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Tanned and tattooed, Takashi Kumagai likes to surf as often as possible—“If there’s a wave and I don’t have to work, every morning,” he says. But while he lives in Hayama, a beach town outside Tokyo, he’s hardly a surf bum. Clad in polka-dot shorts, a seersucker jacket and a sailor’s hat, Kumagai is in fact a modern-day Renaissance man, a photographer, stylist and garden designer who’s also the creative force behind some of Tokyo’s most innovative retail concepts, including the celebrated Adam et Ropé Biotop revamp.
This story first appeared in the March 19, 2012 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
It was his passion for surfing, however, that led to his most recent project: bringing Saturdays Surf NYC to Tokyo, where the chic yet laid-back SoHo specialty store recently opened its first overseas outpost.
Kumagai originally struck up a friendship with Saturdays’ cofounder Morgan Collett about two years ago, during a buying trip to New York. “He was kicking a skateboard the first time we met,” recalls Kumagai, who was immediately impressed by Collett’s “supernew concept”—a surf and coffee shop with an urban flair, selling its own brand of men’s wear. Together, they embarked on a surfing trip to Chiba, a coastal area east of Tokyo, and Collett later inked a deal with Adam et Ropé’s parent company, Jun Group.
Located in the trendy Daikanyama neighborhood, Saturdays’ new Tokyo store replicates several elements of the SoHo flagship. With a La Marzocco espresso machine perched on the counter, it offers products ranging from retro surfboards to graphic T-shirts. Kumagai acts as an adviser, and his penchant for the botanical is in evidence: The wooden deck at the back of the store is built around a weeping pine.
Another tree served as a starting point when Kumagai set out to reinvent an Adam et Ropé flagship, located in the tony Shirokane neighborhood, about three years ago. Inspecting the courtyard out back, he found “nothing—only mosquitoes,” he remembers with a laugh. But there was a large camphor tree, so he enlisted the tree-house artist Takashi Kobayashi to build a cozy, star-shaped hideaway among the leaves.
Kumagai then turned to the store itself, placing a homey cafe on the upper level and a mini nursery selling plants on the ground floor. Sandwiched in between is a wide selection of apparel brands, with a large sculpture of pale driftwood providing a visual anchor.
The store, renamed Adam et Ropé Biotop, was the first to bring Todd Snyder to Japan. Its other labels include Adam Kimmel, Frank Leder and Kitsuné, as well as Japanese lines such as Digawel, Factotum and The Franklin Tailored—not to mention Kumagai’s own brand, Naissance. “It’s like reincarnation,” Kumagai says of the store’s fresh look. Although Jun declined to disclose sales figures for the Biotop store, Kumagai says it is doing well and attracts Japanese celebrities looking for a low-key shopping experience.
Tatsuya Takaku, who oversees U.S. buying for Adam et Ropé and creative direction for Todd Snyder in Japan and Asia, credits Kumagai with the success. “He has tremendous eyes for the new and cool, yet respects the classic,” Takaku says, noting that Biotop’s lifestyle concept has influenced other Tokyo retailers.
Biotop, for its part, continues to evolve—last year it even installed a Saturdays Surf pop-up store. Of course, the merchandise mix is always in flux. Kumagai senses a decline in the heritage trend that has dominated men’s wear for several years. He sees a shift toward “relaxing” clothes in high-quality fabrics. “I think men’s fashion people are a little bit tired of heritage,” he says.
Meanwhile, as the new Saturdays Surf NYC store begins its Tokyo takeoff, Kumagai keeps his radar tuned for emerging brands. Case in point: Dosa, a Los Angeles collection of eco-friendly couture designed by South Korea–born Christina Kim. “I’m waiting for them to make men’s clothes,” Kumagai says. “Maybe I’m going to contact them.”