Amid relaxing standards of formality in the workplace, sales of suits in Japan have fallen sharply. But one Tokyo label is going against the grain. We meet the menswear mavericks behind The Gentleman in the Parlour.
The Gentleman in the Parlour (gip), which is exclusively sold at L’Echoppe in Tokyo and on the brand’s own website, is a traditional menswear brand from Tokyo with a progressive attitude. Launched in 2020, its first collection of six blazers caused a stir among menswear devotees, helping the label to establish itself quickly. This is a serious feat in a country that takes fashion seriously, particularly when suit sales are declining sharply.
Yet gip is carving its niche at the top end of the market thanks to the nous of its founders. The trio consists of Hideaki Miyahara, chief pattern-cutter of celebrated Tokyo label Scye; Keiji Kaneko, a major player in Japan’s retail scene; and Motofumi “Poggy” Kogi, a style icon and fashion curator. monocle sits down with them to discuss Japan’s unique relationship with tailoring and the future of the suit.
Who are the founders?
The 55-year-old Tokyo native is one of the finest pattern-cutters in the capital. A keen Anglophile, Miyahara started Scye with designer Hisayo Hidaka in 2000. Together with Hidaka, he has built the brand into a smart Tokyo staple for men and women with a discerning eye. In 2017 the duo also opened their first stand-alone shop, Scye Mercantile, in Tokyo’s Sendagaya neighbourhood.
Keiji Kaneko is one of the most influential figures in the Japanese fashion retail scene. He opened multi-label fashion retailer L’Echoppe in Tokyo in 2015 under the Baycrew’s Group. His sharp eye helps him to find great brands from all corners of the world. His talent goes beyond buying: he relentlessly pioneers exclusive L’Echoppe collaborations with the likes of Mackintosh and Heugn.
Motofumi ‘Poggy’ Kogi
Kogi is a style icon like no other. His playful looks attract fashion journalists and photographers in Florence, London and New York. From traditional three-piece suits to double-denim combos with wide-brimmed hats, there is nothing he can’t pull off. The 44-year-old left United Arrows in 2018, where he started his career, and today works independently as a fashion curator.
Take us through the history of the suit in Japan.
Hideaki Miyahara: We can rewind the clock to the Taisho era [1912-1926]. Japan still had a strong kimono culture, so people were not wearing suits or jackets as a fashion statement back then. Then, in the Showa period [1926-1989], especially during Japan’s rapid economic growth, it became normal for salarymen to wear suits to work. In the 1960s, mod fashion came from the UK, followed by the “ivy look” from the US. Japan had its moment with what we call “DC”, which is short for “designers and characters”. DC saw the rise of brands such as Yohji Yamamoto and Comme des Garçons, which made their own suits. The soft, unconstructed outfits of Giorgio Armani also inspired many Japanese designers. Japan had its own interpretation of this, making wide-shouldered, roomy suits.
Motofumi Kogi: The ivy movement was a major entry for fashion suits into Japan but, if you dig deeper, you go back to the UK. That’s how people in the Japanese fashion industry discovered traditional British [menswear]. What we called “classico Italia” in Japan was actually about British-inspired clothes that were made in highly skilled factories in Italy.
Keiji Kaneko: It was from the late 1990s to the early 2000s. Every multi-label retailer, from Edifice to United Arrows, Beams and Ships, was pushing classico. Some buyers might have added something different to the mix but Italy had total dominance. I saw nothing else at the time.
In 2005,the Japanese government launched ‘Cool Biz’, a summer initiative to ditch jackets and ties in offices to keep air conditioning at a level that is friendlier to the environment. How has this affected the sale of suits?
KK: Sales are massively down. I work next to the Edifice team [a retailer under the Baycrew’s Group] in the office, so I see the suit division and displays in the shop shrinking. Only the minimum is on offer. Simply put, the supply diminished as the demand declined. But I love suit culture regardless. From a fashion perspective, it’s heartbreaking to see things disappear just because they aren’t needed much. On reflection, Cool Biz was sort of a catalyst in forming our brand.
HM: gip has the potential to inspire the younger generation, triggering a ripple effect and affecting other brands in the big picture. Stylist Atsushi Okubo is doing the same with his suit brand, Stylist Japan. I believe that suits still hold a strong position in men’s fashion. We started this because we didn’t want to let the fire go out. We want people to know more about suits.
KK: What’s most disappointing about the current situation is that fashion retailers didn’t start selling suits just to cater to salarymen. The suit was important by itself. But as their businesses grew, the fashion-oriented direction was replaced by a market-driven approach. So this project is also about going back to the origins.
“We started this because we didn’t want to let the fire go out. We want people to know more about suits”
How did you all come together and form this idea?
KK: I met Kogi-san in August 2020.
MK: We’d met once before but it was the first time that we had the chance to properly talk over dinner. I said that we should do suits now because we live in a difficult time for formal menswear and that we should go against the grain. He had the same vision and things started rolling.
KK: I had been wanting to do something about the decline of suit culture. Suits might be losing their relevance in society but we wanted to challenge the status quo.
HM: Then Kaneko-san asked me to join and it was lightning-fast from there. We chose the items, fabrics and details, and launched the first collection in December 2020. Funnily enough, while many brands, including Scye, are struggling to sell suits, gip’s items are selling out. They’re not cheap. We’re grateful that people are appreciating the value. Some customers buy the whole collection.
Take us through your creative process.
KK: Kogi-san and I can always think of things we want to make. But we needed someone who can create them. Our standards are high. When we wondered who we could trust unconditionally, we could only think of Miyahara-san. This project confirmed that the pattern-cutter is such a critical player in the design process. Miyahara-san is also a designer in a sense that he has his own opinions.
HM: Usually, pattern-cutters simply produce the works that they are assigned. But at Scye I work together with designer Hisayo Hidaka, adding my own flavours into the fashion. It’s about playing to the strengths of specialists. Kaneko-san is a pro in buying and directing while Kogi-san is a style leader. But making is different. When a buyer tries to make clothes, he might only be able to realise about 30 per cent of his vision. I can’t do the buying but I’m an expert in making. My role is to understand their creative ideas and realise them perfectly.
KK: That the three of us share similar values is key. We all have different tastes but agree on what we think is cool. It’s a smooth collaboration. gip is about showcasing and promoting what we think is great, as opposed to what the market demands, so it’s important that everyone, including the production team, is on the same page. I was confident that, if we could build a strong team, we could make something that would speak to people in a time when everyone says that suits don’t sell. gip is a small community but it’s an ideal one.
Where did the unique name come from?
MK: Kaneko-san came up with the name from a novel by W Somerset Maugham, who was well-dressed. I also drew design inspiration from a four-button suit that the Duke of Windsor [King Edward viii of the UK] once wore. People such as them were muses for the brand.
KK: I had a lightbulb moment with the name. I knew that everyone would love it.
HM: You can picture a group of gentlemen talking when you read the name. It’s a delight for clothes-lovers like us to have deep conversations about what we make. After all, having fun is the most important element in creative work. It’s a thrilling experience to discuss, design and then wait for the samples. I can be a child again in the process.
Any personal memories with suits?
MK: My father was a quintessential Japanese salaryman with the salaryman haircut and suit. I couldn’t dislike it more. I joined United Arrows but I often went to Beams because they were strong in casual fashion. In my late twenties, I had more social occasions, such as weddings to wear suits. I enjoyed styling suits in my own way nobody else did. I’m a contrary person, so I want to do unconventional things. I find the fact that fewer people are wearing suits today as a positive opportunity.
KK: People had to wear suits to work until now. The custom is decaying but if there are good suits, why not wear them? Also, people used to care about the rules strictly; we want them to relax a bit.
MK: But authenticity remains important. You’d have no problem with gip garments when the dress code is formal.
KK: It’s handy if you have a proper jacket. Something like [the double-breasted jacket Kaneko-san is wearing] makes a big difference and takes you anywhere.
MK: And you can wear it for many years.
HM: People in 100 years from now may find our suits in a vintage clothes shop. I have a collection of garments from Savile Row that are about a century old.
What is the future of GIP and suit culture more broadly in Japan?
HM: gip’s third collection will be out in December. There are suits, shirts and a tweed jacket. It’s all made in Japan. We want to promote homegrown quality.
KK: We want to do it at our own pace. But we’d jump at the chance to sell gip to, say, the UK or Italy. Expanding can be a catalyst for change.
MK: Absolutely. I’d like to share my style tips with younger audiences too. I want to help them discover the joy of dressing down because you can actually do it with suits.
HM: Our plan is to grow organically, one step at a time. I wish someone like Michael Caine would wear our clothes. We want to showcase this quality to people around the world.
KK: We don’t want men to feel as though they have to wear suits. We want suits to be a positive choice for all sorts of occasions.
MK: Exactly. We don’t want to force anyone; we just want people to have fun.
HM: Fun is the key element. You don’t have to wear a two-piece suit; you could just put on a jacket. If we can help people to find their own ways of enjoying suits, we’ve done our job.
GIP is sold at L’Echoppe in Tokyo and its online store.