On the occasion of Beams Plus' exclusive capsule for MR PORTER, we spoke with design director Shinsuke "Alex" Nakada on Japan's obsession with Americana, frolicking on the beaches of California and idolizing Paul Weller.
Japanese Americana clothing has always held a special spot in the hearts of menswear enthusiasts. The genre is somewhat of a holy grail when it comes to fashion; it’s coveted and emulated but more than difficult to actually access. How many times have you seen a news posting on this site announcing a product or collection that’s available only in Japan? Even American and European brands are caught marketing “Japan exclusives,” trying to enter that part of the market while stealing the limelight. Unless you live in a city with niche boutiques that happen to stock a sprinkling of popular Japanese brands (Gentry, Oi Polloi, Union LA and Nepenthes NY are good examples), there’s no real luck finding anything close to them. But thanks to online retailers like END. Clothing and MR PORTER, that’s changing, slowly but surely.
Pretty much everything about Japanese culture is closed, except its cuisine and technology which are so widely adapted. Take J-pop music, for example, which is such a specific genre that it sounds like nothing else out there; unlike other countries whose musicians may borrow from Western music trends, Japan largely sticks to what they know and like. The East Asian islanders live with a sense of pride for their formula, closing themselves off to enjoy what most of us foreigners only stand on our toes to peek. The same applies to their clothing; many Japanese brands today don’t even bother to operate a functional, readable website, let alone any social media. This very exclusivity, coupled with the obsessive attention to detail that only the Japanese seem to have mastered, is precisely how Japanese menswear remains so sought after and emulated.
But while some menswear brands in Japan may be content being niche, there are others who, quite understandably, want to grow on a global scale. Japanese brands' maintenance of a premium image may help getting them on fashion sites like this, but stops short when it comes to real performance and profitability overseas. Support by prominent international retailers can make or break them outside Japan, which is why, when MR PORTER approached Beams to be part of its special Japanese capsule project, the brand wholeheartedly jumped on the chance.
The e-tailer’s global reach is unquestioned, and it helped that Beams was already a fan. “We appreciate the level of attention MR PORTER pays to the editorials they produce for their global audience,” raves Shinsuke Nakada, design director of Beams Plus (who also goes by the name Alex for English speakers). “MR PORTER successfully presents our overall brand aesthetic.” However respected the retailer is, however, Nakada had his own reasons of wanting to collaborate with the team. “Personally, I was so happy when I found that Mr. Paul Weller was wearing our clothing. He is one of [my] biggest icons,” Nakada confesses. Beams Plus and MR PORTER’s relationship started the summer of 2013, when the brand created its first exclusive capsule for the online store.
In a separate interview, Nakada told MR PORTER that Japan’s ability to execute Americana-inspired clothing better than Americans comes from the nation’s “healthy spirit of inquiry in clothing.” According to the designer, the Japanese “are interested in all of the processes, the reason for those processes and their associated historical backgrounds.” Beams itself was founded on studying and updating American uniform styles from the ‘40s to the ‘60s, the last decade of which is precisely when Japan’s fascination with preppy US Ivy League clothing began. Beams consistently harks back to these eras when looking to appropriate Ivy League culture, putting its own twists on seemingly classic styles. Beams Plus is just its higher-end body part, sophisticating that for an audience who craves the same casual sportiness in more grown-up garb.
For Spring/Summer 2015, MR PORTER supplied the theme for Beams Plus to work off of, which was “Palm Spring Holiday.” Nakada took this quite literally, embroidering subtle but playful palm tree patches to the collars, hems and chest pockets of his exclusive styles. When choosing the color palette, Nakada imagined Californian students “frolicking around by the sea in resort-style swimshorts and college t-shirts,” resulting in the balmy yellow and beige alongside crisp white and navy. The casual fun of it all is elevated in the form of summer suiting, the navy set of which Nakada points out as his favorite from the entire capsule.
The slim-fit, unstructured two-button jacket and contrast hem suit shorts epitomize Beams Plus’ key words of American casual, sporty and sophisticated. And it doesn't seem like Nakada nor Beams Plus plans to stray from that any time soon. When asked whether he wants to try something different other than Americana, Nakada discloses, “It would be interesting to design something based on traditional British style, which of course is where Americana style is rooted from.” Radical.
Shop the full Beams Plus for MR PORTER capsule here.