Japanese tailors transform bespoke suiting with their blend of meticulous detail and classic training
Bespoke suits at the menswear label Ciccio can easily set back a discerning gentleman a cool HK$35,000. However, despite its Italian-sounding name and its classic Italian looks, Ciccio suits are not made in Naples or Florence, but in an atelier in Tokyo's trendy Aoyama district.
The label comes from the nickname of its founder, Noriyuki Ueki, who had a stint with master tailor Antonio Pascariello in Naples about 12 years ago. Ciccio is one of the new breed of Japanese brands - albeit the most famous - including Camoshita, Ring Jacket, and Tomorrowland, that are beginning to attract international the attention of global audience with their mix of traditional classic men's suiting and Asian aesthetics.
"The heritage behind classic Italian suiting is [impeccable]; I went to Naples to learn all that. Japanese [tailoring] is very exquisite," Ueki says. The result, for Ueki and his fellow Japanese artisans, is a style that merges Italian classics and Japanese craftsmanship.
Not all of the new breed of Italian-trained Japanese suitmakers have returned to Japan. It's not difficult to find Japanese master tailors at work in some of the most prestigious bespoke suiting houses too, and artisans such Kotaro Miyahira has set up Corcos in Florence while Kenjiro Suzuki has established himself in Paris.
The emergence of Japanese tailors focused on classic sartorial style has much to do with the country's deeply rooted artisan culture.
"Young, promising tailors are very committed to their craft," says Alan See, co-founder of The Armoury, which stocks classic menswear and represents bespoke tailors across the globe. "This commitment, almost obsession with details, is in [the Japanese] culture. There's a [major] sense of artisanship."
Sam Lobban, the buying manager for online men's retailer Mr Porter, agrees. He says that in addition to the worship of heritage, precision and dandyism are two other elements of Japanese culture that complement classic suiting, helping to make Japan one of the first countries in Asia to embrace the style.
"A fine-tailored suit with impeccable craftsmanship can represent the ultimate uniform for a working man," Lobban says. "Japan also has dedicated magazines to men's suiting and tailoring, signifying the significance it plays in men's fashion."
While British tailors are known for structured cuts and Italian suiting opts for a more fitted silhouette, the Japanese style strikes a perfect balance between a classic Western look and Asian aesthetics.
"I always consider the iconic style from a different period of time, say the 1930s or the '70s, and express my aesthetics with contemporary arrangements," says Yasuto Kamoshita of Camoshita. "I think my fans like the way I dress by expressing classic style in the mood of the times with Japanese sensitivity."
Tomorrowland menswear director Daisuke Nakajo concurs, saying he takes a similar approach to put a modern twist on classic suiting. "For the two British tailoring styles - the Savile Row and New British style - we decide what [elements] to take and leave out, and I believe we can grasp the essence of British styles [this way]," he says.
While classic Western suiting emphasises effortless elegance, the precision of the fit is a signature feature of Japanese tailoring. "Japanese tailors are perfectionists, meticulous with details such as the position and angle of the lapel," says Brandon Chau, a Hong Kong socialite and entrepreneur who became a bespoke suit lover seven years ago. "My fitting with an Italian tailor might take only five minutes, whereas with a Japanese tailor it can take longer than an hour. I was told by a friend to hit the loo before my first fitting with a Japanese tailor."
Apart from the school of innovators, there are also purists such as Ciccio's Ueki, who strive for the authenticity of traditional suiting.
"They are willing to experience and travel back to the classic roots," See says. "More importantly, they are doing it out of interest or passion instead of too much commercial sense - it's not like they are planning to have their company listed in two years."
Often held as a best-kept secret among well-heeled gentlemen, the Japanese style of menswear not only appeals to Asian customers, but also reaches out to the international market.
"There's no longer much difference between Western and Asian customers," Kamoshita says. "Social media is probably one of the reasons behind that. I believe that each person has a different way to express themselves. The way they dress reflects their personal tastes, lifestyle and values."
The Armoury, which stocks Ciccio and Ring Jacket in its Hong Kong and New York stores, has witnessed the growing interest. "Since we started representing Ring Jacket in New York, for instance, it's been performing really well in a global context," See says. "It's because of the fit, the quality and really the craftsmanship behind [the pieces]."
Mr Porter's Lobban also recognises the growing demand. The website has launched Camoshita for the 2016 spring/summer collection as a highlight of their Japanese collaborations.
"We find the Japanese approach to design and tailoring has a very global appeal," Lobban says. "Japanese tailoring often extends from the traditional Italian aesthetics, combining colour, patterns and textures in an impeccably precise fashion. Italians are often bolder in terms of fabric selection, while the Japanese are particularly good at fusing workwear and sportswear elements into traditional tailoring."
Mainstream luxury menswear brands are also riding on this new wave of tailoring. In October, Ermenegildo Zegna launched its Zegna Couture Made in Japan collection in Tokyo, featuring Japanese artisans in bespoke suiting as well as quality denim. And more labels are offering made-to-measure services catering to customers' increasing demands for menswear and classic suiting.
As the Asian market continues to grow in importance not only in menswear but the luxury industry as a whole, the region's aesthetics are also influencing global trends. "With Asia being the dominant force in luxury brands today, we cannot neglect the demands and sartorial needs of our Asian customers," Lobban says. "More Asian designers are holding powerful roles in the industry. Asia is an exciting and vibrant continent, both culturally and aesthetically, and fashion and style is something that its various nations share a strong passion in."