What makes a cult favourite? TAN MIN YAN discovers the appeal of Japanese artisanal label 45R in Tokyo.
The 45R stores in Japan are designed to make customers feel at home.
To assume that Japanese clothier 45R – which set up its first Singapore store at Capitol Piazza late last year – plays by the same fashion rules as others in the industry would be to misunderstand the core of the brand.
“What does 45R do to stay trendy to attract the younger customers?” I asked Yasumi Inoue, the 62-yearold executive director, head designer and co-founder of the label, when we met at the brand’s headquarters in Tokyo.
She frowned slightly, as though confused by the question, and asked our translator for clarification. The question and translation were repeated, and still, her brow remained furrowed.
Then, as she started to explain in her gentle lilt, I realised what had her confounded: There just isn’t anything the brand does in particular to “be cool”.
“We do not chase trends – the material always comes first,” she explained. “For us, a trend and a material have to work together to form the garment. That’s what 45R is all about.”
A symbiotic relationship
Its penchant for understated, relaxed designs that exude a breezy nonchalance means 45R is easy to miss without a discerning eye. But that is perhaps what’s made it such a cult favourite – so much so that it now boasts 47 stores around Japan, and 14 elsewhere in the world, including fashion capitals Paris and New York City.
It is the antithesis of fast fashion, born in 1978 out of a desire to showcase Japanese craftsmanship in the form of durable clothes that last a lifetime. Its name, derived from the constant rotational speed of the 45rpm (revolutions per minute) vinyl record, represents the brand’s dedication to consistently producing good work.
The brand may tout its design philosophy as “materials first”, but it’s perhaps more accurate to describe the relationship between the two elements as symbiotic. The choice of materials guides the design of the garments, while the time-honoured artisanal techniques employed – like block printing or silk screening – allow the fabrics to shine.
It works like this: Topquality materials are sourced from Scotland, China and India. Then, designs that the team believes will best complement the materials are sketched out, and sent for production.
Once the sample pieces are ready, they are presented to store managers from around the world, who try them on and provide feedback on how they could be improved upon in terms of design and fit. Actual production takes place mostly in the motherland – 80 per cent of 45R’s clothes are made in Japan, across 35 factories and companies that specialise in different artisanal techniques.
This entire process, from design room to boutique floor, takes approximately a year. Three ranges – basic, seasonal and ai – showcase items like the signature Star T-shirt (touted as “the T-shirt you would wear to high-end restaurants and luxury hotels”) in Zimbabwe cotton; tops, bottoms and frocks in seasonal fabrics and patterns; and items coloured with the precious ai indigo dye respectively.
The flagship Badou-R store in Aoyama, Tokyo, is designed like a traditional Japanese house.
Hinoki wood imported from Japan features heavily in the Singapore store.
Comfort and quality are both key to the brand.
Head designer Yasumi Inoue is also the face of 45R.
Indigo-dyed denim jeans are a signature item of 45R too.
The pursuit of service perfection
The brand’s fastidious approach to quality also applies to its service.
In Tokyo, 45R’s flagship Badou-R store in the chic Aoyama neighbourhood is designed as a stunning, traditional two-storey Japanese home with a Zenlike appeal. The Manzoku Atelier, a special workshop open only to club members, helps revive old garments by resizing, recolouring, or changing the silhouettes.
In Singapore, the store is a sun-drenched space illuminating the hinokiwood ceiling beams, floors and walls. Members also get access to the atelier, as well as a special laundry service that helps reduce the stress on your precious togs.
To say that 45R is more a way of life than a fashion label is probably the description that comes closest to encapsulating its nature. To don one of its garments is to appreciate true craftsmanship and hospitality.
It’s like a little secret only you know, from the way the fabric falls and feels on your skin; a secret you share with fellow aficionados, your garments identifiable only by an innocuous label or embroidery bearing an “R” on its side.
The brand isn’t in the business of making fashion, fleeting as it is; Instead, 45R makes everyday clothing with such attention to detail, they’re elevated to timeless, precious pieces you’ll want to keep for a very long time.
SIGNATURE FABRICS OF 45R: RESPECTING TRADITION
Ai Khadi denim shirt, $690.
Ai-dyed denim: It uses a 600-year-old dyeing method once reserved for aristocrats’ clothing. The blue is derived from a natural indigo extract called ai, from the rare tadeai plant. To do the dyeing, 45R partners Asai Roketsu, a small, family-run specialist dyer.
Khadi silk dress, $1,330.
Khadi silk: This is spun and woven by hand to create a versatile fabric light enough for Singapore’s heat, yet keeps you warm in air-conditioned offices. It originated in India, boasts a history dating back thousands of years, and is still produced mainly in India.
Zimbabwe cotton Indigo 45Star T-shirt, $190.
Zimbabwe cotton: Used to make 45R’s signature Star T-shirt, it’s regarded as one of the finest varieties of cotton in the world. The label works only with farmers who grow the cotton organically and pick it by hand. The fabric apparently gets even more comfortable with extended wear.