When David Bowie performed his final set as Ziggy Stardust at the Hammersmith Odeon in 1973, he wore stage outfits by designer Kansai Yamamoto that referenced traditional kimono styles; Ziggy’s striking make-up came from Kabuki theatre too. Bowie enjoyed an affinity with Japanese culture that surfaced again in 1978 when he performed Sense of Doubt from the album Heroes wearing a wide-sleeved wrap shirt. That draped, wrapped aesthetic is echoed in a roster of menswear this autumn, in keeping with the fluid cuts that have been appearing recently in men’s tailoring.
Japanese workwear is at the heart of the trend, as such utilitarian pieces can slot effortlessly into western wardrobes. Timothy Everest is a tailor who frequently takes his influences from Japan – and actor Ralph Fiennes is a bespoke customer. “Ralph spotted our house cutter wearing a vintage Japanese work jacket and asked us to make him one [from £1,800] in indigo-dyed kendo cloth,” says Everest. The material is used to make the keikogi jackets worn in martial arts, with a distinct weave resembling a heavy piqué blend. The Chore jacket (£2,500 bespoke; £600 ready-to-wear) has a deceptively simple appearance, with beautiful bindings and the hidden details typical of Japanese style. Everest now uses Japanese cloth for other garments, such as his bespoke Boro shirt (£1,500). And from Everest’s ready‑to-wear outfitters comes the knitted link-stitch cardigan (£135), in camel, charcoal and navy.
Visvim, a label launched by designer Hiroki Nakamura in 2000, has reinterpreted Japanese clothing traditions and fabrics, such as the washed denim and chambray cotton tunics once worn by the country’s farmers and blue-collar workers. Nakamura takes his cue from the so-called wabi‑sabi approach, harnessing the beauty of imperfection. The label’s Sanjuro raglan jacket in black wool (£1,205) is tailored with hand-decorated, top‑stitched hems and has a beautiful drape. And a cracking example of Nakamura’s vision can be seen in the Dotera down coat ($3,005), a padded ski-style jacket featuring a distinctive top-stitched “eri” lapel facing typical of the kimono.
Kimono influences can also be seen in men’s formalwear. For example, Balmain’s creative director Olivier Rousteing has been working with kimono structures and motifs and mixing them with elements of French cavalry jackets. A deep-jade velvet jacket (£2,173) has a satin eri-style collar and sits somewhere between a smoking jacket and a kimono. I was particularly struck by the bottle-green ponyskin Spencer jacket (€4,420) with a super‑soft black lambskin eri collar.
There’s kimono-inspired knitwear, too, such as Berluti’s black ribbed cashmere cardigan (£2,605), which has an ornate gridded weave and works as an engulfing coat. In its runway show the brand presented a cool striped kimono-style cardigan (price on request) worn under tailoring. Shirts also get a look in with Rick Owens’ oversized shirt (£420) in tactile stonewashed seersucker with a black poplin trim.
The self-proclaimed “herald of bold, assertive masculinity”, Umit Benan is a designer with a refreshing approach to menswear. This season his Tokyo Diaries collection is a dramatic combination of elegant cutting and contemporary Japanese street style mixed with influences from traditional martial arts, such as a paisley jacquard kimono jacket (€1,660) with a knitted collar. A navy and white striped kimono shirt (€483) is worn under precise tailoring, such as a sharp red coat (€1,431), while a brown shearling leather kimono jacket (€3,915) with black leather eri detailing is a brilliant piece of outerwear. There is also great casual eveningwear, including a rich-blue velvet kimono/smoking jacket hybrid (€594). Benan’s online store launches this month.
Tim Soar uses vintage kimono silks for short-sleeved picture-back tops (£500) and drawstring picture-back jackets (£800) with a sportswear sensibility. “Nobody does silk better than Japan, and the best are akin to technical sports fabric,” says Soar, who is also the creative director at a brand that specialises in running gear. Other pieces are based on kendo jackets (£575), with a canvas material doubled over at the collar and hems, and then topstitched for strength. The motif is also used in chic tailored pieces such as a V-neck top (£300) and tailored trousers (£450) with a topstitched belt detail.
Finally, at Kilgour, creative director Carlo Brandelli continues to develop his purist modern cuts with a silver asymmetric silk jacket (£1,300) and vest (£695) that subtly evoke Japanese aesthetics, as do a shawl‑collared jacket (£1,900) over an asymmetric double-breasted waistcoat (£580) and a sophisticated midnight-blue silk‑trimmed shawl-collar blazer (£2,700) in mohair.