Stephen with Hiroki Nakamura at FIL (Photo by Josay)
If you care about the types of Japanese brands and products I like to feature here, you may have come across Stylistics Space before. Stylistics Space is a Sendai-based webshop run by Stephen Marzano, an ex-pat American who is an enthusiast and expert when it comes to brands like Visvim, WTAPS, Supreme, Goodenough and Neighborhood. Stephen is a proxy shopper for buyers outside Japan and his service comes highly recommended. Stephen was gracious enough to answer some of my questions on a variety of topics ranging from the ura harajuku scene to the what he’s learned proxying for years.
When did you move to Japan? What was the retail scene like when you first got there?
I moved out here to Japan (Sendai) a little over six years ago, back in 2007. The retail scene here in Sendai (North of Tokyo) was/is definitely a lot smaller than in Tokyo, but it surprised me a lot. For a relatively small city, I didn’t expect the retail scene to be so big and vibrant. I can’t really think of a brand, Japanese or otherwise, that wasn’t/isn’t available here through a stockist, if not through it’s own shop branch here.
How did you begin your site Stylistics Space and what product do you like to share through it?
Initially, it was simply a way for me to move old gear of my own. I think I had brought some old pieces of mine to a recycle shop here to sell a long time ago and was just blown away at how low the prices were that they offered me. I would rather have given them away to friends or just skated in them than sell them for the prices they offered me. But at the same time, auction sites weren’t worth the trouble and I got tired of trying to move stuff on the chat forums. With that said, I started up my first blog and after a short while, people started asking if I had any other sizes. After I noticed the interested, when I was making my weekly rounds to the recycle shops, I decided to start keeping an eye out for pieces that I thought people might appreciate and that were priced well, even if they weren’t my size.
As for product on the site, I tend to just stick to what I know and wear myself which is why it’s really heavy on brands like WTaps, Neighborhood, etc. I appreciate a lot of different aesthetics and designers, but it’s just more fun to stick to what I know/enjoy and leave the rest to the proxy side of the business.
Read the rest of the interview after the jump
What have you learned proxying items for people overseas? Do you find that the tastes of foreigners are very different than native Japanese.
I’ve learned that I hate my iPhone but can’t live without it…it’s an unhealthy relationship. I’ve also learned that there’s a lot of knowledge/appreciation for Japanese brands overseas…more so than I had ever thought when I lived there.
As for tastes, I think there are probably more similarities than differences these days. The flow of information on the internet just continues to break down so many barriers that at this point, for the most part, everyone has access to the same information/sources at nearly the same time. Be it consciously or subconsciously, I think people all over the world are influenced similarly by that.
If there’s any difference, I think people in Japan can sometimes be a bit more diverse with their styles and how they wear things. I think that’s simply attributed to the extra exposure they have that others overseas don’t have. We can see the product first-hand in the stores, on the staff, in the street…that’s plays a big part I think. I think for a lot of people overseas, chat forums can often be the most influential exposure they have. They don’t all have the luxury of seeing the products in person before they buy them, so what they do see on the forums is obviously what sticks out and grabs their attention. If someone on a forum posts a pic of something worn well or a positive opinion about something, that often catches on and people get interested in it. Similarly, if someone posts a pic of a piece worn poorly, I think a lot of people quickly become put off about buying it. I think there’s a risk involved for people overseas buying from Japan…that being of course one of time and money invested. And with that, I think a lot of buyers overseas tend to stick to items they know they can wear and that they know look good. On the other hand, they can be a bit apprehensive about buying other items which is why sadly, but understandably, a lot of great pieces just get completely overlooked by the overseas market. Whereas here in Japan, the gear is so much more accessible and that risk of time/money is lessened to the point where people are able to be a bit more experimental with what they buy and how they wear it.
How does the Japanese market view domestic products versus imports?
There’s definitely a place/market for both here in Japan. No matter where you are in the world, there will always be some bit of mystery/desire for all things foreign…and I think that of course holds true in Japan just as anywhere else. How else could anyone explain all the shops here reselling Old Navy, A&F, and other shitty western brands for three times the US retail… haha. But I think at the end of the day, the desire for quality, both of production and design, is still strong here and that’s where domestic brands often win out over imports.
Much of the stuff you like came out of the ura harajuku scene. Is that scene still quite influential within Japan?
Here’s my long-winded take on it…and please keep in mind, I’m 29 now so 20 years ago I was half a world away from Harajuku and most likely wearing some ill-fitting sports team t-shirt and some shitty basketball shorts.
The ‘ura’ in Ura-Hara means ‘behind’ or ‘back.’ ‘Hara’ of course refers to the neighborhood, Harajuku. Put them together, it essentially means the back side/back streets of Harajuku with an added implication that it is some place that’s off the beaten path, in both a literal and metaphorical sense. That doesn’t exist anymore…there is no unbeaten path anymore…there’s no ‘back side’ to Harajuku anymore. What people once referred to as “Ura-Hara” is all just simply Harajuku now.
When people reminisce about Ura-Hara, they’re reminiscing about an era in Japanese fashion/culture. Although I don’t know from first-hand experience as I wasn’t around then, I think we can say that that was a time when young creatives dropped roots in a relatively new place, naturally gravitated toward each other, fed off of each other’s ideas, created new styles, and as a byproduct, established this culture that was conducive to creativity and new ideas. All of this is what ultimately birthed the Ura-Hara styles/brands we still love today.
If you go to the area where Ura-Hara was born, a lot of those brands/designers are still there and so are the people buying them. But that era of creativity, rebellion, whatever…it’s not there anymore. It’s not some hub for young creatives anymore. It’s simply a retail hub. Rent is so high, young creatives couldn’t even exist there if they wanted to. But I don’t mean to say that it’s a bad thing. A lot of those brands that started there 20-some years ago are still just as relevant as ever…if not more. They don’t need to break ground like they did 20-some years ago. They’ve already broken ground and are still maintaining it. But that idea of Ura-Hara that is so heavily romanticized is long since gone.
I guess to sum it up…the brands are still influential to some extent. But I wouldn’t really call the scene, itself, very influential anymore.
What new brands have emerged in the last few years?
I’ve kind of nestled myself safely under a rock as far as brands I pay attention to…but I called on James (Nagoya Yom) for this one, and we both agree that Peel & Lift is definitely one of the more interesting ones. Another one mentioned was At Last & Co which, even in Japan, still remains pretty under the radar. Also, although I’m not so interested in it myself, I think Aape may be worth a mention. I say that because it seems to be the first real attempt by any of the established brands here to actively reach out to the new generation in Japan who are becoming somewhat infamous for their disinterest in wanting to spend money on brands/fashion (or at least to the extent of generations past).
How would you describe the streetstyle in your area now and has it changed in recent years?
Sendai is definitely a lot more conservative compared to Tokyo. You don’t see kids walking around wearing American flags around their necks like a cape, mall-grabbing Supreme boards as fashion accessories in hopes that some fashion magazine will take a street snap of them. People tend to just stick to practical styles and although they keep up with trends, they don’t really seem to be ones to start them.
As far changes, I don’t think there have really been any major ones other than the usual changes in trends. Other than that, it feels just the same as it was six years ago.
What are some holy grails that are still on your list?
I try not to use the term “holy grail” lightly…haha. With that said, I only really had two…the Ape/Unkle stadium jacket in black/white and the Wtaps/Philosophy stadium jacket with the applique ‘P’ on the front…both of which I was lucky enough to come across in the past year or so. Aside from that, I think the only other thing at this point that would justify the term “holy grail” would be a personally engraved Goro’s rose bracelet…but I think that’s more of a pipe dream. More realistically might be to finally come across a large saki-kin Goro’s feather on a trip to the shop…that hasn’t happened yet.
All product photos above can be found on Stylistics Space.