loud hoodies and even louder sneakers. The patent-leather BAPE sneakers have become the footwear choice of rappers and style-conscious musicians and a sought-after status symbol for the millions of fans worldwide that watch music videos. And in the UK we have one man to thank for raising the awareness of our beloved Japanese designer.

James Lavelle of Mo’Wax produced his good friend Nigo’s album ‘Ape Sounds’ for the UK hip hop label. And Lavelle was one of lucky few who got his hands on a shed-load of freebies courtesy of our Japanese icon. James Lavelle of UNKLE (signed to his own Mo’Wax) has been the heart of the underground scene for almost two decades. He was heavily kitted out in BAPE alongside DJ Shadow, who makes up the second half of UNKLE, increasing BAPE’s popularity in the UK. Personally I think it is cool how streetwear has evolved from hardcore rap groups like NWA sporting snapbacks and baseball jackets into exactly the same style now digged by people like Lavelle or even more skate oriented fans such as Travis Barker and well, the boarding community in general. Lavelle has worked alongside artists 3D and Futura 2000 bringing together artists from the skate and graffiti world. His labels presence was strongly felt in the worlds of fashion and art, they go hand in hand with James’ love for all kinds of music. ‘Daydreaming With’ is an instinctive experience, which held together some of the most acclaimed creative, working in music, art, film and fashion. It’s crazy to think that what cult trends were influencing the streets of Tokyo managed to find their way to the UK and influence just as many over here! In the ‘90s the baggie look was all about the big jeans and big t-shirts of the hip-hop scene. Acts like the Happy Mondays and The Stone Roses took to the style with ease, but one man, Ian Brown, perhaps more than his contemporaries, chose to add a British edge to the look. He definitely does not fit the rock stereotype with his style, his iconic haircut on the other hand does the genre a bit of fairness. His look is clearly a unique one, it implies his confident and culturally urban routes. Still sporting urban garments today, the singer’s style has become a staple of the British High Street. His wardrobe consists of Adidas, VisVim, Neighborhood and BAPE (and of course that old neon pink tracksuit, who could forget that?!). Lean and lanky, Brown’s memorable features add to the iconic look he helps create. While usually street and sportswear is unshakable from skate and music culture, Neighborhoods approach has been geared towards the small but hardcore motorcycle subculture in Japan. Shinsuke Takizawa founded the Harajuku brand matching with these interests. Heavily washed, overly distressed premium denim and leather jackets have been statements through Neighborhood’s magnificent career. The uber-cool streetwear retains a level of high-end sophistication that is perfect for the man Ian Brown has become. For Ian Brown hasn’t always been so fashion aware, his trips to Japan in the ’90s clearly helped define his tastes and long gone are the loose, baggy money-around-the-neck tees from the ‘Fool’s Gold’ video, now we have a man who is kitted out in only the absolute best Japanese gear. He’s had a stint rocking BAPE head-to-toe but he’s even moved on from that in recent years. As Nigo decided to call it a day on BAPE and venture into other projects, his exclusively priced Human Made also became a favourite for Browny, I imagine walking into his wardrobe and seeing never ending ‘Ian Brown x Adidas Superstars’, rows upon rows of BAPE and Human Made t’s sandwiched by VisVim and Neighborhood jackets. I imagine it’s pretty close to what heaven would look like.

Only last year at the Isle of Wight festival Ian Brown, like a ball of sun, sported his VisVim cagoule, presumably it was the first thing that caught his eye in his ever growing wardrobe. The label itself is known for its distinct aesthetics and amazing craftsmanship. Hiroki Nakamuras designs are developed through outside influences and things he has seen, he often seeks the advice of his wide range of friends, a community of artists, musicians, writers, and designers to create new ideas. Visvim started out as a cultish mens shoe label but has grown into a full-fledged lifestyle brand. Thanks to the likes of Ian Brown, Kanye and John Mayer, awareness of the Japanese brand’s presence has risen in the mainstream consciousness. A lot of the product is made-to-order for the individual, so the show is custom-built for customers and is invite only. How do you say, “cool guy” in Japanese?