While foreign brands still dominate much of the handbag market in Japan, there are also a few homegrown players with large followings.
Take Head Porter, a retailer that sells bags with a utilitarian feel in a mix of quirky design motifs like leopard print, camouflage, Mexican-inspired stripes and bold colorblocking. Considered largely men’s bags, they also have an appeal with female shoppers, who make up roughly 40 percent of the store’s customers.
“We want to make bags that people always want to carry, every day,” said Head Porter’s chief executive officer, Chie Kunishima.
This month, the brand renovated its Harajuku flagship to celebrate its 15th anniversary. The newly revamped store features design details like angled mirrors above display shelves and eye-catching neon signs. The store, one of four boutiques in Japan, sells a wide range of merchandise including leather wallets, laptop cases, nylon tote bags and a selection of the brand’s clothing line, called Head Porter Plus.
“Our customers come directly to our store from all over the country and the world because they know what they want,” Kunishima said. “Over the past 15 years, bags have become very important, just like clothes and shoes. It used to be that people would just carry any bag and not really think about it, but now bags are a part of the overall image.”
The genesis of the Head Porter brand and the store is a tad complex. It’s tightly linked to that of a storied Japanese accessories manufacturer, Yoshida & Co., which created a brand of bags called Porter back in 1962. In the Eighties, Porter started rolling out a line of industrial-looking nylon bags inspired by Air Force flight jackets. This range became synonymous with the brand name.
In 1998, a team of Porter aficionados, including Kunishima, opted to form their own company as an homage to the original Porter brand and offer more daring fashion-forward versions of the bags. With this, they opened their own store, Head Porter, in Harajuku. Today, Head Porter comes up with its own designs and commissions Yoshida to produce them. It also sells some of Yoshida’s original range of more classic Porter bags.
In fact, Kunishima is quick to point out that these more basic Porter bags in durable black or khaki nylon are the best-selling products at Head Porter stores, making up roughly 40 percent of Head Porter’s yearly sales, which Kunishima says totaled about 800 million yen, or $8.6 million at current exchange, last year.
To honor Head Porter’s anniversary, Yoshida has made a line of these military-inspired Tanker bags in navy. They are exclusive to Head Porter stores, and will be added to the rest of the basic collection that remains constant from season to season. Popular styles include a small shoulder bag for 15,000 yen, or $161, and a briefcase for 27,000 yen, or $289.
“Our way of thinking is that these [Tanker] products are perfect,” Kunishima said, “so aside from a few tweaks here and there, they have basically been the same throughout the years.”
“Azzedine has been one of the biggest influences in my life. He has always been such a strong, loving, fatherly figure to me. I call him Papa. His designs are indescribably unique, they are pieces of art. He knew how to make the female form look its loveliest. I have so many memories of him; my favorite might be during my first show with him in Paris. He liked me and he wanted to help me get more work. He called all his friends at Kenzo and Comme des Garcons, and asked them to book me. They said, ‘But she can’t walk!’ And he said, ‘but she has such a great ass!' His friendship and support has been the great privilege of my career. I can't imagine life without him. Repose en paix mon Papa.” - @stephanieseymour tells @wwd. #wwdfashion (📷: @steveeichner) #alaia #azzedinealaia
Azzedine Alaïa, flanked by two of his closest friends, models Stephanie Seymour and Naomi Campbell.
He designed Seymour’s dress for her 1995 wedding to Peter Brant, and treated Campbell (who famously called him Papa), like a daughter. For more on the legendary designer, tap the link in bio. #wwdfashion #alaia #azzedinealaia
Azzedine Alaïa's “I-did-it-my-way” ethos stood out starkly at a time when brands are experimenting with consumer-facing fashion shows, coed formats and trans-seasonal collections – anything to perk up lackluster sales of ready-to-wear in an age of Insta-everything. “It’s not creation anymore. This becomes a purely industrial approach,” the late designer told WWD in an interview last year. “But anyway, the rhythm of collections is so stupid. It’s unsustainable. There are too many collections.” Read more about the iconic designer’s life and work on wwd.com, link in bio. #wwdfashion #azzedinealaia (📷: @WWD Archive, 1986) #alaia
Sneaker reselling app @goat’s latest exhibit, "The Greatest: New York," tells the story of New York's sneaker culture. To celebrate the exhibit, an intimate crowd gathered on Thursday night at the pop-up gallery space, located at Platform in Culver City, to hear guest speaker and illustrator @esymai talk about her own rise in streetwear and women in the business. "For me I'm just someone who is creative. I like to create things," said Chang. #wwdfashion
Azzedine Alaïa, one of the most iconic couturiers of the modern era whose body-con designs defined Eighties fashion, has died in Paris. The diminutive Tunisian-born designer, known for his structured knitted dresses with fitted waists and impeccably cut, figure-hugging second skin silhouettes was deeply admired by his peers, and counted supermodel Naomi Campbell - his adoptive daughter - among his inner circle, one of a gang of glamazons including Farida Khelfa, Carla Bruni and Stephanie Seymour who became ambassadors of his style. (📷: Alexandre Guirkinger) #wwdblast