Harajuku’s eco-system is a difficult one to keep balanced, you just have to look at certain streets that were once buzzing that have all but fallen silent, while others gain personality overnight thanks to just the right mix of creatives arriving at just the right time. It all comes down to the balance between street culture and gathering points with business as far as I am concerned, for example, lest we forget that Ura-Harajuku used to be the home of the Gyaru-O flagships before they all relocated to Shibuya, taking the fans with them which in turn killed the smaller shops on their periphery. In the latter case, the original fashion culture formed organically around the ethnic, native American and silver scene that was already present in the area, but the call of cash from what is now 109 Mens yanked it all out. It must be said that sometimes this balance does come together perfectly, like in the case of La Foret or even the new Dover Street Market in Ginza, but get the balance wrong and you can destroy easily destroy an area by robbing it of its cool overnight.
Bearing that in mind, you can see why the arrival of Tokyu Plaza Omotesando Harajuku in perhaps the most important geographic location in all of Harajuku, was greeted with suspicion by anyone emotionally invested in the place. At first glance it seemed a bit too slick for the area, a little too comercial and maybe a touch on the conservative side. Even as the external architecture began to take shape, it puzzled with its mixture of modern gleaming glass and geometric elements that look like they have been plucked straight out of the 80s bubble years. The shop list too seemed at odds with area, with a mixture of brands that would be more of a natural fit to Shibuya, conservative American casual wear courtesy of American Eagle Outfitters and an incredibly lush flagship from Tommy Hlifiger.
The big question is – does it fit? And in my opinion it is a resounding “yes” on that front, for the simple reason that it brings something back to the area that was gradually being edged out. It is more mainstream, it is more conservative, but that is exactly where Japanese fashion is right now, and you can’t have a Harajuku that doesn’t represent Japanese fashion. Don’t get me wrong, there is still plenty of spice inside, and it definitely feels like an accessible bridge from mainstream fashion into more artistic and creative fashion that should hopefully welcome more people into fashion that were pushed out by the perceived “wackiness” of Harajuku and high cost of Omotesando.
You can read my full introduction to the building which appeared in The Japan Times yesterday here, and I will have a another piece on the building for you tomorrow. For now, I thought I would introduce the flavor of the building, and what better way than through its staff:
I should add that the staff at American Eagle outfitters (above) were unbelievably energetic, and I don’t know if that was just for the press day, or whether they are like that everyday. I tried to go back after the official opening, but there was an hour long queue to get inside… They must be doing something right.
The entrance of the Shel’tter – think somewhere between Urban Outfitters and 109.
Rady – don’t be fooled by the glitz, this is closer to the Harajuku / Shibuya mix exemplified by .Ruby magazine than straight Shibuya style.
The wonderful OMOHARA forrest on the roof. Seeing as you can come and loiter here freely, I do wonder if this could be a new meeting place in Harajuku.
Oh and finally, the press day for me was entirely summed up as the day I met Tommy Hilfiger – my interview with him is here. I had no idea that he had such an in-depth knowledge of 80s Japanese fashion, and he has a geographic understanding of the fashion of the city that would put many residents to shame.
Come back for part 2 tomorrow where we will be highlighting some of the significant shops and concepts in the Tokyu Plaza – see you then.