There is a lot of vintage luxury goods in Japan and to understand why you must look at the history and meteoric rise of the Japanese luxury market. I’ve written about the rise of luxury brands in Japan in my Japanese fashion history terms post, but here’s a little more of their history. If you like history, luxury brands, quirky fashion info settle in because it’s so much text. This is a Japanese Fashion University and Vintage Luxury Brand in Japan series combining!
Luxury Brands in Japan through the Decades
Post War Japan – The Rise of the Middle Class and the desire for Western Luxury
There have always been wealthy people in Japan, but Post War Japan created a more middle class which turned to luxury goods. While luxury items such as real estate and cars were not especially practical or accessible in Japan, especially in Tokyo. Middle class looked to Western luxury like jewelry, clothing, handbags and furs as a way to display their new wealth.
“Unfortunately, there was little to be had in Japan; distribution was extremely limited. To satisfy the surge in demand, entrepreneurial Japanese merchants traveled to Europe, bought items at full retail price, shipped them back to Japan, and sold them for more than three or four times more in shops around Tokyo, creating what is known as a parallel market. The parallel market cofounded luxury executives back in Europe: their flagship stores were getting cleaned out stock, and they had no control over how their product was being sold overseas.” (Deluxe)
Side note: Chanel and other brands try to track and ban third-party resellers like this even today.
1970s Luxury Brands in Japan – Trying to meet Demand in a Harsh Trade Environment
In the 1970s only a few overseas luxury brands has broken into the Japanese market. Even though the Japanese were very into luxury brand goods before they ever hit the Japanese shores. In 1976 Louis Vuitton in Paris had to put a limit on the amount of goods sold to a Japanese tourist because they couldn’t handle the stock.
Only a few luxury brands were actually in Japan at the time. Gucci, Hermes and Loewe were currently selling to the Japanese public. This was because to operate a large corporation like a luxury house you had to team up with a Japanese company to do business in Japan. This is a part of trade regulations in Japan. Slowly in the 1970s there was small deregulations (all over the globe there was vast deregulations going on) but despite that Japan was conservative and only allowed foreign businesses to own 50% of a company. This makes setting up in Japan not cost effective to luxury brands. Also Gucci and Hermes can put their name on the item, but they must pair up with a speciality or department store, using their manufacturing base. This was common also in US and Europe.
Edible luxury. Birkin Chocolates at the Hermes Cafe in Ginza
1980s Luxury Brands in Japan – The Biggest Consumer of Luxury in the World
The 1980s were filled with a boom in the luxury market known as manufacture of luxury brands through licensing. During this time brands such as Yves Saint Laurent and Gucci made everything from candles to handkerchiefs.
Side note: Some of these manufacturing for licensing contracts still exist like many brand sunglasses such as Chanel, Gucci and Prada. Or luxury brand perfumes is also another example. In Japan under handkerchiefs and hand towels you can buy Yves Saint Laurent and Vivienne Westwood goods not found in anywhere else because of this licensed manufacturing contract.
Side note: Louis Vuitton, Hermes and Chanel never agreed to these contracts in their clothing or jewelry making their vintage items more valuable.
The thunder crack boom of luxury spending in Japan was so big that after opening in 1978 Louis Vuitton sold more in Japan than it did with its two stores in France. There were 6 stores in Japan compared to the two in France. That number grew to 44 in 2012.
Fun fact: The first Chanel and Louis Vuitton individual stores came to Japan first before the United States (both had previously used contracts with big department stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue and Bergdorf Goodman). If you see a tag sewn into a Chanel blouse that says Saks Fifth Avenue it’s because of this department store contract.
Louis Vuitton opened in Japan in 1978 and Chanel in 1980. It was actually only due to Japanese vacationing in Hawaii did the first Chanel store opened in the United States in 1984. Louis Vuitton aggressively pushed into Japan in the 1980s.
The economic bubble burst around mid 90s during and a little after the bubble meant 1985-99 was really a true boom in luxury brands in Japan. A supernova of a boom that made Japan the biggest consumer of luxury goods from late 1980s to 2009.
Louis Vuitton built their first Ginza store in 1981 with the hopes of making a luxury street like the Fifth Avenue in the US, Saint Honore in Paris or Monte Napoleon in Milan. By the end of the 1980s twenty stand-alone brand stores opened in Ginza.
Flagship stores like Cartier and Louis Vuitton in Osaka
1990s Luxury Brands in Japan – Bubble Burst but still Strong
Even after the bubble burst in the 1990s some people still had money and brand allegiance had been built. The only growing purchasers were so called “Parasitic Singles” in Japan. These were working age (25-34) men and women who still lived with their parents and spent all their disposable money on luxury and travel.
“The major companies — Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Prada, Chanel, and Christian Dior — managed to secure dramatic growth during the mid-1990s, at a time when total import sales were falling.” (luxury society)
Louis Vuitton from one boutique in the 1990s was clearing 100 million USD in sales, while Chanel in another was doing 60 million. Louis Vuitton from 1978 to the end of the 90s had grown 50% in sales. (Deluxe)
At the end of the 1990s there was a stat thrown around that if you distributed all the Louis Vuitton in Japan to all the women that one in four women would own a Louis Vuitton good. Or another staggering statistic that 30 million Japanese own a Louis Vuitton good. This is despite the prices in Japan being 30-40% higher than in Europe due to import fees and currency exchange rates. (Cult of the Luxury Brand)
Luxury Brands 2000s onwards – Slowing but still a Goliath
Despite the problems of the 1990s, Tokyo’s luxury area Ginza saw its first “mega flagship store” of 11 floors with Hermes in 2001. The 2000s were the age of “mega flagship stores” being built in Ginza. Chanel and Louis Vuitton followed in Hermes’ footsteps.
Flagship was they key in 2000 and just fifteen years ago Omotesando was changed from a family neighborhood near the Meji shrine into a stylish hub of stand-alone luxury stores. Louis Vuitton opened in 2002, Prada in 2003, Dior in 2004 and finally the stylish Omotesando Hills luxury mall in 2006. All of these Omotensando developments were being planned in the 1990s, it was thanks to the Parasite Singles and bubble leftovers that Omotensando came into fruition.
Even now Omotesando is considered the place were younger luxury men and women shop, while Ginza is for the older clientele. Even though both were only built twenty years apart.
The youth luxury has also brought contemporary brands into the surrounding neighborhood of Aoyama with stand alone stores. Acne Studios, Alexander Wang and Jil Sander.
Side note: These luxury stand-alone stores have been sited as a reason department stores are going bankrupt recently. Department stores that have brand shops inside them charge rent for the space, but also take a percentage of the profits of the sales. Luxury brands sell big ticket items so this is big money. Being inside a department store makes brand shops not have to pay for costs such as construction, land, or upkeep but in the long run its not cost effective to pay rent AND a percentage when you can build your own and keep all of that money.
In the late 2000s there were finally signs of slowing of luxury. Some brands are projected to see 15 to 30 percent drops in their Japanese revenue base for fiscal 2008 (luxury society). But even then before Japan dropped to number two behind China, Japan accounted for 40% of luxury goods sold worldwide. (Cult of The Luxury Brand)
Even now Japan is the second largest luxury market. China has risen to number one. Asia’s love for luxury makes it no coincidence that Chanel has shown three times in the last four years in Asia for the Métiers d‘Art shows.
Japan’s current strength on number two has a lot to do with Chinese regulations and taxation on their goods so Chinese travel to Japan to make purchases with the cheap travel deals and weak Japanese yen. But it also has a lot to do with the history of Japanese luxury. Your mother had a Louis Vuitton bag, you may want one too. Or it’s in the psyche now that overseas luxury is quality.
In only 30 years overseas luxury brands have really changed the Japanese spending habits.
Just as stocked as a flagship, a vintage store in Osaka selling Chanel
Currently Japan’s perfect vintage storm
Because of the huge booms of 1980 and 1990s of buying in Japan there is so much vintage luxury brand in Japan now. With the slowing in the local economy many Japanese are still looking at branded goods but on the cheaper resale market. Chinese tourism has also been a factor. All big vintage stores in Japan have at least one Chinese speaker on staff. The luxury vintage brand demand in Japan is so much that buyers for the vintage stores are visiting Paris auctions and resale shops and bringing goods into Japan as well. Which is why the Vintage Brand in Japan series is going on.
Shout outs and references
I linked to a few things I sourced but this article is very sourced by the book “Louis Vuitton Japan: The building of Luxury” which is out of print but I have in hardcover. The book is also sourced in most every article or book I found about luxury goods in Japan and for a good reason. It’s a bit dry, but very interesting. I also read but didn’t directly quote The Economist’s section of the Asian Luxury Market forecast in 2013.
Although I didn’t use it as a source it’s a perfect time to shout out one of my favorite fashion news blogs: Business of Fashion. If you’re interested in the fashion industry, especially high fashion it’s a wonderful resource.
Vintage Brand in Japan and Beyond
A History of Luxury Brands in Japan (THIS ONE)
Japan’s First Wave of Resellers
Japan’s Second Wave of Resellers store talks and reviews (multipost)
Popular Vintage Brands and key pieces from each brand (multipost)
Navigating on-line and in personal buying of Vintage Brand and learning market price (multipost)
related eating at the Chanel restaurant Beige in Ginza Chanel
possible… My full vintage Chanel collection
possible… Chanel vintage jewelry and clothing authentication guide
Wow two months without a post? I didn’t really expect to post while I was in Japan for a month. I usually forget sleeping then too. Then I got home and had a bunch of stuff to do and man’s parents visited and I actually made our place look nice instead of living in a great loft and my crap just piled inside. I really hate decorating. I think there’s a reason we lived on a mattress without a bedframe (which we now again have #adult) and used the money to travel instead. Balance. I also tried to do more ATL things. Almost a year in and it still feels ATLien (sorry for the wordplay Outkast). And I got back to daily working out, hahaha why. I
shitpost a lot on snapchat, feel free to follow (metoomitsu)