NEW YORK — Kim Speed lived up to her name during a recent tour of Tokyo, scouring 100 stores in two days.

This story first appeared in the March 20, 2003 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Salomon’s apparel category manager trekked there for a worldwide design meeting, which is now held in different cities to give designers a taste of other markets. Prior to the two-day powwow, Speed spent 48 hours marching through the streets in search of trends.

“There is no sport there,” she said. “Sport is fashion and that’s it. I didn’t see any sporting goods stores. Basically, every big shop I went into had Nike or Adidas sneakers on display with dresses and skirts.”

North Face backpacks, Y-3 ballerina flats, knee-length skirts worn with sneakers, railroad engineer-type striped tops with girly details, a cornucopia of Louis Vuitton bags and a leather version of a rock climber’s chalk bag were some of her favorites.

Then there was the artistic-looking outdoor lighting fixture hanging from a tree that seemed untethered to any of the surrounding stores, and such quirky displays as a cup of instant soup, with $400 limited-edition shoes, a book and a CD player.

“It was pretty random, but it all set the stage,” she said. “Visually, it was pretty intoxicating. It was really an uplifting experience. It was easy to get around and shopping just seemed fun. Sometimes when you go shopping, everything looks the same and people can be snobby. But not there.”

Speed said she was impressed with the intricacies of the merchandising, especially in specialty stores. Many of them were housed in nondescript buildings without signs, giving shoppers a sense of discovery and being an insider. Certain areas were reminiscent of the way the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn was five years ago.

Some smaller stores trumped better-known ones like Miu Miu and Comme des Garçons in terms of their displays, according to Speed, who likened their expertise and sense of style to the rigor they use in tea ceremonies.

“The whole culture there is so disciplined,” she said. “There are so many people who are so polite and so strict that people want to be unique where they can.”

Aside from the cardboard speakers that fold into pocket size and the rest of the loot she bought at Muji, Speed took home something more abstract, finding some design direction in the way Japanese designers combine different fabrics, patterns, layers of fabrics and unfinished hems. Americana was also evident in calico and cowboy accents like fringe and denim.

“There was a lot of asymmetry, but not much Eighties stuff and no Sixties stuff,” Speed said. “It was more Seventies, but a little more sophisticated. It’s not campy anymore and much more delicate.”

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