Why street style is over, in the eyes of one of its original stars, and the menswear trends he’s seeing in Hong Kong and Japan
Tokyo-based menswear guru, street style star and retail maven Motofumi ‘Poggy’ Kogi talks style versus fashion, Japanese fashion, and what caught his ear in Hong Kong, including buzz about firm that made Bruce Lee’s underwear
Long before menswear became one of the most popular hashtags on Instagram and young men started developing an almost obsessive interest in the intricacies of Italian-made shoes and Savile Row suits, there was Motofumi “Poggy” Kogi. While you may not be familiar with the dapper, Tokyo-based director of United Arrows & Sons, the in-house label from cult Japanese retailer United Arrows, the man is a celebrity in menswear circles.
Mobbed by snappers at fashion week, Poggy was a street style star back when the phenomenon had just begun and before it turned into the soulless commercial enterprise that it is now. He’s the poster child for a stylish cadre of Japanese men who are able to combine the best of Italian sprezzatura (nonchalance), British elegance and American swagger, reinterpreting it all in their own way.
On a recent visit to Hong Kong to take part in the second edition of Fashion Asia, Poggy was quick to dismiss his influence as an arbiter of style and the public’s obsession with street-style coverage.
“It’s a bit over, honestly. I personally find that I come up with the best outfits when I’m drunk and the photos that got popular were those,” he says, laughing.
“Coordinating outfits is something I used to do in the privacy of my home, no big deal, but then those pictures spread around the world. I was just enjoying it myself. And to be honest, most photographers, except for Tommy Ton, Scott Schuman and Phil Oh, don’t have great technique or camera skills and there’s too many now.”
It’s a typical complaint from those who, like Poggy, have greatly benefited from the boom in street photography and now find the label of street-style star a bit constricting. You can’t deny, however, that Poggy’s style sense is truly innate and far from a costume he puts on when the cameras are around.
“I think that fashion and style are different things,” he says. “Fashion changes every other month; style doesn’t. No matter what you wear, eat, buy or ride, you will always have style so if you don’t have fashion sense, you can buy expensive and beautiful stuff but it won’t work; it’s only buying clothes and the clothes are wearing you.”
While it’s Poggy’s personal style that gets all the attention in the fashion capitals of the world, if you’ve ever been to a United Arrows store you’ll be aware of the significant impact the shop has had on the global retail scene.
Although the chain has now branches all over Japan, it still has the look and feel of what the Japanese call “select shops”, small neighbourhood boutiques catering to the local crowd and specialising in niche designers mixed with luxury brands and little-known Western labels resurrected from oblivion. “The brands we carry, also those from overseas, have a lot of history,” explains Poggy. “The mix of those brands plus our in-house line makes the business format of United Arrows different from the usual shops – it makes for a different experience.”
Shopping in Japan is indeed an experience: from the extremely polite and knowledgeable sales staff to the way they present garments and the great variety in even the smallest shops, the Japanese still know how to make shopping fun, which explains why e-commerce is not as strong in Japan as in other developed nations. “E-commerce is growing but the Japanese fashion scene is different. In Japan the shops and the magazines play a role in telling people how to wear clothes and mix and match items. Sales assistants give good advice and customers love trying on outfits and receiving input from them,” says Poggy. “It’s also a matter of service, a true sense of hospitality.”
A keen observer of what’s happening in his home country and around the world, Poggy finds Hong Kong’s menswear scene energised, and reveals an unexpected recent discovery.
“Up until a few years ago, men in Hong Kong and China liked to buy big labels but now street wear is growing,” he says. “I also noticed among young men an increased interest in traditional local brands such as Lee Kung Man, which used to make T-shirts and underwear for Bruce Lee.”
What about Tokyo, then? Is the city still the epicentre of cool it once was or has it been eclipsed by up-and-coming hubs such as Seoul and Shanghai? According to Poggy, new stuff in Japan is actually coming from off-the-grid places in the countryside rather than big towns such as Tokyo.
“I’m discovering more and more small shops and they’re all in the country,” says Poggy. “In Fukuoka, for instance, the founder of Sophnet, Hirofumi Kiyonaga, runs a shop by himself, Kiyonaga & Co, and the concept is only pop-ups.
“When it first opened it sold only vintage furniture by Jean Prouvé and he always does different things, like pop-ups with artists. It’s also interesting that the store is near the station, an area where fashion people don’t normally go, but I like that. In the past the mass market and high-end market used to be separated but now that’s changing.”
So while Poggy is getting ready to bask in the limelight at the men’s shows later this month, his true passion lies in discovering small gems that are obviously little players when compared to the empire that is United Arrows but serve as a reminder of how it all started for the company that he now heads.
Poggy’s little black book in Tokyo
Restaurant: Narukiyo, a new concept izakaya in Shibuya.
Hotel: the Okura is the best, but I preferred it before the renovation.
Hangouts: vinyl bars such as Little Soul Café in Shimokitazawa, and Nanzuka art gallery in Shibuya.
Local labels: I love Sacai, but in terms of new brands, I like Midorikawa, Sulvam and Mame, a brand that will show in Paris in March for the first time so watch out for them.