Beams Is Back!

Just as it was the first time round, Japanese select store Beams’ return is a pop-up affair. Is one of Tokyo’s most recognisable retail names destined to be a short-time fling on our shores?


Beams Oct 2019 OP1

By Raiment Young

I get this nagging feeling that a couple or so retailers are trying very hard to bring Beams to Singapore, but none are confident that it’ll be successful enough to warrant regular shop space in a retail landscape of not so regular rentals. In 2014, the Hong Kong-based, multi-label store Kapok brought Beams not to the mall near you, but to its confines at the National Design Centre. It was a 30-day pop-up, enmeshed within the somewhat chaotic layout of Kapok, with merchandise that differentiated not from those of the store that hosted them.

Beams’ quiet departure after that brief intro to Singaporean shoppers suggested to me that it fared insufficiently well for Kapok to extend its run or to give it a chance in its own freestanding space. Although Japan has been, for a long time, a favourite holiday destination among Singaporeans, and clothing brands, such as Beams, are familiar, if not popular, these names do not, curiously, have enough pull for shoppers here to be interested in them to the point that they deserve strong physical presence here. I suppose Lumine is an exception, but it isn’t certain that it is a model of Japanese select store success yet.

Beams Oct 2019 OP4Beams Oct 2019 OP2

Beams’ sophomore outing here is undertaken by Colony Clothing, a Japanese-owned, Singapore-based clothier with a single store at the off-the-beaten UE Square. The Beams pop-up is, in fact, a two-site set-up: one in Takashimaya Shopping Centre, and the other in Colony Clothing’s own store, with the former operating till December, while the latter will be available till early next year. Curiously, both pop-ups close two weeks or so before the twin mega-shopping seasons of the year—Christmas and Chinese New Year respectively.

I did not trek down to UE Square; I chose to visit Beams at Taka instead, as I was making a trip to Kinokuniya, where I was hoping to find a copy of Thrust: A Spasmodic Pictorial History of the Codpiece in Art. But Beams came first. Actually, it’s hard to miss. The space—called “spot” by Colony Clothing—is on, well, a spot, previously occupied by many other brands, such as Aveda, if I remember correctly. Unusually, it looks very much like a pop-up, rising from a traffic intersection of sort and not circumscribed by walls or windows; it’s not even configured as a regular square or rectangle.

Beams Oct 2019 OP3

The heptagonal spot is quite a tight space, which means the merchandise on offer do not enjoy a terribly large SKU. Basically split into two unequal sections, with the men’s taking up the larger and the women’s occupying the other, linked by a rack for both, Beams is stocked with products that tend to err on the side of the too-basic. I risk throwing on you the proverbial wet blanket if I tell you not to expect too much, but this is, in truth, not a miniature of the Beams flagship in Shinjuku. Apart from the clothing, some simple totes, and a couple of pairs of shoes, there are none of the cute/quirky accessories and the fun and useful knick-knacks that Beams is also known for.

I suspect the buying reflects Colony Clothing’s known climate-correct merchandising, which may also take into consideration Singaporean’s lack of interest in things not terribly practical. Opened in 2014 by Kozo Kawamura and Kensuke Sato, two former colleagues at Beams (now you see!), Colony Clothing is where fashion-correct (not necessarily forward) guys go for their sartorial fix, and this, I have been told, includes suits with relaxed cuts and in fabrication that allows wearers to embrace non-air-conditioned spaces. The store is consistently considered one of the best offering men’s wear on our island, with enough of the unexpected to encourage repeat visits (on one of those, I scored my first pair of Premiata sneakers). With Beams to add a feather to their cap, perhaps, also the most willing to give the former a winning chance.

Beams is opened till 6 November at B2, Takashimaya S.C. (in front of Scotch & Soda) and till 17 January 2020 at Colony Clothing, UE Square. Photos: Gallery Gombak

Possible: The Hybrid Slipper-Sneaker

We were on a hunt for something that slipper-loving individuals may cop that would not sacrifice their need for supreme comfort, and and we remember these


Whole Love Kyoto.jpg

They can’t possibly exist. But they do. This is an intermarriage that will bring a smile to the most hardened skeptic. Or, the individual who wants the best of both worlds but, until now, has to settle for one. A sneaker can indeed be paired with thongs!

These are Hanao shoes and they are conceived and made by the indie Japanese label Whole Love Kyoto, a social-enterprise-like outfit that interprets traditional Japanese—for now, specifically Kyoto—crafts and techniques in compelling modern ways. Founded just a year ago, and based in Kyoto (of course!), the brand’s off-beat Hanao shoes have since been snapped up by hipster retailer D&Department (that collaborated with Comme des Garcons for the just-ended Good Design Shop) and the always alluring Beams. In London, they debuted in Liberty and Selfridges, cementing the brand’s elevated standing.

The head-turning Hanao is basically a classic sneaker style or a slip-on afixed with the thongs traditionally found on footwear worn with kimonos: the geta and the zori. These straps are not to be mistaken for those on the slippers we know since they are infinitely more attractive than the functional ones you’re used to seeing. If you pick the white sneaker base, you’ll look like you’re wearing the tabi with a zori!

We first saw the canvas version of the Hanao early this year in the Beams flagship store in Shinjuku, Tokyo. There was an immediate pull to them and we were keen to try them on, but they didn’t have the sizes we asked for. The Hanao is backed again at Beams, this time a pop-up for Whole Love Kyoto. If you have friends going to Tokyo, get them to cop you a pair. Or, alternatively, consider Whole Love Kyoto’s e-shop.

Whole Love Kyoto’s Hanao leather sneakers, ¥27,400, is available for both men and women at Beams, Shinjuku Tokyo. Photo: Beams Tokyo

A Case For Clear

Beam X Ziploc fanny pack

By Mao Shan Wang

After airlines around the world impose a limit on the quantity of liquids allowed in bags that are to be carried in the cabin, post-September 11, I have given Ziploc bags a life outside the kitchen. Sure, airport security no longer strictly require you to have the secrets to your enviable skin in a see-through case, but I still stick with the Ziploc as I am not especially mindful of screwing the caps of toners and shampoos tight before putting them away for a flight. As you know, mucky or soapy Ziplocs can be easily and inexpensively replaced.

What I did not expect is that Ziploc can become articles of fashion, not especially when many parts of the world are banning (or restricting) the use of disposable plastic bags. To be fair, a Ziploc need not be for one-time use since they are stronger and more resistant to tear that those plastic bags found in the fruit section of supermarkets— available in a roll and can be torn off on the perforated line whenever you need one, or two, or, shocking, more. Thanks to the trend for see-through this and that, from Chanel to Jil Sander, Japan’s Beams has collaborated with the 50-year-old zipper storage bag Ziploc to offer an 8-piece collection of accessories that will delight those who like to let the world see what they transport in their daily commute. A collective metaphor for how so many enjoy exposing their lives as they ’Gram and Twitter their way through the day?

Beam X Ziploc toteI suppose it can be said that Balenciaga’s take on Ikea’s Fraktar bags started this trend of using the most everyday and utilitarian of items to turn into fashionable bags and wearables. It is uncertain if Beams intended this collection to be ironic or on-trend, or humorous since shower curtains have been material of choice for both fashion design students and working designers for a long time, but I do think that the result of this partnership is quite clever and unexpected. What would have been sandwich or freezer bags can now see the light of day in perfect company with such esteemed names as Nike Zoom Fly SP, the see-through-but-not-as-transparent sneakers many are now wearing.

Especially intriguing and attractive, I think, is the bum-bag. Who would have guessed that a Ziploc can morph into this season’s bag of choice? The discreet Ziploc branding is like a little inside joke: cute but not as quick-to-become-a-cliché as the vapid DHL on T-shirts. If the use of a Ziploc bag as a bag is too obvious, how about a visor, cap, umbrella, or even an apron? Beams, it seems, has you covered.

The Beams X Ziploc collection is currently unavailable in Singapore. Your best bet is to get a friend travelling to Japan to cop them for you. Photos: Beams

Welcome Flowers

Liberty London for UniqloLiberty London for Uniqlo men’s linen shirt in heart fern print. Photo: Jim Sim

Liberty London is so linked to floral prints that those who have not been to the UK’s capital city may not realise that it is foremost a department store, and a really nice one too. It may not be as swanky as Harvey Nichols, where the crush of their Boxing Day sale is almost legendary. However, in the West End’s Regent Street, in a building with a quaint Tudor-style façade, you’ll find a carefully stocked emporium that is as fascinating as a cabinet of curiosities. And it is on the third floor of the store that you will be smitten with what Liberty has come to embody: the happy floral patterns, stashed in the Liberty Print Room, still enveloped by bohemian air.

Some of that flower-patterned happiness arrived on our shores this morning via Uniqlo. Here’s another collaboration that the Japanese brand knows they have got right. In their design cache now is a print pedigree that can be transformed into modern clothes if applied judiciously. While girly dresses and mumsy tops with full-on flowers are unavoidable, and Uniqlo obliges, there are pieces with a graphic sensibility that reflects the brand’s increased love for patterns paired with solids, such as the women’s graphic T-shirt (below left) that are akin to those seen in Tokyo’s Ships and Beams. To be expected, however, are unimaginative ways these clothes will be worn by women who do not differentiate between bed clothes and those for social engagements such as a movie date.

Liberty London for Uniqlo product picksFrom left: women’s graphic T-shirt, S$19.90; men’s premium linen shirt, S$59.90; women’s graphic T-shirt, S$19.90; cotton pouch, S$14.90. Illustration: Molly Ong

Liberty has been around for more than a century. While the immediate association would conjure prints and fabrics, their history can be traced to an early basement space called the Eastern Bazaar. As the name suggests, Liberty was quite the destination for “decorative furnishing objects”. Heritage department store standing aside, they’re also at the forefront of modern British fashion, championing the work of Vivienne Westwood and Alexander McQueen and, at the same time, attracting brands and designers to their prints. In the past decade, Liberty has collaborated with some of the most illustrious names such as Fred Perry and Mastermind Japan, and sneaker giant Nike, even street wear powerhouse Supreme, but brand partnerships were, in fact, forged as early as the ’60s.

Back then, Carnaby Street (now home to English brands such as Pretty Green and Barbour), really a stone’s throw from the Liberty store, was the heart of “Swinging London”. It was both convenience and Liberty’s authentic prints that drew designer such as Mary Quant and Jean Muir, as well as retailers such as Biba to work with the store. The cool English-girl vibe, still strong at Burberry, could be traced to those days. Then in the ’70s, Cacharel’s Liberty-print maxi-dresses sealed the store’s reputation as the go-to purveyor of pleasant petals.

Liberty London for Uniqlo posterTo augment the Britishness of the collaboration, Uniqlo enlisted Nick Knight to shoot the images, and CHAOS Fashion’s Charlotte Stockdale and Katie Lyall for creative direction. Photo: Jim Sim

Given today’s penchant for more aggressive motifs such as Givenchy’s Doberman, there’s something innocent about Liberty’s dainty flowers. These are blooms that hark back to simpler and gentler times. They recall sewing machines atop the kitchen table and a mother diligently sewing her daughters’ clothes in time for the approachng Lunar New Year. One of SOTD’s contributors remember her grandmother making quilts of similar prints that are still in appreciative use. While the parental associations may put a damper on cool, so vital in the urbanite’s turnout, sometimes a little homespun has more heart.

Select Liberty London for Uniqlo pieces are available at all Uniqlo stores. For full collection, check out Bugis+, Jem, Parkway Parade, and Suntec City

Beam Me Out, Scotty!

Beams @ Kapok 1Beams 30 Days Store in Kapok, November 2014

By Raiment Young

The news of Japanese retailer Beams setting up a pop-up store in Singapore was met with much enthusiasm. Well, maybe not with the same fervour as the launch of designer-fast fashion collaborations, but still with considerable interest. For those in the know, Beams opening here is as awesome as a rainbow emerging after a rain. When I finally paid a visit a week after the store was launched in the multi-label and multi-product Kapok—the National Design Centre’s only retail outlet, I was, sadly, rather let down with what I saw. I am saying this because a year ago in Bangkok, I visited Beam’s first Southeast Asian pop-up, and it has to be said that that was a more experiential outpost.

Firstly, Beams in Bangkok was a 100-day affair. Here, it’s up and running for only as long as it takes the moon to orbit the earth plus, roughly, three days. Secondly, Beams in the Thai capital was situated in Paragon Department Store with a space that was easily 10 times larger than what it occupies in Kapok. Here, it comprises one rack of clothes, one shelving unit of small bags and cases, and three low cupboards of knick-knacks. This is no “store”, not when all of it can fit into an average bathroom. It was so underwhelming, I needed a caffeine boost to compensate the lack of retail shiok. Is that why its immediate neighbour is Cafe Kapok?

Beams in BKKBeams 100 Days Store in Bangkok, November 2013

Don’t get me wrong. I am a huge fan of Beams. It’s one of those shops I visit with keenness in my yearly pilgrimage to Tokyo. Beams is a Tokyo original; it was there in Harajuku in 1976, before others such as recent fave Urban Research aped their look and product mix. It didn’t start with the high fashion it also stocks today, with stores throughout Japan, and in Asian hub-cities Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing, and Taipei. In the beginning, Beams was essentially a young men’s fashion stop, stocked with mostly basic apparel, merchandised around Japanese lads’ love of Americana. It has since evolved—like good stores usually do—into a lifestyle trove of incredible range. Some people refer to it as a department store, but I tend not to since individually they’re nowhere near behemoths such as Isetan. But they do offer quite a staggering breadth of merchandise, sort of a faddish Muji on steroids.

And it’s the selection that lends Beams its incredible pull. They’re well curated (an exercise they do so convincingly even before the practice became trendy or the word a catchphrase), always juxtaposing this and that in refreshing or unexpected ways. We’re not just talking about the clothes. There are also those attendant miscellanies that complement the fashion. One of their oldest stores Beams Japan in Shinjuku—a 7-storey wonderland—stocks a sprightly medley of wardrobe basics, international designer labels, bags, shoes, stationery, home ware, and even furniture that has as much practical use as visual value—a visit is not a mere-minutes affair. It continues to captivate by tapping on their customers’ love and flair for mixing the everyday with the extraordinary into melanges that are unusual, unexpected, and uniquely Japanese.

Beams @ Kapok 2Beam’s Singapore-only merchandise, the ‘Do Not Disturb, Please’ series

For Bangkok, Beams stated: “With a focus on ten original labels aimed at those who have never shopped at BEAMS before, the store will feature a wide range of products, including men’s and women’s casual wear, accessories, bags, golf wear, art goods, and more.” One year later in Singapore, the plate, rather than platter, sadly looks like leftover from our northern neighbour. Instead of presenting an assortment that gives an idea of the scope they cover, Beams offers a modest version of itself. The small selection of merchandise may appeal to those with a smattering idea of Beams, but they hardly charm those who expect a more representational Beams Japan. Against Kapok’s wider and more fascinating assortment of goods, Beams is quite lost, effectively reversing Kapok as a Beams wannabe!

Beams is known for their clothes, but here, they barely touch your sleeves, let alone your heartstrings. On a single clothes rack about a metre wide, there are four dresses (in two styles), five different short-sleeved tees, nine different pullovers, one sweater-knit cardigan, two sweatshirt hoodies, one blazer, one shirt-jacket, one black cotton shirt, two chinos (one khaki and one off-white), and a pair of dark denim jeans. Sure, Beams is known for their basics, but they’re basics for those who have outgrown Uniqlo! Gazing at the selection here, you wouldn’t have guessed. A young woman who looked as if she’s en route to the nearby SOTA for class exclaimed, without flipping anything on the rack, “Huh, is that all?”

I’m not saying the products are bad. Far from it, they’re of the quality that typifies the merchandise of the Japanese retailer. It is the selection that is lacking. Perhaps much of the products were sold out or perhaps it’s really a reflection of the sophistication of the Singaporean shopper than Beams deliberately under-stocking. As T-shirt-and-shorts-and-flip-flop nation, we don’t really shout out to new-to-market brands that we are likely going to consume with the same appetite and discernment as fellow shoppers in other Asian cities. We love our dress-down selves too much, and Beams is merely giving us what they think we want. “Do not disturb, please”—a Beams exclusive line of tees and caps conceived by design director Akira Taneichi—is their clever way of not upsetting the status quo. Sitting 50 metres away from the pop-up with a cup of latte in my hand, it dawned on me that same time this year, we’ll forget Beams was ever here.

Beams 30 Days Pop-Up Store is at Kapok, National Design Centre, Middle Road, from 6 November to 7 December. Photos: Jim Sim