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A brief lesson – The origins of Streetwear

An E-Friend of mine, that I have never met in real life before, wrote a brief text about the history of streetwear and its protagonists (click here to check his video: The history about Streetwear part 1). From Japans Hiroshi Fujiwara up to the legend Shawn Stüssy. Furthermore, the next generation formed by Jun Takahashi and Nigo.

Sam, calling himself Abu Fashion on Youtube, runs a channel talking about all those different Designers, Brands and Artist and their history. He shows us his point of view on the fashion scene, the latest trends and even hyped stuff.


1. Introduction

‘He wears the finest clothes, the best designers heaven knows – Ooh, from his head down to his toes – Halston, Gucci, Fiorucci – He looks like a still, that man is dressed to kill.’ (Sister Sledge, 1979) It is the ‘Time before Crack’. The photographer Jamel Shabazz describes this period of time through his pictures in the early 1980’s, showing young men and women from New York City, wearing sweat suits with sneakers. Adidas and Puma, Lee jeans, hats from Kangol and Clarks shoes. Street style and culture are born, an image with a recall value. All is about being ‘Street’, wearing chains, having fresh haircuts and matching clothes. Furthermore, the music genre of Hip-Hop is becoming more popular, Run-DMC and Co. are leading the music charts. Welcome to the streets of New York where it all began, but it never continued.

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While the United States had to solve big issues, it is a small district called Ura-Hara and its protagonist named Hiroshi Fujiwara from Japan, who continued the journey of the street style and culture. A man full of surprises. Not only as a DJ, he appears in Tokyo’s clubs, but also as a designer and stylist. Especially his magazines lead him to the summit. It is later Nigo and Co. who see Fujiwara’s work as a motivation and reconnect with the West. But, how could one person do that and why is he such an icon in the world of fashion and especially streetwear. In what way did Fujiwara influence young people and what is his role in the whole world of fashion?


 2. Japanese Streetwear Culture

Japan’s fashion starts very early and is shaped by coincidences representing brands and designers that we still know today. These include Comme De Garcons or Yohji Yamamoto. With Harajuku, Japan is building a cornerstone in the fashion world, which ultimately serves as a figurehead for street fashion and takes on another dimension with the help of Hiroshi Fujiwara. Streetwear, as we know it today comes from a small section of Harajuku called Ura-Hara. ‘Ura’ means under and defines the underground of Harajuku.


2.1 Harajuku & Ura Hara

It is hard to believe, but it is the small town of Harajuku in Tokyo, which is considered the source of fashion and street fashion in Japan. After the end of the Second World War, Harajuku slowly but surely develops to the known fashion’s access point. Due to the almost random influence of the West, things that were unthinkable for Japan are forming.

The war had changed a lot. Between the long route from Osaka to Tokyo, it is the only area that is different from the rest of Japan. The famous fashion critic Takeji Hirakawa tells about his childhood in 1955 and describes Harajuku as very modern and distinguished, compared to his home in Osaka. At the time of the war, residential estates were built, also better known as the Washington Heights. American citizens who worked for the military and the state used to live here. Thus, something changed in Harajuku. It was a phenomenon that did not exist before. Suddenly, Harajuku becomes a place full of international knowledge and people. At that time, it was very unusual to be confronted with Western culture, its fashion and lifestyle.

Takeji Hirakawa mentions: ‘In 1958 Harajuku took a step closer to its modern, international, and stylish self with the construction of Central Apartments, soon to be occupied by the living and working spaces of fashion designers, models, photographers, and graphic designers.’ After the Olympics in the summer of 1964 in Tokyo, a strong, natural feeling emerges in Harajuku. There is a night life and the first boutiques open. Young people move around the houses and call themselves Harajuku-zoku. Very soon, Harajuku becomes known as the place where everyone is trying to find their way into the Japanese fashion world.

Many people decide to rent apartments or studios to do their work at the heart of the action, to implement and publish their ideas. These people became better known as ‘Mansion Makers’. Harajuku never really was an expensive place.

Especially the backstreets of it, better know as Ura-Hara, became a good place to start working.

Ura-Hara is the alter-ego of Harajuku’s glitzy side. Where Harajuku is frenetic and gaudy and exhibitionist, Ura-Hara is served, almost monochromatic in palette, and hidden. Men and women are separated. Ura-Hara is studded with male designers and also the market mostly caters only to men. But these are people who do not just embrace the commercial culture and fashion of the West, but have developed an interest in hip-hop, graffiti, and the culture of skating. In the late 1980’s, Ura-Hara becomes the place that covers multiple subcultures and evolves into a movement. The reason for this development in Ura-Hara was Hiroshi Fujiwara. Later, names like Nigo and Jonio represent the movement in Ura-Hara next to Fujiwara.


2.2 The beginning of Hiroshi Fujiwara

In 1982, the journey begins. At the age of 18, Hiroshi sets off for a new world.

A rather shy person, who sets a lot in motion with his step to Europe and America. The first stop for Fujiwara is London. Above all, he is interested in music and culture. He gets work at the World’s End. A very special store for anyone interested in fashion.

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Vivienne Westwood and her boyfriend Malcolm McLaren begin selling Rock ‘n’ Roll records in the Paradise Garage in 1971. McLaren at that time, was the manager of the punk band: Sex Pistols.

The Paradise Garage has been selling clothes before, but with the idea of Westwood and her Teddy Boy clothes, she takes over the store with McLaren. They change the name to ‘Let it Rock’. Vivienne Westwood: ’After that each time we designed a new collection we changed the name of the shop and the decor until in 1981 we presented my first catwalk show, clothes for pirates called “Worlds End”.’

In an interview with the magazine Hypebeast, Fujiwara mentions: ‘Punk was one of the first things that I really loved. The idea of rebellion, or being anti-something—that energy is really iconic.’ The experience he gained in London later influenced much of his work. Malcolm McLaren, asks Fujiwara to go to New York. Already at a young age, his interest in music and his love for other cultures arouse art as well. In New York, he then pursues artists who were active during the 1980s. These include people like Basquiat or Andy Warhol.

Fujiwara only went back to Japan when it came to making money, such as his DJ appearances in the latest clubs or fashion shows in Tokyo. What made him special, was the use of his own records. Before, there was only a selection given by the club itself, but he revolutionized it and used a completely new technique: scratching and mixing. This is the first time he introduces hip-hop to Japan.


3. Streetwear becomes International

In 1986, he moves to Los Angeles to interview the surfer, Shawn Stussy. Stussy inspires him and influences his brands later on. At a time when skateboarding brands were very rock orientated, rather than hip-hop focused, what Hiroshi loved about Stussy was it’s unique approach to surf wear, mixing references from a myriad of backgrounds from street culture, fashion, art and even music into one brand. Amongst other things, Stussy is the person who helped Japanese brands getting international, by promoting and selling them to the whole world. Hiroshi becomes part of the Stussy Tribe and they send him boxes with the latest products.

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The name of Hiroshi’s first brand Electric Cottage, was given by Shawn Stussy and also his brand called Goodenough, which launched in 1990, was inspired by the brand Stussy.

But, who did Hiroshi Fujiwara inspire and what did that lead to? It is the Japanese youth seeing his process. Probably, one of his most famous followers were two young men named Jun Takahashi and Tomoaki Nagao, better known as Jonio and Nigo.


3.1 Hiroshi Fujiwara’s influence on Japan

The Japanese market was very empty at that time. Through his travels to Europe and the US, Fujiwara had accumulated much information, which helped him to earn success. Whether fashion or music, Fujiwara always had the latest information.

In 1987, Fujiwara starts publishing his interests through a magazine called ‘Takarajima’. The title of his column is ‘Last Orgy.’ This is about the most important and latest trends from the West. Music, whether punk or hip-hop, to graffiti, sneakers and fashion. Here comes the breakthrough of Hiroshi Fujiwara and suddenly he is the mouthpiece of the youth and the filter for the coolest information in the country. In an interview with Hypebeast he responds that people always were looking for new information and that his advantage was, that he always had the latest information, because he was so well connected. ‘If you want to know what’s going on, ask Hiroshi.’

Fujiwara himself speaks about the word atmosphere and that this can be different everywhere, even if perhaps the same product is present. To quote him: ‘When you got to a club in London or New York, you feel so good with great music. But if you bring the same music to play in Japanese clubs, it would create a completely different atmosphere. So conversely, you cannot bring the atmosphere overseas to Japan. Maybe it’s the people, the audience and the culture.’


3.2 Nigo & Jonio

Small groups arise. After Last Orgy becomes a video format, guys get together and watch every single episode over and over again. One of those many followers in Japan is Tomoaki Nagao. He starts recording each episode and watching with his friends. His friends called him Nigo, which means ‘number two’  because of his enthusiasm to Fujiwara. As the chance would have it, they also look alike. To get closer to his idol, Nigo moves to Tokyo. At the fashion institute of Bunka Fukuso Gakuin he participates in a course for magazine editors. Here, Nigo also meets a boy named Jun Takahashi, also known as Jonio. At a young age, Jonio is interested in punk and in Vivienne Westwood. For the first time, the magazine Popeye draws his attention to Hiroshi Fujiwara. Later he starts to read Last Orgy.

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Just in a few weeks, Nigo becomes the assistant of Fujiwara. He starts to work as an stylist and editor for the magazine Popeye in the early 90’s. On behalf of Hiroshi, Nigo even takes care of the second part of Last Orgy. After a while of working and DJ-ing in Japan, he leaves Hiroshi Fujiwara and decides to do something on his own after his mentor has given him enough knowledge.

After the success of Fujiwara’s brand Goodenough, he motivates Nigo and Jonio to continue and to take the next step. Thus, Jonio and Nigo together open the store called ‘Nowhere’ in 1993. However, they did not want to be in the main part of Harajuku, but in the famous background Ura-Hara. The store is divided in two halves. On the one hand there is Jonio with his brand ‘Undercover’ while on the other half Nigo offers a variety of streetwear.

Undercover is growing fast, but Nigo’s concept does not succeed. It does not take long and Nigo decides to create a brand. ‘A Bathing Ape’ is born.

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A Bathing Ape, better known as ‘Bape’, also dates back to 1993. It is the movie series ‘Planet of the Apes’ and a comic book by Takashi Nemoto that bears the name and logo of Bape. By printing his logo on T-Shirts and jackets with an American vintage style, he starts working.

Over the time, the streetwear scene is developing faster in Japan. In 1994, Last Orgy 3 releases with the three most famous protagonists: Fujiwara, Nigo and Jonio. In the same year a new store for the Undercover women’s clothing section is created and Fujiwara and Jonio do a collaboration. They release limited edition bomber jackets with the brand name ‘Anarchy Forever Forever Anarchy’. The products sell within seconds. With their success, more group members move into the public and other brands such as ‘Neigberhood’ or ‘Hectic’ result.

In 1999, Nigo moves away from Ura-Hara. Bape should become mainstream. So, he moves his store to an area called Aoyama. It becomes the most successful Japanese streetwear brand. Nigo has the biggest outreach and connects Japan with America and the UK. He builds an empire with Bape. Not only other stores are being built, but also new product lines or even hairdressing salons. He starts collaborating with brands like Pepsi or musicians like Pharrell Williams.


4. The famous flash: Fragment

All in all, Hiroshi Fujiwara is responsible for a new culture in Japan. Music and fashion are becoming a big topic of conversation for the youth. It motivates many young people to become part of the movement and gives them dreams and new goals. Fujiwara’s influence on Japan and especially on the youth is enormous.

There are brands like Bape or Undercover that are still bought and worn by many young people today. Brands that would never have existed if it had not been for the influence of Hiroshi Fujiwara. Even streetwear brands that are known in the West, such as Supreme have emerged after the success of the Japanese scene.

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With his flash logo, also better known as ‘Fragment Design’, Fujiwara sets the entire fashion world and its fans in motion. The Logo was inspired by his old brand ‘Electric Cottage’. He sees Fragment Design not as a brand, but more as a kind of one-man agency. In the past there have been brands like Nike or later Louis Vuitton making use of his fragment design. Collaborating is something he invented. It is about helping and giving new information to each other.

He does not greatly change the design or product, which would be expected. The fragment logo feels more like a stamp. Fujiwara seems like Zorro. He comes into the room, puts his stamp and disappears again as if he had not been there. He is the inventor of the underground and stays there, by not showing himself. Nevertheless, he manages to become interesting in the overground. His ‘influence’ just needs to be recognizable and most of the products are sold out within seconds. Brands and stores organize raffles to give everyone the chance to get an item designed by him. Hiroshi is like a kind of marketing tool.

He is also the inventor of limited editions. Especially nowadays, many brands use it as a strategy. In the book Tokyo Street Style by Tiffany Godoy, Hiroshi Fujiwara mentions: ‘The whole idea of limited edition culture is about image, and no one makes money off it. The people that make money are the people who resell it.’ Fujiwara stands for culture and it is his history and authenticity, that makes him ‘The Godfather of Streetwear’.

Fotos: Daniel Mayer / Text: Abu Fashion / Styling: Moubsen / Model: Moubsen / Creative Direction: Moubsen & Daniel Mayer

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