Let’s start with a confession: Japanese menswear, the really good stuff, breaks my brain. Signals get crossed, synapses misfire, and suddenly, without realizing I’ve even opened my wallet, I’ve got a new jacket in my hands. Or, worse, it inspires an obsession. Late nights spent hunched over a keyboard, staring longingly at a particular piece of clothing, trying to tally up what it’d cost to use a proxy service to ship it to the States—it’s happened.
Sounds a little sad, huh? Well, that’s love. But I am not alone. There are many more like me, and our numbers grow daily. And now, thanks to Nordstrom and revered Japanese retailer Beams, we have been blessed with an oasis of easygoing, Americana-infused Japanese style right here at home. The latest iteration of the New Concepts series of shop-in-shop pop-ups, “Concept 007: Beams” brings together Beams’ in-house brands (there are a few) with Japanese and American collaborators, and drops the hundred-plus items on offer in eight North American Nordstrom locations, as well as online.
“I’ve got a pretty longstanding personal relationship with the guys at Beams, and I’ve always been a massive fan of their take on men’s, but specifically their take on Americana,” says Sam Lobban, Nordstrom’s VP of Men’s Fashion. “As a retailer, they’ve always done a really great job of taking those classic American style ideas, and then putting that together with the very unique lens of the Japanese Americana fanatic, and then presenting it in a super understandable way to a Japanese audience.”
For the New Concepts project, the idea was to draw that interplay between styles and regions out even further. “I was super keen to take that idea and transport it back to North America and present it to a North American customer,” Lobban explains. “I like the journey.”
For Beams, teaming up was a no brainer. “For a while now, we had been looking for an opportunity to present Beams in the U.S.,” says Makoto Toda, Beams' creative supervisor. Toda says the company was “thrilled” to be tapped by Lobban for the project, not just because of the new markets it would introduce Beams to—“most were locations that our brands have never landed before”—but because it would show American shoppers what Beams really stands for. “Because this is a special stage within Nordstrom, we are able to present Beams in a fuller capacity,” Toda says, “in the true sense of who we are—a multi-brand, multi-category retail curation.”
To that end, Lobban, Toda, and the rest of the Nordstrom and Beams teams brought on a slew of collaborators and contributors. From Japan, brands like Sasquatchfabrix, orSlow, and Teätora represent something that your average American customer maybe hasn’t seen before. By the same token, Beams and Nordstrom put their own spin on stuff that stateside shoppers definitely have encountered, creating a tweaked pair of New Balance 990v5s, Brooks Brothers pajamas loosely based on ones worn by Kurt Cobain, and a whole collection of Polo Ralph Lauren gear, complete with a custom Polo Bear. Combined with Beams' own product, the lineup is designed to “really, full circle, tell that story of a Japanese retailer’s unique take on style,” says Lobban.
“The thing that’s always struck me is the Japanese ability to take an idea, a design idea or language or aesthetic, and really drill down to its core,” Lobban says. “And then expand all of those ideas, and take it to places where I don’t necessarily know if the originator ever intended. For me, that’s what they do with all products—they do it with British style, as well—but I’d suggest that that notion is never more prevalent than with what they do with Americana.”
Taking a look through the racks (or scrolling through the site), you can see it in the collection. Here, some tie-dye and cargo trousers. There, a raglan-sleeve overcoat. A heavyweight turtleneck T-shirt sits next to a graphic hoodie, which sits near a flannel blazer and trousers. The thing is that turtleneck is almost aggressively oversized. And the overcoat is done up in a patchwork array of classic menswear patterns. “It’s a souped-up take on American style,” Lobban explains. Familiar, but not quite. And it’s the kind of thing more and more guys are gravitating toward.
“Everything is cyclical, to a point,” Lobban says, pointing to the way streetwear’s reign on men’s style seems to be slackening, if not quite drawing to a close. “For one reason or another, it feels like there’s a decent number of people who are migrating back to the Japanese styling thing.” He’s quick to note that it’s as much about the way you put things together as it is about the product. But when it comes to how real guys are shopping, you can never discount the importance of the latter.
“Most guys just want to look stylish and like they’re into products and into clothes,” Lobban says. “By the nature of that, there’s always space for a guy to just have a really nice coat or sweater, or a really good pair of jeans in their wardrobe.” That’s where Beams and Nordstrom–and, more broadly, Japanese menswear in general—come into play. There’s how you style it, sure; that’s a core element. But it’s also about what you’re styling. As Lobban says, “That’s one of the other foundations of the Japanese take on style: a real emphasis on genuine products.”
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