Cool, bold and exclusive

Shopping in Tokyo is not just retail therapy, it's a feast for the senses through displays of cutting-edge art and design, writes Misha Janette.

Tokyo is enjoying a rush of new malls: Shibuya's Hikarie tower, Harajuku's Tokyu Plaza and the massive Soramachi Mall at the Tokyo Sky Tree opened this year. But what makes Japan's shopping experiences unique are the underground designers and boutique offerings. Here's a taste of the cool, crazy and most-loved shopping options, plus a few gems you won't find on a guide map.

Emerging designers

Fugahum is the name of the brand but it's also the name of a fictitious country whose anthropology set a storyline behind the brand's first five years of collections. Fugahum is an experimental label of fashion and digital art and is the brainchild of talented art director Akiyoshi Mishima and patterner Asuka Yamamoto. Yamamoto's

silhouettes are often structural and fashion-forward, and they become the vehicle for Mishima's otherworldly, futuristic digital prints. Now the brand is ready to step out of the Tokyo-only fantasy and into new markets. If anything, the designs are worthy of a modern-art museum as much as they are a store rack.

B'2nd Shinjuku Store, 3-17-24 Shinjuku. See www.fugahum.com.

Wagado and its sister shops Itazura/Kotobuki are so far underground you might need an oxygen tank to get there. Opening this year in Shibuya and Harajuku, the stores are a glimpse of a microcosm of fashion called kowa-kawaii (scary-cute) - or just "whoah". But that's exactly the appeal and its fandom is so strong that it's hard for the stores to keep the racks full. The goods are second-hand or re-done one-offs such as bags covered in silicone to look like brains, accessories made of dismembered doll parts and anime-like schoolgirl outfits decorated with oddly placed frills and bows. It won't appeal to everybody and here's hoping it stays that way.

Itazura Tokyo and Wagado, Terse-Jinnan #4011-10-7 jinnnan, Shibuya-ku. See www.wagado.com.

The Phenomenon brand debuted at Tokyo Fashion Week two years ago but has risen to become the most anticipated menswear brand showing in the city. Designer Takeshi "Big-O" Osumi has influential Harajuku-based fashion figures and hip magazine editors who wear his designs to thank for that, but their support follows the colourful form and beautifully executed function of Osumi's retro-urban meets Tokyo-kitsch clothing that is pitch-perfect on-trend. Think crayon-coloured Letterman's jackets, colourful suede loafers and cable-knit tights. The brand also has a huge female following.

Phenomenon is carried at the Contemporary Fix boutique, 3-12-14 Kita-Aoyama Minato. See www.phenomenon.tv.

Achingly cool

One of the most amazing places to discover unique streetwear is in the Kitakore Building in outer Toyko's neighbourhood of Koenji.

The building itself may look like a remnant of World War II but the spoils inside are worth several hours of browsing. Kitakore is made up of five shops - Ilil, Garter, Secret Dog (a sister branch of the legendary Harajuku store), Hayatochiri and Southpole by Nincompoop Capacity, selling used and handmade fashion. You might find a leather jacket featuring the visage of Bjork at Ilil or a mask made of plasticised cigarette butts at Hayatochiri. Garter has the biggest space and carries costumes worn by Lady Gaga and K-pop stars.

Kitakore Bldg, 3-4-13 Koenji-kita Suginami. See www.garter-tokyo.com/index.html.

Noritaka Tatehana makes vertiginous, heel-less shoes inspired by a traditional Japanese game called pokari-can in which children strapped aluminum cans to their feet. The design caught the eyes of Lady Gaga, who hired the designer as her personal cobbler. The 27-year-old Tatehana has become a darling of Japanese high-fashion and his couture shoes, made entirely in leather and sometimes splayed with Swarovski crystals or gold studs, cost a fair penny.

Tatehana's work can be seen from September at Trading Museum Comme des Garcons, Gyre building on Omotesando, 2F 5-10-1 Jingumae Shibuya-ku. See www.noritakatatehana.com.

Xanadu is in the far-east corner of Harajuku's maze-like backstreets bordering Shibuya but is worth the trek. Owner Tatsuro Motohashi carries chic, slick and intelligent underground brands and you'll find a bevvy of Vogue-worthy items. For abstract futurism try the cage bracelets from Roggykei; for minimalism perfected, a cocoon sheath from Nyte. The accessory brand Exist uses handbag hardware and leather to make eye-catching rings and bracelets.

Plaza F4, 4F3-34-7, Jingumae. See www.xanadutokyo.jp.

Established and wearable

Dover Street Market by Comme des Garcons opened in Ginza in May showcasing designer Rei Kawakubo's vision for borderless brand collaboration. Highlights include the exclusive formal menswear suit line Mr. Ape by A Bathing Ape; Louis Vuitton's bamboo corner featuring Kim Jones and two human-cat hybrid mannequins; and Junya Watanabe's chaotic area wrapped in "caution" tape. The six-storey building is designed like a giant alien wasp's nest with white stalks dripping with honey running across the ceilings and floors and giant aluminum wasp sculptures scattered throughout.

Comme des Garcons, Ginza Komatsu West, 6-9-5, Ginza, Chuo-ku. See ginza.doverstreetmarket.com.

The Japanese are known for being inscrutably efficient. So it goes that for men's sartorial needs anything and everything would be wrapped in an eight-storey shiny glass box. Welcome to the Men's Hankyu Department Store in Ginza and all its delicious variety.

Tom Ford and Givenchy luxury brands are here, alongside Japan's Undercover brand. The basement houses Monocle Cafe, produced by the uber-cool magazine of the same name.

2-5-1 Yurakucho, Chiyoda-ku. See www.hankyu-dept.co.jp

Issey Miyake holds prime real estate on the north end of the Omotesando promenade. The Issey Miyake main line and menswear line split into two shops, with colourful wear produced by new head designer Yoshiyuki Miyamae. Next door is Pleats Please, with an interior designed by Tokujin Yoshioka that utilises recycled aluminum. A stone's throw away is the casual and knit lines Me and Haat, housed in basement space. But the must-visit space is the futuristically-outfitted shop for Miyake's conceptual and award-winning "origami clothing" line.

1st. 1F, 5-3-10 Minami Aoyama, Minato. See www.isseymiyake.com.

The 109 mall in Shibuya houses cool Parisian chic (at Murua), '90s urban pop styles (at Dance LB-03) and even the Shibuya interpret-ation of avant-garde Harajuku style (at One-Spo). The appeal of the brands here is in the shop staff, who put together their looks so well they may as well have jumped out of a magazine. Souvenirs can be bought at SBY on the top floor, which sells crazy, unique and reasonably priced toys and accessories.

Dogenzaka 2-29-1, Shibuya. See www.shibuya109.jp.

Misha Janette is a Tokyo-based writer, stylist and blogger. See TokyoFashionDiaries.com.

This article produced with support from Japan National Tourism Organisation.

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