By Raiment Young
Until the arrival of 45R on our shores recently, I got my fill of their beautifully crafted clothes from Hong Kong, where their two-storey standalone truly stands alone on the island’s newly-hip Star Street. Its unmistakable Japanese exterior beckons with a somewhat tawny glow that suggests residential rather than commercial space. Inside, you’re immediately transported into a world that’s incongruent with the city in which 45R has come to entice. This is artistry unique to Japan, but it’s not big-city ingenuity that sets it apart. Rather, it’s small-town skill and charm.
Before that, my first encounter with this Japanese brand was not, as you might suspect, in Tokyo, but in New York. This was in 2000, a year before the attacks on the twin towers of the World Trade Center, when the area of Soho was beginning to lure mega-luxury brands such as Prada, then going through a protracted renovation and occupation of its Rem Koolhaas-designed flagship on Broadway that was formerly the Guggenheim Soho.
The 45R store, situated a hop away from Houston Street on Mercer Street, was quite unlike anything seen in this part of New York. Its folksy vibe was at odds with its immediate neighbours of that time: stores that could possibly double as a second home for hip hop fan boys. For this reason, 45R was unmistakable and unmissable. You had the feeling—I certainly did—that something different and special could be uncovered. What I was enthralled with was how organic everything was, in every sense of the word. There was a tactile thrill and response that I had not experienced before. Although at that time, brands such as Gap and the Old Navy were already laundering their garments to elicit a touch that suggest well-worn (and possibly well-loved) clothes, the 45R texture was not of quite the same softness. They were rather coarse but in an exquisite way, just like good pound cake—you want them grainy, not silk-soft. What was palpable was that these were clothes made by sensitive hands that wanted the garments to be touched as much as worn.
Paneling and spiral planes characterised the interior of 45R
The 45R line is part of a larger main line 45RMP that started in 1977 to showcase Japanese fabrics, dressmaking skill, and dyeing techniques. The collections, however, were not meant to mimic those you may find in cultural villages set up to entertain tourists rather than protect indigenous craft. While their design details could be traced to specialised artisans in rural Japan and the silhouette is home-in-the-country, 45RMP is urban in its aesthetic sensibility. And like so many of their compatriots, they are masters at taking something classic and give it a makeover that somehow does not obliterate the original form.
It is in the same spirit that 45R was conceived; only this time, the use of Japanese indigo, specifically the shade ai-iro, (together with the tie-dye technique shibori) takes centrestage. Japanese indigo has enjoyed a revival of sorts with brands such as Kapital and Blue Blue taking not just this unique colour to new heights, but, alongside, folk fabrics such as the boro (literally, scraps of cloth). For his current spring/summer season, Junya Watanabe Men’s collection was awash with indigo and the boro, an unabashed salute to the crafts of his native land. So 45R’s arrival can only be described as timely.
45R is reported to be brought in through a joint venture between Japan’s 45RPM Studio Co., Ltd and George Quek of the BreadTalk Group. It is unclear whether this is Mr Quek’s personal investment or a subsidiary of BreadTalk. In Hong Kong, 45R is distributed and retailed by Sidefame (its Singapore office is behind the recent opening of Marimekko, also in Capitol Piazza), so it was initially thought that Sidefame would be bringing 45R to Singapore. Mr Quek’s involvement is not surprising as his close associate and Taiwanese franchisee of BreadTalk Song Yih (who’s also the man behind the look of all BreadTalk stores locally and in the region), retails 45R in Taipei. Food and fashion do not necessarily make an odd couple.
But selling S$1.70 pork floss buns and retailing S$220 indigo T-shirts require quite different vending propositions. While I appreciate 45R’s truly fine-looking clothes (including their roominess—so that you don’t need to be bundled up like a furoshiki) many others find their plainness and shabbiness too evident to justify the high price point. A dear fashionista friend WhatsApped me earlier: “I love a jacket but when I looked at the tag, it silently spat at me! I don’t want to spend $2500 to look like a beggar.” Unlike the price tag, the complicated, no-two-are-alike shibori technique employed in the making of that jacket was apparently not communicating to him. Perhaps what I heard in the 45R shop in Beijing’s Sanlitun 3 years ago rings more truth. A spiffy Chinese lad holding aloft a shirt of woodblock print told his girlfriend, “Now and then, it pays to pay extra for clothes by people who just get it.”
45R is at 01-13, Capitol Piazza. Photos: Jim Sim