Tag Archives: Japan

Yokan Collection Singapore Edition 2017

The first edition of Yokan Collection was unveiled at the National Museum of Singapore in October 2017. Over 100 types of yokan went on display and visitors to the exhibition could taste the sweets and also witness the beautiful creations of the yokan made by famous and skilled Japanese wagashi chefs.

Yokan is a collection of Japanese signature sweets that are enjoyed and well-loved by many in Japan. The delicacy can be savoured on its own, lightly taken between main meals or be paired with beverages such as green and black tea, champagne or wine to enhance the enjoyment of this traditional Japanese sweet. What makes a good yokan really depends on the right blend of key ingredients, the art of artisanal candy-making and also the artful presentations to keep up with the changing taste profiles of consumers.

During the preview, we managed to taste three types of yokans: Traditional Yokan matched with Matcha Tea, Steamed Yokan paired with Cold Sencha and the Seasonal Yokan with premium Cold Sencha. The more traditional yokans are made with very simple ingredients by blending Azuki red beans, agar and sugar to form a smooth paste.

The traditional yokan has a refreshing red bean flavour and a slight sweetness to it with a chewy texture. As for the seasonal yokans, the ingredients are used to create delicious pieces, aligned with the palette of the different seasons in Japan, only when they are prime and ripe for harvest.

We interviewed Mr Mitsu  Kurokawa, Managing Director of Toraya and also the 18th generation’s maker of Wagashi (the traditional Japanese sweets), who flew down from Japan to debut the first Yokan Collection in Singapore.

We’ve witnessed the beauty of Yokan as well as the craft and refined tastes in Yokan. What else are you excited about?

This is the first edition of the Yokan Collection held at the National Museum of Singapore. We are very excited to bring a wide selection of signature sweets to Singapore, specially crafted by the Yokan shops from throughout Japan. Visitors can view the demonstrations of yokans and see how the sweets are made. As this event is funded by the Japanese government, we are pleased to promote the various Japanese brands and introduce our culture and tradition to the locals as well. You will see women dressed in traditional kimonos and we have also brought in a few popular Japanese teas to pair with the desserts and more. To inject some fun and creativity into the event, we put up a 3D video mapping to project the different types of yokans on a large wall.

What has been most challenging about bringing the taste of Yokan to Asia and what else can be done to attract more people to better appreciate the handmade Japanese sweets?

We hope that the yokan varieties are not too foreign for their liking and that the locals can adapt to the sweetness and flavours of the Japanese delicacies. Through this exhibition, Singaporeans will have a better idea of the culture and history of yokans. We are treating guests to a wide range of the artful yokans infused with exotic flavours and aromas of Asia, specially created by Japanese wagashi chefs. I really hope that Singaporeans will enjoy the best of gastronomic and cultural experience that Japan has to offer.

What is the overall strategy to reposition Toraya for the next century?

If you are talking about the next century, it means planning and strategising for the long-term. We need to think about keeping up with changes and coming up with solutions to move the brand forward and survive the next 100 years. Part of the strategies is to make the best sweets, improve on the recipes and refine the tastes to suit our consumer’s palate. My great grandfather had been making yokan from locally grown Azuki beans from the crop which he had cultivated with the locals many years ago. The red beans are still a very precious resource in Japan. Today, we are able to harvest the Azuki beans from the same crop and use them to support the production of our sweets. I am hoping to do something that can be beneficial to the industry, like growing Azuki beans in different parts of the world to meet the growing demands.

 

Lexus reveals two ‘Black Panther’ inspired LC models

Photo Courtesy of Lexus

Lexus reveals two ‘Black Panther’ inspired LC models

Japanese luxury manufacturer, Lexus has partnered Marvel Studios to construct one-of-a-kind car models. The automaker is pleased announce the release of its limited-edition 2018 Lexus LC Inspiration Series model and a concept coupe dubbed the “Black Panther” ahead of the Marvels’ Black Panther”, which is slated to screen in the US theatres on Feb 16 next year.

The automotive vehicle (pictured above) will come in an exclusive deeply saturated, iridescent structural blue colour, is the company’s intention to build for each of its flagship models. While the overtly Black Panther Inspired LC concept coupe features a propulsion system that will get extra boost from vibranium, and a mythical ore found only in Wakanda.

At the unveiling of the new models in Los Angeles, Brian Bolain, General Manager of Lexus Marketing said: “The Inspiration Series takes our flagship products and makes them even more exclusive and distinguished.” He added that “Our collaboration with Marvel Studios’ ‘Black Panther’ features a technologically advanced blue LC and was the perfect inspiration for the first car in the Series.”

“And the LC’s aggressive styling, high performance and agile handling are a perfect fit for the Black Panther’s quick, cat-like reflexes and superhuman feats. We’re excited to see the duo in action.” – Brian Bolain, General Manager of Lexus Marketing

“This is what it’s all about,” commented Marvel’s senior vice president of global partnerships and marketing, Mindy Hamilton, “We’re bringing our two worlds together by letting our imaginations run wild like there are no limits to what’s possible. It’s been incredible to work with Lexus as we attempt to re-create that ideology here in our own corner of the universe.”

Engineered to perfection, the new design of the LC 500 flagship coupe is made to look expressive and stylish, further enhanced by the dynamic capability and car performance.

The 2018 Lexus LC Inspiration Series is limited to100 pieces only and will be up for grab in the US in the spring. Also, The Black Panther Inspired LC and Inspiration Series LC will be on show at SEMA (Specialty Equipment Market Association) on Oct 31 in Las Vegas, United States of America.

 

 

 

 

Real estate investment in Tokyo, Japan from Chiyoda to Roppongi

Tokyo Tower with skyline in Japan

Although Tokyo’s attractiveness as a destination for residential real estate investors is sometimes divisive, its main strengths of having a highly liquid markets and a wide yield spread mean that the city often allows for good returns.

When naysayers express concern, this is usually premised on growing scepticism over the ability of Abenomics to cure Japan’s economic ills, together with a lack of willing sellers in the current negative-interest-rate environment. Such sentiments are understandable, because it is probably likely that most owners are in no rush currently to sell away their assets, whilst at the same time there is limited buying pressure amongst entrants.

Nonetheless, Tokyo homes continue to provide healthy returns and liquidity, see high occupancy rates, and generate reliable rental income streams. All of these bolster their position as safe bets in a market where long-term fundamentals are being questioned.

Key to these thoughts about fundamentals is the question regarding the country’s economic prospects. On the other hand however, fund managers active in the real estate sector seem sanguine that there will be large amounts of new capital injected into the market in the coming years, which will be a net positive to prices and give the market some tailwind.

One commonly cited example is the Government Pension Investment Fund (GPIF) of Japan. While the GPIF has a global mandate, it is likely that managers cannot be putting the bulk of the money into overseas assets like in the US. Most observers expect that the bulk should still stay within the country, so Japan will still be the recipient of most of the funds, providing floor support to the price levels in the country.

Shibuya Crossing

Nonetheless, Tokyo’s housing market is likely to moderate after investment grew at its fastest in five years in April-June last year, but the benefits to consumer spending and employment could continue into this year due to the Bank of Japan (BOJ)’s negative interest rates. While the BOJ courted controversy by pushing rates below zero, putting banks offside in particular, the policy has proven a hit with first-time homebuyers and homeowners looking to refinance mortgages. Moreover, a rise in long-depressed property prices is causing some people to buy sooner, rather than later, which should lift demand for durable goods such as appliances and furniture—just the recipe to break Japan’s deflationary mentality.

This has been confirmed by retailer Ryohin Keikaku Co, which includes the Muji chain of stores. Furniture sales in particular, have been said to be doing well, and the company cites a healthy housing market, especially in Tokyo, to be one of the reasons why. The company has also expected such trends, having spent many years improving training for its furniture sales staff.

Lower rates have also sparked a more optimistic buying spree in residential real estate. Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ, a unit of Japan’s largest lender, has cut its prime lending rate for a 10-year fixed-rate mortgage to a record low of 0.5%. Mizuho Bank, its main rival, is charging 0.65%, and Sumitomo Mitsui Bank has 0.7%. A strong interest has been reported and residential property prices have been rising for the past three years in Tokyo.

ON THE MARKET

Majes Tower Roppongi

Situated in the highly sought-after area of Roppongi, the Majes Tower development from one of Japan’s biggest contractors, Tokyu Land looks set to be a coveted address. Known as a centre for culture, retail and business with reputed names such The Ritz-Carlton, Goldman Sachs and Apple in the neighbourhood, residences can enjoy a lifestyle like no other when buying in Roppongi. Alongside Michelin-starred restaurants, high-end shopping and city-life entertainment, the transport network is very practical, with the nearest station being a short four-minute walk away and thus an easy connection to all of the city’s major hubs.

The 27-storey residential tower has undergone a complete refurbishment since its construction in 2006 and now offers the luxurious living expected by the city’s most notable expats, CEOs and HNWIs. Boasting 83 units from studio to 2-bedroom abodes, it will attract investors both for its beautiful design and exceptional facilities such as the state-of-the-art gym. The stand-out façade sits well amongst Tokyo’s other skyscrapers, but the real wonders lay inside.

Light and contemporary, each condominium features up-to-date design that is mirrored in the communal areas of the building. An added bonus for the middle and higher floor levels are the stunning views of Roppongi, Shinjuku and Shibuya, as well as Tokyo Tower and Mt. Fuji. For a 459 sq. ft. studio, prices begin at JPY 82.5 million (approx. USD 756,881) whilst a larger two-bedroom premium unit of 1,202 sq. ft. requires a JPY 296.2 million (approx. USD 2.72 million) investment.

With high-end rental in high demand, and the market being the most expensive in Japan, the property is a worthy investment as well as those looking to live in one of the most desirable locations of Tokyo.

For more information:
www.jllresidential.com/sg/ips / Tel: +65 6494 3556

The Chiyoda Kojimachi Tower

The Chiyoda Kojimachi Tower is located in the historic Kojimachi neighbourhood of Chiyoda ward. The area encompasses the Imperial Palace, diplomatic quarters and was previously the birth place of numerous key political figures in Japanese history. With prices ranging between USD 880,000 to USD 2.2 million and spaces of 53.37 sqm to 90.12 sqm (approx. 574 sq. ft. to 970 sq. ft.) per apartment, this elegant development boasts interiors by Studio Sawada Design, known for their work on the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, the Four Seasons in Shanghai and the Mandarin Oriental in Tokyo. All units are fitted with private balconies and floor-to-ceiling windows, whilst those from the 17th floor and above will offer expansive views of the Tokyo skyline. A dedicated concierge will also see to daily wants, including room service, hair care, pet grooming, dry cleaning, housekeeping, baby-sitting and more. Situated on a quiet, leafy street just steps away from sought after schools as well as various lifestyle amenities, the 23-storey tower even features its own exclusive exit from the Kojimachi station, allowing for discreet and convenient travel. With 83 units due for completion in December 2018, apartments will be ready for delivery to buyers from February 2019.

For more information:
www.hjrealestate.com.sg / Tel: +65 6235 6866

This article was first published under Special Features in Palace 19.

Michelin Guide Hokkaido 2017 names two new three-star restaurants

The land of seafood, sushi and scenery gains another gastronomical advantage. After a five-year hiatus, Michelin inspectors returned to the second largest island of Japan in search of new dining destinations worthy of being admitted into the exclusive starred club. The result? Two new three Michelin-starred restaurants from the island of Hokkaido.

Michelin published a one-off guide for the island in 2012. Overall, the 2017 edition of the guide features 22 new Michelin-starred restaurants. Amongst these include Hanakoji Sawada, which serves a seasonal Japanese menu. The restaurant was promoted from its two-star standing to three stars. The 36-seat restaurant is located in the city of Sapporo.

Sushi Miyakawa now also boasts a triple-starred ranking. Three Michelin stars denote “exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey,” while two stars represent “excellent cooking, worth a detour.” A single star denotes “a very good restaurant in its category. Other notable new entries include Tempura araki, which received two stars, and Koyon Yamahisa, which unlocked its first star.

The Hokkaido Michelin guide 2017 launches officially on May 19.

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Louis Vuitton Cruise Collection 2018 by Nicolas Ghesquière in Kyoto, Japan

On May 14, luxury fashion magnate Louis Vuitton lifted the veil off their stunning 2018 Cruise Collection — at a venue that was just as breathtaking. Helmed by the brand’s creative director Nicolas Ghesquière, the collection was shown at the Miho Museum in Kyoto, Japan atop a metal bridge overlooking the Shingaraki Mountains. The shift to the I.M Pei designed venue comes after previous cruise collections being unveiled in Monaco, Palm Springs and Rio de Janeiro. Lauded as a venue that encapsulates the fusion of urban and natural, the beautiful scenery made the event truly one to not be missed. The star-studded event saw celebrities such as Michelle Williams, Sophie Turner, Fan Bing Bing and Jennifer Connelly in the front row.

The collaboration between Japanese designer Kansai Yamamoto and Louis Vuitton saw pieces infused with classic Japanese art and Kabuki-inspired designs. Japanese actress Rila Fukushima opened the show dressed in a belted fur jacket, along with a striped cotton shirt. Models took to the long catwalk in sequined t-shirt dresses alongside bold Kabuki prints, as well as garments resembling samurai armour and Japanese traditional dress. Sheer evening dresses shimmering with gold and silver sequins dazzled in the sunlight.

Accessories included Louis Vuitton’s iconic monogrammed bags and mini-trunks, but with an added twist by Kansai Yamamoto. The designer created symbols and icons resembling Kabuki masks for the accessories line, injecting another splash of vibrancy.

Japanese influences were prevalent even in the models’ makeup. Bold colours were blended seamlessly into the face, highlighted with the use of eyeliner and dramatic brows; referencing the Kabuki. The look played perfectly into the theme of fusing modernity and the traditional, standing out in the largely minimalist backdrop of the museum.

“I visited the Miho Museum a few years ago and was fascinated by I.M. Pei’s concept of the harmony between architecture and nature. Japan is a country I know well. It was one of the first places I travelled to when I was seeking inspiration, some 20 years ago, and I’ve been a regular visitor ever since. This collection is the culmination of what Japan has given to me for a very long time,” said Louis Vuitton creative director Nicolas Ghesquière in a statement.

Since the end of the 19th century, Louis Vuitton has always maintained strong ties with Japan: the mon (family crest) inspirations of the Monogram canvas; the long list of renowned Japanese clients; Louis Vuitton’s first store in Tokyo in 1978; and the collaborations with Japanese contemporary artists such as Takashi Murakami, Yayoi Kusama, Rei Kawabuko and today Hiroshi Fujiwara.

For more information, visit Louis Vuitton.

Complex 665

Art clusters in Tokyo, Japan from Tennozu Isle to Roppongi, Jingumae and Kiyosumi-Shirakawa

Interior view of an art gallery in Tokyo

Interior view of an art gallery in Tokyo

With a recent spurt of development driven by the prospect of the upcoming 2020 Olympic Games, the sprawling chaos of the Japanese capital has never seemed so urgent, enticing — and unnavigable. With an antiquated address system that relies on ambiguously demarcated block numbers (that seldom run in a linear sequence), and streets that mostly lack names, except for the biggest thoroughfares, Tokyo continues to befuddle even the most determined and well-prepared urban explorers.

The city’s art scene is no different. It’s known for playing a constant game of musical chairs every few years, no thanks in part to fickle landlords, difficult spaces, and a constant hack-and-rebuild ethos that forces art galleries to scuttle and regroup in new locations.

So where are these art clusters now? Here’s a short list of some of the main areas where art lovers might be able to spend a profitable afternoon in Tokyo.

Interior view of PIGMENT

Interior view of PIGMENT

Tennozu Isle

This bayside quarter, located just one monorail stop away from JR Hamamatsucho station, has become something of a rejuvenated post-industrial art district in recent years thanks to Warehouse TERRADA, a leading storage company that has been spearheading and supporting a number of art and design-related initiatives. Newly opened in the fall of last year is the TERRADA Art Complex, a high-ceilinged warehouse building housing four of the capital’s top contemporary art galleries: URANO, Yuka Tsuruno Gallery, Kodama Gallery, and Yamamoto Gendai.

Closer to Warehouse TERRADA’s corporate headquarters is PIGMENT, a sleek boutique, showroom, and lab dedicated to art materials and supplies. A series of streamlined bamboo screens and louvred patterns designed by Kengo Kuma forms the perfect backdrop to the stunning walls of Japanese mineral pigments, animal glue supplies, inkstones, and brushes. Just a short hop away is Archi-Depot, a mini-museum of architectural models by some of the country’s leading architects and architectural firms, like Shigeru Ban, Sou Fujimoto, and Kengo Kuma.

Complex 665

Complex 665

Roppongi

Home to several of the capital’s top art institutions, including the Mori Art Museum, the National Art Centre Tokyo, 21_21 DESIGN SIGHT, and the Suntory Museum of Art, Roppongi is also where art lovers can spend a full afternoon exploring contemporary art galleries. In the Piramide Building, you’ll find Ota Fine Arts, whose founder Hidenori Ota has worked with superstar artist Yayoi Kusama since the late 1980s and also shows younger artists like Tomoko Kashiki and Singapore’s Zai Kuning; Wako Works of Art, which shows primarily European artists like Gerhard Richter, Joan Jonas, and Fiona Tan; Zen Foto Gallery, where you’ll find mostly Japanese and Chinese photography; and YKG/Yutaka Kikutake Gallery, run by a former director of Taka Ishii Gallery, which shows upcoming Japanese artists like Nerhol and Reina Mikame. And slated to join them this spring is French dealer Emmanuel Perrotin, whose ground-floor space will be the latest addition to a gallery empire with existing outposts in Paris, New York, Hong Kong, and Seoul.

A new addition to the Roppongi district that opened last October is Complex 665, a modest three-storey building nestling in the shadow of Roppongi Hills that houses Taka Ishii Gallery, ShugoArts, and Tomio Koyama Gallery. Taka Ishii showcases both Japanese and international artists like Sterling Ruby, Risaku Suzuki, and Elmgreen & Dragset, ShugoArts represents the likes of Ritsue Mishima, Lee Kit, and Shigeo Toya, while Tomio Koyama shows work by Shooshie Sulaiman, Mika Ninagawa, and Yoko Ono.

Yurie Nagashima at Maho Kubota Gallery

Yurie Nagashima at Maho Kubota Gallery

Jingumae

Primarily a residential neighbourhood on the fringe of teen fashion mecca Harajuku, Jingumae is slowly coalescing into a creative neighbourhood, not just for art, but also for gourmet dining. Its northern edge, Jingumae 2-chome, is home to Jimbocho Den, a two-Michelin-starred establishment helmed by maverick chef Zaiyu Hasegawa, which moved into spanking new premises at the beginning of this year, while down the street is the Japanese-French restaurant Florilège. Led by Hiroyasu Kawate, the intimate 22-seater was named Asia’s One to Watch by Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants last year. Meanwhile, Maho Kubota Gallery, one of Tokyo’s newest contemporary art galleries opened in March last year down a quiet street in the same neighbourhood. A former director at SCAI The Bathhouse, Kubota also serves as a committee member for Art Basel Hong Kong, and her modest but immaculate white cube space shows everything from Julian Opie to Japanese ‘girly’ photographer Yurie Nagashima.

Closer to JR Harajuku station just a few steps from Takeshita Dori, you’ll find the Japan outpost of LA-based gallery Blum & Poe, which moved into a light-filled space overlooking the verdant grounds of the Meiji Shrine in 2014. Recent shows have focused on reappraisals of key Japanese Mono-ha (“school of things”) artists like Kishio Suga and Susumu Koshimizu, as well as Western masters like Robert Morris, Richard Prince, or Juergen Teller.

Interior view of Sakoto Oe Contemporary

Interior view of Sakoto Oe Contemporary

Kiyosumi-Shirakawa

Another semi-cluster of galleries has congregated in the Kiyosumi-Shirakawa neighbourhood of east Tokyo, within walking distance of the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo (MOT, currently closed for major renovations). Satoko Oe Contemporary, run by a former director of ShugoArts, opened in February 2016 on a quiet street of this shitamachi (old down town) neighbourhood, mixing with other new arrivals like cafes and design ateliers (nearby, you’ll find cult coffee roaster Blue Bottle Coffee’s workshop). Oe shows younger Japanese artists working in an eclectic, freestyle fashion such as Chihiro Mori and Teppei Kaneuji. Also in the area is MUJIN-TO Production, headed by Rika Fujiki, which shows some of Japan’s hottest emerging artists like Chim↑Pom, Lyota Yagi, and Meiro Koizumi.

Soon to join the Kiyosumi gallery district this spring in a new location close to the MOT is Kana Kawanishi Gallery, which focuses on experimental work by younger emerging Japanese photographers. Kawanishi, who studied fashion history in Tokyo and New York and previously served as the Tokyo coordinator for Rizzoli before opening her eponymous gallery in 2015, is careful to “not look too much at trends,” choosing rather to just focus on “introducing good artists with strong philosophies,” such as Ryoichi Fujisaki and Hideo Anze.

For more information, please visit tokyotomo.org.

This article was written by Darryl Wee and originally published in Art Republik.

New gallery space in Japan: Gallerist Emmanuel Perrotin opening “Perrotin Tokyo” in June 2017

French gallerist Emmanuel Perrotin furthers his international reach and connection to the Asian art scene with an upcoming new space in Tokyo. Perrotin Tokyo will be located on the ground floor of the Piramide building, which was built in the 1990s. Architect André Fu and his design studio AFSO were the brains behind the gallery’s modernist space at Roppongi.

Following his long-standing original gallery space in Paris, Perrotin has since spread with hubs in Hong Kong (opened in 2012), Seoul (opened in 2016, in front of the Blue House/President’s residence and the Gyeongbok Palace), and New York (opened in 2013, having recently moved from an uptown address to a downtown one).

Perrotin’s roster of artists includes Maurizio Cattelan, Takashi Murakami, Sophie Calle, KAWS, Ryan McGinley, Jean-Michel Othoniel, Aya Takano, Tatiana Trouvé, Xavier Veilhan, and Xu Zhen, amongst others.

The opening exhibition is dedicated to 97-year-old Pierre Soulages’s recent abstract paintings, articulated in resin rather than oils, which were presented previously in New York. Soulages has a special relationship with Japan, where his work was exhibited and valorized very early in his career. In 1951, his paintings were exhibited at the May Salon at Takashimaya, and years later at the Tokyo International Biennial. In 1969, the Tokyo MOMAT exhibited an ensemble of his canvases, before his major retrospective at the Seibu Museum of Art in Tokyo, which traveled to Korea, China and Taiwan. More recently, Soulages’s oeuvre has been presented in several collective shows in Japan, including at the Suntory Museum of Art in 2017.

In the months leading up to the inauguration, Perrotin Tokyo’s facade currently features the work of French artist JR, notably the project he created by for the Louvre in 2016. He made the famous pyramid ‘disappear’ in plain sight, in an illusion that covered the entire I.M. Pei structure.

The dynamic Roppongi neighborhood has other neighboring art spaces; the Piramide building alone hosts London Gallery, Ota Fine Arts, Wako Works Of Art, YKG / Yutaka Kikutake Gallery and Zen Foto Gallery. In the area, the museums and galleries include the Mori Art Museum, the Suntory Museum of Art, the National Art Center, Kaikai Kiki Gallery, Taka Ishii Gallery Photography / Film, Take Ninagawa, amongst others.

Perrotin Tokyo will be at the Piramide Building, 1F, 6-6-9 Roppongi, Minato-ku, 106-0032 Tokyo

Riva Yachts presence in Asia grows, with imports to Japan and Hong Kong

The Riva 76 Perseo picked up a trophy in Boat of the Year Awards at the Japan International Boat Show in Yokohama in March. The famous coupé is one of the biggest vessels currently imported into Japan and marks what some observers see as a gradual boating market turn-around in the world’s third-largest economy after nearly three decades in the doldrums. Maria Beatrice Baraldini and Fabio Massimo Discoli, executives of Ferretti Asia-Pacific, received the award.

Meanwhile, the first Riva 100 Corsaro left the Ligurian Sea aboard a freighter and reached Hong Kong in April, where Riva held the first-ever world launch of a model outside Europe or North America, adding emphasis to the growing importance of the region.

Unveiled in March too was the new 50 metre Riva, “first born of the Riva Superyachts Division” at Ancona, where Ferretti brands CRN, Pershing and Custom Line build in light alloy, steel and fibreglass.

Describing this as “turning a dream of Carlo Riva into something tangible”, Alberto Galassi, CEO of Ferretti Group, said that the steel-hulled yacht would be a naval masterpiece offering comfort, elegance and naval art values that had been a hallmark of the brand for the last 175 years.

For more information, visit Riva Yacht and Ferretti.

Luxury spending trends 2017: Japan second largest luxury market in the world

Tight-fisted shoppers, unsteady economic growth and a shrinking population: Japan doesn’t exactly fit the image of a spending powerhouse these days. But you would never know it in Ginza — Tokyo’s answer to the Champs-Elysees or Fifth Avenue — where a new 13-storey upscale mall is proving that Japan is still a whale in the luxury business.

The country logs some $22.7 billion in annual spending on top-end goods made by brands including Chanel, Dior, and Prada, ranking it as the world’s number two luxury market behind the United States. “Luxury products may be more expensive, but they are very well-made,” said 79-year-old Toshiko Obu, carrying her longtime Fendi bag outside the Ginza Six building, which has been drawing big crowds since last week’s opening.

Japan is renowned among the world’s priciest retailers for its discriminating clientele—Chanel tries to keep local customers physically separated from tourists packing more cash than class. “You shouldn’t forget that a big portion of the luxury clientele is here in Japan,” Sidney Toledano, chairman and CEO of Christian Dior Couture, told AFP at the opening of the 241-store building. “It remains a strategic market for luxury and, I’d say, true luxury.”

‘Biting their fingernails’

Dior is counting on Japan’s luxury market to rise this year, while rival Chanel is also expecting an upbeat 2017 after global sales of personal luxury goods barely grew last year. “We did not lose our character,” said Richard Collasse, head of Chanel in Japan. “There are brands that are suffering—the ones that at some stage stopped investing in Japan because China was the new El Dorado. And today they are biting their fingernails.”

Few brands predicted that deep-pocketed Chinese shoppers visiting Japan would support its luxury market—tourists account for about one-third of top-end spending.

Japan is hoping to land 40 million visitors in 2020, the year that Tokyo hosts the Olympics. Last year, some six million Chinese visited, compared with 2.4 million in 2014. “Historically, (Japan has) been a very insular luxury market where 90 to 95 percent of the spending was by locals,” said Joëlle de Montgolfier, Paris-based director of consumer and luxury product research at consultancy Bain & Company. But now some 30 percent of sales are generated by foreign visitors owing to tourism, she added.

A stronger yen dented visitors’ purchasing power last year, with luxury sales down one percent, after a nine percent rise in 2015. Dior’s Toledano said it is an opportunity to refocus on Japanese clientele. “We don’t ignore tourists, of course, but we’re not a duty-free shop,” he added.

‘Touching everything’

Some other Chanel shops in Tokyo have a separate cosmetics and perfume section reserved for top Japanese customers, in a bid to keep them away from the nouveau riche crowd. It also tips off local clientele about the expected arrival time of tourist buses so they can avoid them.”The loyal Japanese clients tend to run away from customers who were not very well raised and are wearing whatever or lying all over the sofa, touching everything,” said Chanel’s Collasse.

Dior’s haute couture show at the new mall’s opening featured Japanese-inspired dresses, underscoring a focus on the local market. But warning signs lurk behind smiling clerks and glitzy interiors at the new property on one of the world’s priciest shopping streets. Japan has struggled to reverse a decades-long economic slump while a falling population continues to shrink its labour force—and the pool of future luxury consumers.

Younger people, many on tenuous work contracts, don’t have the money or the same interest in luxury brands anymore, especially since top-end goods can now be rented online instead, said Naoko Kuga, a consumer lifestyle analyst at Tokyo’s NLI Research Institute. “When you look at consumer purchasing behaviour, younger people put less value on luxury brand products” than previous generations, she said.

Design exhibitions, Japan: Yokohama Museum of Art hosts “The Elegant Other: Cross-cultural Encounters in Fashion and Art”

The Yokohama Museum of Art presents its new exhibition: The Elegant Other: Cross-cultural Encounters in Fashion and Art. The exhibition explores how cultural exchanges between the East and West influenced the aesthetics of their respective societies. Held from April 15 to June 25, the exhibit will feature over 100 dresses and accessories from the Kyoto Costume Institute.

During the Meiji Period (1868-1912), Western fashion and customs began permeating Japanese lifestyle; meanwhile, Japanese art objects and kimonos were exported — and celebrated — in the West, as “Japonism” became fashionable in both art and design.

“The Elegant Other: Cross-Cultural Encounters in Fashion and Art” at the Yokohama Museum of Art will not only look at the gradual development and discoveries of new aesthetic standards at both ends of the world but also underline the seductive exoticism from each end. Foreign cultures were seen as “beautiful others,” with unfamiliar yet fascinating clothing, and their respective local traditions and craftsmanship.

The approximately 100 dresses and accessories from the Kyoto Costume Institute (KCI) will be shown for the first time in Yokohama. These range from sweeping court dresses with long trains to low-backed evening dresses to draped hostess gowns, examples of clothing and art blurred the boundaries between East and West.

The Yokohama Museum of Art, inaugurated in 1989, is one of the largest art institutions in Japan. Its location along the seaport highlights it as a key symbol of international exchange — when the Yokohama Port initially opened in 1859, the city became a gateway to Western culture, while also exporting Japanese culture abroad.

The Kyoto Costume Institute collects and conserves clothing from across eras, ranging from the 17th century to the present day, with holdings of 12,000 garments and 16,000 fashion-related documents. The institute has received donations from top designers and fashion houses, including Chanel, Christian Dior, Louis Vuitton, as well as a monumental gift of approximately 1000 items from Comme des Garçons.

The exhibition also features accessories, handicrafts, paintings, and photographs, loaned from both Japanese and foreign museums and private collections, such as an 1882 painting by Jules Joseph Lefebvre, “La Japonaise,” and vases with cherry blossoms in relief from the Meiji era.

The Elegant Other: Cross-cultural Encounters in Fashion and Art will be on view April 15 to June 25, 2017.

Unique vacations from Singapore: Holiday destinations to visit in 2017 – from skiing in Japan to beaches in Thailand

Tired of visiting there same cities and resorts over and over again? Fret not! We bring you new locations to satisfy your holiday needs. Some of the fastest-rising destinations in Asia are the ski slopes of Japan, along with lesser-known island gems hidden across tropical Southeast Asia. That’s according to a new ranking of the top 10 fastest-growing destinations in Asia, compiled by online accommodation site Agoda, which found that the slopes of Niseko in Hokkaido, Japan, have become particularly popular among snow bunnies.

With 800 skiiable hectares and an annual snowfall of more than 15meters, Niseko also offers off-trail skiing, uncommon in Japanese resorts. But it’s not just for the slopes that travellers are putting the area on their travel radar. The region is also attracting food lovers, eager to try local Hokkaido cuisine, which is famous for its uni (sea urchin), kani (crab), ika (squid), ikura (salmon roe) and hotate (scallops).

Meanwhile, Niseko is an exception on the top 10 list, which is dominated by destinations in Southeast Asia that offer sun-soaked, tropical island getaways that stray from the usual tourist hotspots. For frequent Asia travellers who may be in the market to try a new destination and avoid the expat crowd, for instance, there’s Banaue in the Philippines, an impressive swath of dramatic, sweeping rice terraces.

The beaches of Thailand also dominate the list, taking four of the 10 spots, such as Koh Kood, Kho Lipe, Koh Lanta and Khao Lak.

Here are the top 10 fastest growing destinations in Asia, based on bookings made by Agoda travelers in 2015 and 2016.

1. Niseko, Japan
2. Banaue, Philippines
3. Koh Kood, Thailand
4. Koh Lipe, Thailand
5. Koh Rong, Cambodia
6. Koh Lanta, Thailand
7. Harbin, China
8. Tangalle, Sri Lanka
9. Siquijor Island, Philippines
10. Khao Lak, Thailand

Queen in Versailles: Marie-Antoinette Tokyo Exhibit

Versailles will be visiting Tokyo this winter. The exhibition “Marie-Antoinette, a Queen in Versailles” will be running from October 25, 2016, to February 26, 2017 at the Mori Arts Center Gallery in Tokyo, Japan. It will be the first exhibition dedicated to the last queen of France in Japan, where the historical icon is made a household name through a thoroughly Japanese medium, but wholly unexpected anywhere else in the world, the bestselling manga The Rose of Versailles.

The exhibition will provide a look at the life of Marie-Antoinette, who is famous (some say unjustly infamous) for her refined taste in luxury and fashion (which means made-to-order spectacles since this is 18th century France). The works of the queen’s preferred artisans are shown in the exhibition, such as tableware from the Sèvres Royal Porcelain Works.

One of the main highlights will be a reconstruction of the queen’s private apartment in the Palace of Versailles – complete with the bedroom, bathroom, and a majority of the furnishings. Meanwhile, the stucco library is to be reproduced in 3D. That bathroom is particularly notable as the French queen had a proper in-door lavatory, which was unique in Versailles. Thinking on that makes us realize that everyone reading this has access to more luxury than even the richest of the rich in the pre-Industrial era.

191016-antoinettetokyo2

“Marie-Antoinette” by the Sèvres Royal Porcelain Works by Louis-Simon Boizot. © Château de Versailles, Dist. RMN/ Christophe Fouin

Visitors will also be able to view a retrospective of Marie-Antoinette’s life: from her wedding to Louis XVI (who was dauphin at the time) to the day she became queen and the birth of her children. Marie-Antoinette’s entourage and fellow members of the French royal family, are featured as well. The showcase also explores the queen’s darker days, such as the infamous Affair of the Necklace, and of course the deadly consequences of the French Revolution for her and her family.

A total of 200 pieces will be showcased at the exhibition, most of them hailing from the Palace of Versailles collections. You can also view similar treasures at the grand museum in Canberra, Australia this season.

Tom Dixon Brew coffee set photo

How Japan is Perking Up to Coffee Culture

Need a pick-me-up? Try a lychee-flavored coffee infused with jasmine, or a ‘Chardonnay’ espresso served in a wine glass – whatever your taste, Japan’s swashbuckling baristas are bringing some serious sex appeal to the drink.

In a country famous for its elaborate tea traditions, the Japanese are increasingly turning to coffee as a quick-fix to help ease the daily grind. Hipster cafés are popping up everywhere, offering exquisitely curated beverages to satisfy even the fussiest of caffeine addicts.

Japan imports over 430,000 tones of coffee a year – behind only the United States and Germany – and boasts some of the world’s top baristas.

“The fact that tea culture already existed in Japan has helped cultivate an appreciation for coffee as a luxury item,” Miki Suzuki told AFP after recently being crowned Japan’s champion barista.

“Japanese people have an extremely sensitive palate so they can appreciate subtle differences in flavor,” said the 32-year-old.

Suzuki impressed judges with a nitrogen-charged beverage – a technique often used by craft beer breweries to get a rich froth – which also had delicate citrus tones. For added serving style she decanted it into champagne flutes.

“Actually I didn’t even like coffee at first. Now my goal is to become the first female barista to win the world title,” she admitted.

Japan has a fine pedigree at the World Barista Championship and Suzuki will look to emulate 2014 winner Hidenori Izaki at the competition in Seoul next year, and go one better than Yoshikazu Iwase, the 2016 runner-up.

Creativity and Panache

Along with the likes of Suzuki and three-time national runner-up Takayuki Ishitani, their creativity and panache have made coffee-making cool.

“With a flick of the wrist here and a little bit of flair, baristas are making coffee sexy,” said Ishitani, adding: “It’s part of a barista’s job to enchant the customer and be a bit of a smooth operator, like a bartender. The performance is part of creating an atmosphere to please the customer.”

How Japan is Perking Up to Coffee Culture

In this photo taken on October 12, 2016, a Japanese woman drinks her beverage at a coffee shop in Tokyo. Hipster cafés are offering exquisitely curated beverages to satisfy even the fussiest of caffeine addicts. © BEHROUZ MEHRI / AFP

Ishitani whipped up a bubbling potion mixed with dry ice, fragrant herbs and orange honey at the Japan Barista Championship but insists he is on a “never-ending quest” for the perfect cup of coffee.

“It’s all about perseverance,” he added between pouring frothy cappuccinos at a trendy surf shop in Tokyo’s Daikanyama district.

“Japanese people pay meticulous attention to detail. You’re not competing against other baristas, the battle is against yourself.”

Tea Ceremony

The first documented evidence of tea in Japan dates back to the ninth century, when Buddhist monks brought it back from China.

However, coffee only became popular in Japan after World War II, when the country resumed imports.

Starbucks now peddles its wares in more than one thousand stores in Japan, while bottled and canned coffee sold in vending machines or convenience stores have long been a cheap favorite of the busy salaryman.

Despite the fact serious roasters turn their noses up at Starbucks, Japan has come a long way since the smoke-filled dives of the 1980s bubble era, which served coffee with antiquated percolators – though many still survive.

Coffee sales have long outstripped those of green tea and hip new hangouts with latte artists sprouting up in Tokyo and across Japan could easily be mistaken for New York or London.

“Definitely there is an intense interest in the minutia of coffee-making in Japan,” said American Scott Conary, one of the judges at the Japan Barista Championship.

“You’re seeing more cafés with better skills and better coffee.”

While Japan’s highly ritualized tea ceremony is increasingly seen as a remnant of a bygone age, Ishitani doesn’t take his art too seriously.

“I don’t think it’s necessary to drink coffee as reverently as we do tea,” he said. “Just knock it back – it’s really something that’s there to help the conversation flow.”

Dawn of Youth: Preview; NAKAZATO Aoi

Dawn of Youth: Kato Art Duo Gallery

From 6 October to 3 November 2016, Kato Art Duo gallery in Singapore will present their latest group exhibition ‘Dawn of Youth’, which will introduce young Japanese print artists, Nakazato Aoi,Tomone Sano, Miyuki Takashima and Singapore ceramic artist, Zestro Leow.

Dawn of Youth: Preview; NAKAZATO Aoi

Nakazato Aoi

Nakazato Aoi (b. 1993, Saitama, Japan) draws inspiration from daily modern landscapes which remind her of her home town such as family restaurants, convenient stores and apartments. The Saitama Prefecture is as typically suburban as it gets, not famous for any specialty. These concrete, characterless structures have become motifs for her collection of print works. She transforms these suburban buildings into her oddly beautiful yet comforting prints with her subtle use of colour and constant composition.

Nakazato Aoi

Nakazato Aoi

In contrast to Nakazato works, Tomone Sano (b. 1993, Fukui, Japan) is inspired by nature and the softness of organisms such as the human body and round shapes. “When I watch the jellyfish in the aquarium, I would feel the softness as if I were touching it and I would feel like I’ve become a jellyfish swimming in the water,” says Tomone. “When I lie on the grassland and close my eyes, feeling the gentle touch of wind on my face and the sweet scent of grass, I can feel my soul merging with the ground. When I perceive the human form in the same category as microbes, insects and plants, I feel connections with the universe.”

Dawn of Youth: Preview; TOMONE Sano

Tomone Sano

Tomone’s artworks seem to have a gentle, life-like notion to them. Her body of work consists mainly of copper plate prints and colour pencil drawings. For her copper print works, she utilises techniques such as etching and sanding to pursue the beauty in the black ink stippled line drawings. As for her colour pencil drawings, she tends to create with the awareness of the transparency of the paper and the overlapping of the colourful lines.

Miyuki Takashima (b. 1991, Chiba, Japan) graduated in 2015 from Joshibi University of Art Design, printmaking course and specialised in copperplate printing. Miyuki’s copperplate prints are often of Japanese school environments and high school girls in their uniform. Her subject matter may look innocent at one glance, but at closer look however, her creation give viewers a sense of darkness and mysterious morbidity.

Miyuki Takashima

Miyuki Takashima

“In my teenage years, I did not see the necessity that everyone wears the same uniform. I dreamt to break out of these rules,” says Miyuki. “When I realised that it is the same world in and outside the classroom, I then understood that this world has no exit.”

Last but not least, Zestro Leow (b. 1994, Singapore) graduated from Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, Singapore in 2015. Zestro is a devoted Buddhist and often bases his ceramic creations on Buddhism. For ‘Dawn of Youth’, he will present a series of works, which are inspired by Shinto-Shrines (God’s House) created by stacking up individual wheel-thrown vessels.

Zestro Leow Wen Jin

Zestro Leow Wen Jin

He alters the traditional outlook of the shrines, and hope to express that even when every physical feature of functionality has been made obsolete, pure emotional beliefs still stand within his sculptures. Zestro explains further: “The function of an object which aesthetically enhances a space would be to beautify, however beauty is fickle and subjective.” So even when every physical feature of functionality has been made nil, its purpose and longevity is then found in the sentiments and meanings that we choose to instill.

French ski lodge La Bouitte in the French Alps © La Bouitte, Relais & Chateaux

Relais & Chateaux Welcomes 21 Newcomers

Relais & Chateaux touts itself as the standard-bearer for the hotel and restaurant industry, much like the Michelin label. Another 21 properties and restaurants will be able to hang the coveted fleur de lys symbol, designating membership to the group.

The shortlisted properties are all independent and must adhere to distinct criterias characterized as “the soul of the innkeeper,” “celebration of the senses”, and “the art of living”.

The newcomers to the Relais & Chateaux club hail from the US, Colombia, France, Denmark, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Italy, Greece, China, Japan and New Zealand.

Eric Ripert, chef and co-owner of Le Bernardin in New York City at his restaurant in New York May 16, 2016. © TIMOTHY A. CLARY / AFP

Eric Ripert, chef and co-owner of Le Bernardin in New York City at his restaurant in New York May 16, 2016.
© TIMOTHY A. CLARY / AFP

 

The latest New York addition, Chef Eric Ripert’s restaurant Le Bernardin, extended its acclaim beyond the three Michelin star it holds. The upscale restaurant regularly tops New York’s best eats lists for its seafood and is one of the hottest tables in town for both locals and tourists alike.

Bread Crusted Red Snapper Saffron “Fideos” Chorizo in Smoked Sweet Paprika Sauce at Le Bernardin © Shimon & Tammar

Bread Crusted Red Snapper Saffron “Fideos” Chorizo in Smoked Sweet Paprika Sauce at Le Bernardin
© Shimon & Tammar

 

Over in France, an alpine ski lodge located in the heart of the Trois Vallees, is the latest chalet to gain admittance into the group. Boasting three Michelin stars, the Hotel Restaurant La Bouitte in the French Alps is a luxury ski lodge designed to reflect its surroundings, with luxurious furnishings set off against rustic wood beams and flooring.

Father and son duo Rene and Maxime Meilleur have also made the country inn one of France’s premier dining destinations for dishes like “veal à la Savoyarde” with cheese polenta and creamy sauce.

Wharekauhau Lodge and Country Estate, New Zealand © Courtesy of Wharekauhau

Wharekauhau Lodge and Country Estate, New Zealand
© Courtesy of Wharekauhau

 

In New Zealand, The Wharekauhau Lodge & Country Estate, a property set on a sheep farm, was given its membership card for offering guests an indulgent stay in a bucolic setting with forests, lakes and rivers.

And over in Japan, travelers looking to stay at an authentic ‘ryokan’ or traditional Japanese inn may want to consider Nishimuraya Honkan in Hyogo which also received Relais & Chateaux’s stamp of approval. With a heritage that stretches back 150 years and seven generations, the inn offers a peaceful retreat amongst bamboo forests and hot springs.

The ryokan also serves traditional kaiseki, a Japanese tasting menu made up of several small plates.

For more Relais & Chateaux properties visit https://www.relaischateaux.com.

Tsukiji Market

Tokyo Puts Tsukiji Fish Market Move on Ice

Plans to move Tokyo’s Tsukiji fish market – the world’s largest – were put on ice Wednesday over fears about toxic contamination at the new facility, as the cost of the move soars. The market is regularly the site of record-breaking bids for fresh fish and we have revisited it often over the years for that reason.

The megacity’s new governor, Yuriko Koike, said she would postpone the move set for November until at least early next year, as she awaits final groundwater testing results at the new site, a former gas plant. Anyone planning a trip or intending to bid on any bluefin tuna should take note.

Plans to uproot the more than 80-year-old market, a popular tourist attraction, have been in the works for years, with advocates citing the need for upgraded technology.

But Koike, a former TV anchorwoman elected last month as the Japanese capital’s first female governor, had pledged to reconsider the plan.

“Needless to say, it is a market that handles fresh food,” Koike told a press conference as she announced the delay. “The Tokyo metropolitan government, which chiefly runs the market, is responsible for telling the world: ‘It’s safe.’”

Critics of the move cite contaminated soil found at the former gas production site.

The local government paid a whopping 86 billion yen ($833 million) in cleanup costs but Koike said she wants to wait for the results of water testing in January.

Koike would not say if she would consider scrapping the relocation altogether if the test results are bad.

“I want to wait for the examinations being done by the project team,” she said.

Koike also questioned the 588 billion yen in relocation costs, 36 percent higher than earlier estimates.

These costs include relocating the market to a less-central location several kilometers away and building a modern facility about 40 percent larger with state-of-the-art refrigeration.

Japanese media have reported that postponing Tsukiji’s move would cost about seven million yen a day, and could delay construction of a highway connecting the current site with an athletes’ village being built for the city’s 2020 Olympics.

Comme des Garçons

Aesthetic Debt: What High Fashion Owes Asia

Who says fashion exists in its own bubble? Designers and houses today are, more than ever, drawing inspiration and references from all over the world. Nowhere is this more apparent than in high fashion’s relationship with the East. The seductive Orient has long been a goldmine for decorative touches. Christian Dior’s love of the East led him to create a dress – in the beautiful New Look silhouette with its nipped waist and elaborate volume – covered in Japanese scribble lifted from an old print. The words? Something about bowel movements and a tummy ache. A funny yet telling example, if there were one, about the results of good intentions and unwitting execution.

Gladly, designers today have the luxury of research and the availability of a global world view (thank you, Google) that’s resulted in a more intelligent way of mining the East for inspiration – and it’s one that should be celebrated. The New York Metropolitan Museum of Art’s 2015 key exhibition, China: Through the Looking Glass, was a significant showcase of the East’s influences on fashion. What it achieved was a plain demonstration that China has had an aesthetic influence on virtually every high fashion designer. The “looking glass” element to the exhibition, however, should be a strong reminder that China and indeed the rest of Asia aren’t far-away oriental mysteries. Its relevance and influence almost demand that designers picking references do so with intelligent sensitivity rather than with reductive pastiche.

Japan in Paris

Maison Margiela

Maison Margiela

Two of the most important Japanese designers – Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto – have been in the business for upwards of 40 years, with starts in the 1970s and 1980s. It’s intriguing to assess their aesthetics and impact on the industry. We must remember that the two were so influential and notable in Paris fashion because of the contrariness of what they were showing. When Western – that is, Euro-centric – fashion built dresses around the glamorous, sexualised female body, Kawakubo and Yamamoto stormed in and offered inventive forms, silhouettes, cuts, and an insistent use of the colour black. Indeed, the Yamamoto brand has been revered for its masterful craftsmanship, protective embrace of the body, and an intelligence that builds a sense of safety for the wearer – clothes as the proverbial armour.

Kawakubo, too, gained fame for being unrelentingly herself. Comme des Garçons has become a model brand (pictured top) with its numerous offshoot lines – Junya Watanabe, Noir Kei Ninomiya and Ganryu are all by Kawakubo’s protégés – and the opinion-leading Dover Street Market stores. The underpinning artistic strength remains the Comme des Garçons mainline designed by Kawakubo herself, which has been unfailingly unique, daring and avant-garde.

Kenzo today represents upbeat accessibility thanks to creative directors Carol Lim and Humberto Leon. The Opening Ceremony founders bring a commercial New York line of thought to the brand that keeps it in line with the founder’s original spirit. The man himself, Kenzo Takada, opened his boutique in Paris, named Jungle Jap, selling his bright and fun multicultural prints. One of the key pillars of Kenzo fashion is a sense of fun and youth. Soon, Kenzo will launch a collaborative collection with H&M, one in a series of special edition releases with the likes of brands like Lanvin, Maison Martin Margiela, Balmain, Isabel Marant and Karl Lagerfeld. Onward to the future, indeed.

Speaking of the future, one must never forget the Japanese brand that pushed technical and creative boundaries. Issey Miyake is important to fashion because of his loving embrace of technology and the brand’s explorations of the form and function of dress. Miyake’s earliest works were built around the Japanese kimono, deconstructing the traditional garment to get to the core of what makes foldable garments work. Toying with dimensionality, he developed a line of clothes that were softly sculptural. His famous heat-pressed pleating technique birthed the Pleats Please line, and the shaped yet draped silhouette has been unique since. In the FW16 collection, current creative director Yoshiyuki Miyamae pays respectful homage with garments constructed with pleating techniques that the brand calls “baked stretched” and “3D steam-stretched”. The brand remains, in its spirit, venturous in exploring the effect of technology on fabric and garment construction.

Cultural Influences

Valentino

Valentino

The highest echelons of fashion owe an aesthetic debt to Asia. The original greats from Paris such as Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, Paul Poiret, Madeleine Vionnet and Coco Chanel took inspirations from various facets of chinoiserie and japonism. There’s an element of pastiche that can’t be disregarded, though one can chalk it down to the times. Yves Saint Laurent paid tribute, in the 1970s, to cheongsam and qipao silhouettes, topped with hats and jackets inspired by imperial Chinese dress. In Tom Ford’s final collection for the house in the fall of 2004, such looks were amplified to highlight sensuality and sexual boldness. The figure-hugging and high-slit clothes demonstrated Ford’s high-octane sex-sells mentality and his ability to subvert traditional dress forms to suit the times.

Coco Chanel was a famously enamored collector of lacquered coromandel screens from China, and decorated her home and offices in Rue Cambon with more than 30 of them. Karl Lagerfeld’s collections have built on the obsession, most notably with a 2009 Métiers d’Art show in Shanghai that played to his strength of combining the heritage of Chanel with the needs of modern women. The result: a modern Chinese attitude worn with the insouciant bouclé skirt suits of the house. Lagerfeld then took a journey to India in the Paris-Bombay Métiers d’Art 2012 show: traditional Indian dress styles such as salwar trousers (voluminous pants which taper sharply near the ankles) and kurti (long, tunic-length blouses) got paired with Chanel’s iconic pearls and tweeds. When it comes to making references, Lagerfeld is a master; there’s an ease to the mix that belies deep research and finesse in construction.

John Galliano furthered Dior’s love of the Orient when he was designing for the house with the famously splendid SS07 and SS09 haute couture shows. Spring of 2007 saw modern geishas in chartreuse-, lavender- and rose-hued Bar silhouettes cut in silk-taffeta with an origami-style twist. In 2009, the ubiquitous willow pattern on Chinese ceramics sneaked under the linings, on the insides, and around the outsides of the dresses – a delicacy to the clothes lent by invoking a key product of trade that China has shared with the West for centuries.

Today’s Take

Valentino

Valentino

Modern couturiers play a more nuanced game of reference-picking. Consider Valentino’s Spring 2016 haute couture showing. The silhouettes and thrust of the look was the otherworldly and ultra-feminine signature that Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli have become acclaimed for. Kimono-style coats and robes with hand-painted carps and dragons draw from the mythological wellspring of the East. This followed the visual story in the brand’s Pre-Fall 2016 collection which featured hand-painted and intarsia-ed dragons and swallows, pyjamas with brocaded swans, and shift dresses with genteel 10th-century bird-and-flower paintings.

In Gucci’s FW16 collection, Alessandro Michele sent a dizzying number of 70 looks down his runway. The Michele method is to create for a variety of women – different characters daring to partake of and play in dress-up characterisation. Two Asian-informed looks strolled down the runway: the first, a minidress with an Italian sun motif and a Mao collar; the second, a floor-length qipao with pink fur trim on the sleeves and an embroidered phoenix pattern.

At Louis Vuitton and Kenzo, the brands looked towards a cartoon idealisation of women. Nicolas Ghesquière has one of the best knacks in the industry for tapping into youthful energy and giving it a sophisticated turn. Recall Spring 2016’s advertising campaign: the virtual avatar of Lightning (one of the lead characters in the Final Fantasy games) swings around a bag, strikes poses and looks airbrushed to perfection. It is worth noting that the Lightning character in the games is a combatant – the strongest playable character, even. This is reflected in the clothes, too: the urban-heroine sensibility is carried into FW16’s exaggerated silhouettes, emphasis on heavy boots, panelled bodysuits and armour-like leather bustiers. At Kenzo, the train of thought was Sailor Moon, beloved ’90s shōjo icon of female liberation and strength. It took the spirit of confidence and quintessential femininity, and translated it into an abundance of empire waistlines and deconstructed duffel coats with a smattering of reworked archival iris, dandelion and tiger prints (Kenzo is known for its print work).

Dior

Dior

On a more technical front, we look back to Raf Simons’ debut haute couture collection for Dior in the Fall 2012 season. The collection saw Simons impose abstract Sterling Ruby prints onto coats and dresses using an Indonesian technique seen through a French eye. The original technique ikat is an early form of warp printing. Warp printing involves dyeing the fabric on the yarn before it is woven, as opposed to traditional methods in which a print is stamped onto a finished yard of fabric. The resulting print is warbly and far from sharp, and – to quote Mr Simons – “has the quality of a brush stroke”. In the 18th century, this was the same quality that led to the French creation of Chiné a la Branche, a variation on the ikat print technique that produced small, watercolor-esque floral prints on silk taffeta fabrics that found favour and fashion on the backs of Marie Antoinette and her contemporaries.

Today, what Asia represents for luxury and high fashion is fertile ground for growth and exploration. The massive Chinese economy offers opportunities for growth with a huge consumer base longing for the prestige and sheen of luxury. What fashion designers have to remember, then, is to pay their audiences back with the beauty they’ve borrowed.

This article was first published in L’Officiel Singapore.

Vinexpo Japan Returns With Second Edition

The last we left Vinexpo, it was in Hong Kong, where the wine trade event revealed Singapore’s favorite wine and made some interesting observations about Japan. Later this year, Vinexpo returns to Japan, the first return visit since its debut in 2014.

It is no surprise that Japan was chosen as the destination, with the nation being the number one Asian market for spirit imports, as well as the second largest for imported wines. In fact, wine imports last year climbed to a value of 1.41 billion euros, which is a nearly four percent increase relative to 2014. With wine consumption on the rise in Japan, it is forecasted in a previously published Vinexpo market study (linked above) that by 2017, Japanese consumers will drink 37 million cases (or a total of almost 445 million bottles!), another four percent increase from 2013 to 2017.

With the Japanese audience’s strong appetite for wine, Vinexpo Tokyo is expected to attract 4,500 trade visitors. Should you wish to contribute to that number, Vinexpo Japan will take place November 15 to 16 at Prince Park Tower Hotel.

This story is also available in Bahasa Indonesia. Read it here: Vinexpo Jepang Kembali Digelar

BMW Unveils Concept Center in Tokyo Bay

BMW is taking its “the next 100 years” concept very seriously, so what better place to open its latest state-of-the-art experience complex than Japan, a country well-known for its obsession with technology – more specifically the future of technology.

Located in Tokyo Bay, the 27,000 m² space will allow visitors to view the iconic Mini and luxurious BMW models in showrooms, grab a bite at the cafes, view exclusive features at exhibition spaces and even an opportunity to experience Virtual Reality. However, fans of BMW and Mini will revel in the test-driving facility, built to BMW’s own ‘M’ standards. And because we’re talking about Japanese service, you can reserve your car of choice online and even receive full driving training before taking it for a spin.

“Not only can they see a range of our cars in a spectacular static environment, they can also get behind the wheel and experience both brands’ exceptional dynamic capabilities. This is far more than just a new showroom — it’s somewhere for customers and fans to enjoy BMW and Mini in an exciting and engaging way,” said Dr Ian Robertson, BMW AG Management Board Member for Sales and Marketing BMW.

The facility comes after BMW unveiled a series of concept cars from each of its brands – Mini, BMW and Rolls-Royce – where the German automobile firm imagines the revolution of its vehicles by 2116.

Takashi Murakami, NEXT5 Limited Edition Sake

The Japanese artist Takashi Murakami has collaborated with Akita-based brewers NEXT5 to create a new sake with limited-edition packaging by the artist: “Takashi Murakami×NEXT5”. Murakami did not only work on the packaging, as such collaboration usually go, but also had a hand in the recipe for the sake.

Murakami, one of the world’s top-selling contemporary artistshas produced an original pure Junmai Daiginjo sake with the help of five long-established brewers from the Akita region of Japan. The NEXT5 brewing unit is comprised of Tadahiko Kobayashi (Akita brewery), Yusuke Sato, (Aramasa Brewery), Koei Watanabe (Fukurokuju Brewery), Tomofumi Yamamoto (Yamamoto Brewery) and Naoaki Kuribayashi (Kuribayashi Brewery).

Back to the roots of sake

The new recipe by the artist and brewers is created using the traditional kimoto-zukuri brewing method, where kimoto yeast is used to make the sake by placing it in a bag with rice and water, massaging a few times a day and letting the yeast enzymes slowly dissolve the rice to produce the alcohol. This technique dates back to the earliest years of the Edo period (between 1603 and 1868) before the Meiji Restoration. Murakami explains that the idea was to go back to the roots of the drink: “If we go far back enough into the history of sake, we find culture coming from China. We want to grasp this thread and weave it into a fresh form.”

Exclusive bottle designs

As well as helping with the creation of the sake, the artist Murakami has designed four unique bottles: one glass and three ceramic. The designs feature typical Murakami patterns of his signature smiling flower motif. Two of the ceramic bottles, the gold and white editions, are embossed, with the gold bottle signed by the artist himself.

Glass bottles retail for 5,000-3,500 yen, while the ceramic formats vary from 35,000 yen (blue on white motifs) to 170,000 yen (gold relief). The signed edition is noteworthy for the difference in price between it and all the other versions. At close to $1,000, this is one demanding bottle of sake!

“Takashi Murakami×NEXT5” sake can be purchased at Marakami’s bar, Zingaro (Nakano) and at select stores.