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The Urahara’s ‘Cool Kids’ who invented streetwear.


Tokyo, early 1990s. The city is a hotbed of subcultures and new trends: in this feverish context, "Nowhere," the store that would later be considered the "Mecca" of Streetwear, was born.

The incredible story of three neighborhood friends – Jun Takahashi, Nigo, and Hiroshi Fujiwara – who changed the fashion world.

“Streetwear” is a term now used in the most diverse contexts and by several generations.

Its authentic meaning has been hollowed out like an empty shell without an oyster.

Today, anyone who talks about Streewear does so only through a treatise on the genesis of Sneakers, or the spread of a particular trend, neglecting the intricate mechanism behind its birth and spread.

A fashion born almost by chance, by those who live on the street and find their identity in the street.

We want to tell where – and especially how – Japanese Streetwear – considered the real forerunner of the global one – was born; and who were the visionary pioneers initiating this movement, increasingly connected to the world of high fashion.

Tokyo, mid-1990s.

Between the Harajuku and Aoyama districts, there is a small area of about four blocks called Urahara-short for Ura-Harajuku – which means “The Hidden Harajuku” in Japanese. These few meters of street will go down in history as the birthplace of Japanese “Streetwear,” according to some schools of thought, the authentic one.

In the mid-1990s Tokyo is experiencing an irrepressible ferment: every day a new trend is born, the streets compose a colorful stage, made up of eccentrically dressed people, where everyone “says” his or her own when it comes to style, as long as it is original.

Several stores, often half-empty unnamed warehouses, begin to see garments from America and England, sniffing out the potential of the American Hip Hop and Punk scene, in a country that all in all has always been reluctant to overseas influences and trends.

Stores such as “A Store Robot” and “Vintage King” are the first to have had a future vision of what potentially the new subculture of Hip Hop can represent: their idea is to instill in the souls of young Japanese people a curiosity about a new, exotic trend.

In order to get there, this type of clothing must be as present as possible among the streets of Tokyo, on school desks, in the focal points of youth interest; in this way, the reference brands of American Hip Hop would be a real topic of conversation, about where to buy this or that T-shirt, that precise denim, that sneaker.

After some time, slowly but steadily, the Hip Hop style spread like wildfire, generating a youth movement that saw its followers intent on a feverish rush to buy, mixed with a genuine desire for something new.

Into this fervid context comes Nowhere” the store that will come to be regarded as the Mecca of Japanese Streetwear.

When it first opens its doors, it is little more than a store in Urahara, run by three boys from the neighborhoodJun “Jonio” Takahashi, Hiroshi Fujiwara and Tomoaki Nagao, better known as Nigo.

“Nowhere” is the result of a fervent curiosity, suddenly rekindled in Tokyo’s youth in observing new American trends: a place that doesn’t want to attract attention and that thrives on word of mouth – in a pre-internet era-of high school kids asking each other where it was that they bought that T-shirt or those shoes.

The store becomes a community gathering and gathering point by those looking for the right, underground look.

The store is divided into two parts: on one side is Nigo, who prints the T-shirts with graphics made by him (that’s the real beginning of A Bathing Ape); on the other is the space where Jun Takahashi, who will soon found the brand Undercover, and Hiroshi Fujiwara, who will later start the brand fragment design, operate.

The growing popularity of stores such as Nowhere and street culture facilitates the opening of more stores in Tokyo and the expansion of new brands: A Bathing Ape Busy Work will soon see competition from an emerging label linked to the name of another key figure in this area, Shinsuke Takizawa. 

Takizawa subverts the current fashion inspiration system, focusing on a style related to Yankee subcultures, between Heavy Metal and Harley Davidson: an aesthetic to which the Japanese public is not accustomed. His Neighbourhood brand is yet another product made in Urahara; after a very initial dismay, Japanese trendsetters are addicted to it.

Another key figure in this story is designer and rocker Nobuhiko Kitamura. His brand Hysteric Glamour is a spokesman for American 1970s rock style and exploding movies, the common denominator of which is Russ Meyer’s cult movie “Motorpsyco!”– a film-manifesto of the label.

It’s hard not to mention other designers who helped create the Street Style movement in Urahara, such as SK8THING; Hikaru Iwanaga and his Bounty Hunter brand; Tetsu “TET” Nishiyama of WTAPS and FPAR; and Goro Takahashi of Goro’s brand.

The Cool Kids of the Ura-Harajuku neighborhood appear in trade magazines such as Asayan and Smart: every item sold in their stores becomes an object of desire for teenagers, such as Hysteric Glamour tees, Goro’s jewelry or Neighbourhood’s “Savage” denim or any BAPE item.

Urahara becomes the nerve center of the Made in Tokyo street style revolution, which until then had only ever sported American brands like Levi’s, Ralph Lauren and The North Face – areas like Shibuya, exemplify this. Japanese youngsters began to prefer products from their own country, inspired however by influences from all parts of the world.

The Harajuku or Urahara movement creates so many followers that it eventually reaches the West as well in the early 2000s.

It was at that time that the term “Streetwear” was used to define an underground style from the street, which would later reach the mainstream market.

From that moment, the meltdown began its inexorable ascent: BAPE was sold to the HongKong giant I.T., the digitized era flattened a culture born by word of mouth, characterized by the difficult availability of its products, conforming to the rules of the global market, made of large productions, resellers and massive sales.

Design has become computerized, distorting the fashion world from its authentic quest for the new, bending to the dynamics of business.

As for Urahara, it represents not only a neighborhood where the world’s most prestigious and universally recognized Streetwear brands were born, but a benchmark of authentic creativity, without superstructure. And so it will be forever.

We should adjust the measurability of a “Streetwear” garment based on how little/very close it is to Urahara‘s original style, what do you think?



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