LA to Shibuya: One Month Abroad With Menswear Fashion House, Latokyo
2:01 AM PDT on June 8, 2016
I recently spent the month of April living in Shibuya, Tokyo with the driving force behind menswear fashion house, Latokyo. After 19 hours of travel -- a late night departure from LAX, a 7 hour layover in Shanghai, China and our eventual arrival in Tokyo, Japan -- we at last set foot in the Land of the Rising Sun. In town for four weeks, we lived like locals, ate pizza and drank IPAs at Beauty & Youth’s flagship opening in Omotesando, partied at Shibuya’s most lit hip hop clubs, smoked Japanese homegrown, ate like Gods and gained new insight on our respective crafts.
Latokyo designer, Gordo Johnson, recaps the events of the month-long stay, as well offers first looks at the brand's comprehensive new lookbook shot throughout the streets of Shibuya and Harajuku .
Kimberly B: Hi Gordo. Can you explain why Shibuya is this highly suggested go-to district of Tokyo for young foreigners and creative millennials?
Gordo: When you imagine Tokyo in your head and see that lights of the city with tons of people and an on-going night life. . .that’s Shibuya. Besides all of its various attractions and being a hub for creatives, its right next to other dope districts like Harajuku and Shinjuku. Harajuku is a huge shopping area for Tokyo where you’ll catch people dressed very independently and creatively. Shinjuku is the opposite– more of a business district where once evening hits, professionals party well into the night. Being in the middle, Shibuya is a cross of both.
This was my third time visiting the area; I visited first in 2014 for 10 days, went back in 2015 for 2 weeks and visited this time in April for a month. This was my longest stay, so we really got to live like locals and had a full month’s worth of experiences. The other plus about this trip was that you, and all of our other homies, got to come. To live in Tokyo with all my friends for a month was crazy.
“Fashion in Japan, period, is iconic.”
KB: I’m gonna list several topics below. Tell me stories, anecdotes, thoughts, opinions and any comments on the subjects in relation to your Tokyo stay.
Men’s fashion: Fashion in Japan, period, is iconic. A lot of people go hard with style-- like its one of the most important things to them. Theres a lot of support that goes towards the things that are meant to influence the population’s fashion sense, as far as what celebrities wear, to ad campaigns, to how things are advertised as a whole. I saw outfits compiled fully, head-to-toe, of expensive streetwear suitors such as Bape, and a lot of designer pieces like Rick Owens, Yoji Yamamoto, Mark Margiela. Or, you'll find some of the most creative and seemingly outlandish outfits consisting of colored eye contacts and self-sewn outfits.
“You’ll see women with really wild, creative looks. . . literally down to the point where you’ll see actual teddy bears sewn into a girl’s dress.
Women’s fashion: I would say the same about women’s fashion. You’ll see conservative, upperclass and fashionable women sporting a trench coat, Jimmy Choo pumps and an Issey Miyaki clutch. You’ll also see women with really wild, creative looks that you can tell they made and tailored for themselves– literally down to the point where you’ll see actual teddy bears sewn into a girl’s dress who’s rocking rainbow hair. None the less, a Louis Vuitton or some designer bag in 90% of the hands.
Club culture: The club culture to me is insane. I’m used to everyone leaving the club by 1:30am, but in Tokyo, people don’t show up till 2. The work ethic in Japan is taken very seriously, so at the end of the work week, the culture does a 180 and it’s essentially very normal to party until you black out. There are literally business professionals in suits asleep on the sidewalk after a night at a few local bars, as well as your average local guy or girl asleep on the street around the corner from the club.Its the epitome of “work hard, play hard”.
“If you go to a hip hop club like Club Harlem or Ibex, expect to see people with tilted NY caps, baggy jeans and basketball jerseys while they pop lock on the dance floor.”
At the same time, clubs are also a really good place to see all the sub- cultures in Tokyo fashion. If you go to a hip hop club like Club Harlem or Ibex, expect to see people with tilted NY caps, baggy jeans and basketball jerseys while they pop lock on the dance floor. Everyone is nice though; everyone just wants to drink and dance until the sun comes up.
Food: The food over there is one of the best parts to me. Seafood is my favorite type of food, so it was already a plus. Everything was really fresh and due to Japan’s strict laws on food, everything is essentially organic. You can even get a good quality meal at a convenient store like 7-11 or Lawsons. A lot of small portioned food, but great quality. I’m open to trying any kind of food also, so that led me to a night where some girls took me and our friend EmceeShane of Slay Squad out to dinner. They had us eating chicken heart on a stick with a side of fermented beans. Not my personal favorite, but not bad. I also got to see Shane try his first beer ever.
Body language and overall communication: Communicating is pretty difficult for foreigners, and using body language is almost a must– especially as a tourist just trying to find a bathroom, order food or just deal with natives that are doing their jobs. As far as wanting to talk to people you want to make friends with, everyone puts in a effort and likes American culture enough to get some keywords. When people really want to talk, they’ll find a way, even if its through Google translate which was a norm. That real "want to" factor takes away the frustration of communicating in a foreign country.
“The city is basically a giant mall with a constant food court.”
KB: I’m still amazed, even more now than when we were actually there, at how convenient our area in Shibuya was. Can you describe what our immediate neighborhood was like?
Gordo: Our immediate neighborhood was dope and the best word to describe it is convenient. Literally seconds away from grocery/convenient stores like Lawson, Family Mart and Don Quijote; those stores have everything you would need to survive in them. There was a handful of some of the most popular Shibuya clubs tucked into our neighborhood like Club Harlem, Womb and Club Asia. Surrounding those clubs is about 50 love hotels. After meeting someone at a club or missing the train with your date and you can’t go home, love hotels seem to be the next move. The huge Shibuya Crossing was about a 7 minute walk away. Everyone usually meets up in that area at Hachikō Statue in front of the Shibuya station. The streets are full of food spots and stores like Adidias, Bershka, Candy/Fake Tokyo, Shibuya 109, Uniqlo, Tower Records, the Disney Store, etcetera. The city is basically a giant mall with a constant food court.
KB: On our very first night in Shibuya, things were already lit. Can you talk about our chance meetings while we were hanging in the streets around 2 or 3am. How did that first night shape the tone and interactions for the rest of the trip?
Gordo: The first night was for sure lit. Even though there’s thousands of people in Tokyo, you’ll see the same people you meet everywhere. Everyone in Shibuya could instantly tell we were new around town and we really, really stood out. So when they’d see us excited and turning up in the streets, they’d just join us and want to get to know what we were about. We were just out filming the first night in town and this girl came up to us to see what we were filming and wanted to hang out, she ended up being the lead girl in the new Slay Squad video for “Cherry Blossom”. We met another girl in the street around 3am that we nicknamed Mary Wonton. She was kind of crazy [the 'I really like Mollys and acid' type of crazy] and followed us around for a few days, but was pretty cool. A lot of the people we met the first week ended up showing us a lot about Tokyo and sticking around until our last days and shared some pretty sad and emotional goodbyes with us.
“We literally ran in, started moshing on everyone and in seconds, my glasses were gone.”
KB: Can you talk about what happened the first night you broke your glasses in Tokyo?
Gordo: Ah man, my glasses haha. Well I’m a pretty big fan of the hardcore/metal music scene and when one of our friends told us that he heard a show going on, we had to go see what a Japanese hardcore pit was like. We made it to catch the last 30mins of the show, but the club was still trying to charge full price of ¥3,500 which is a little over $30. A bit steep for a 30 minute show. A really nice Japanese guy — who basically mirrored the exact look of an LA cholo, bald head and wife beater t-shirt and all — saw how bad we wanted to get in and put us on his guest list. It was wild. We literally ran in, started moshing on everyone and in seconds, my glasses were gone. I found them later in a corner smashed. Luckily, the RayBan store around the corner from our room fixed them the next day free of charge.
"By the end of their set someone handed me my glasses smashed up even worse than the first time."
KB: Can you talk about the festivities that lead up to the second night you broke your glasses in Tokyo?
Gordo: Hahaha well, Slay Squad was fortunate enough to have their first overseas show at the infamous Trump Room. I was their videographer for the trip and I guess got a little excited while filming the show because again, I filmed from the pit. By the end of their set someone handed me my glasses smashed up even worse than the first time. Rayban blessed me one last time the next day and told me I should remember I have glasses on my face, and that they wouldn’t fix them again.
The show was really fun though. It was towards the end of the trip so a lot of people there knew who we were and sang along to the lyrics. It was a really dope experience to do that on the other side of the world.
“¥5,000 for a gram. . . which is nearly $50 USD — of course I took it and enjoyed it.”
KB: So I went with Kei to go pick up the first time we purchased weed– which happens to be very, very illicit in Japan, with indefinite, multi-year sentencing for anyone caught with the substance. Luckily, we had some fantastic blunts unscathed. Can you talk about how you managed to be the guide toward the plug and how that generally came about?
Gordo: During a modeling gig I got booked for, I met a kid who made a living off of modeling and picking up weed for older people. He was really cool and liked what I was about and ended up giving me some and was able to pick up for all of us. I don’t really smoke, but with those prices compared to Los Angeles prices– ¥5,000 for a gram for example, which is nearly $50 — of course I took it and enjoyed it.
KB: This ties in to club culture, but I feel it mandates its own question: We spent a lot of early mornings in club Harlem, man. Can you give readers a visual, musical and atmospheric idea of what that place is like?
Gordo: Club Harlem was for sure one of my favorite places. It was about a minute away from our room and the best club in Shibuya to get your rap music fix. It’s also one of those clubs where the majority of the people there look like they’re from Brooklyn in the 90’s, but Japanese. The music was actually really good, from classics to current rap, with no EDM mixes *prayer hands.* Everyone would show up at about 2 or 3am and just get wasted and dance to every song– really friendly and no politics or beef, just straight fun and partying. All the foreigners would somehow find themselves in the same dance circles with a bunch of Japanese people excited and hyping us up. Next thing you know, its 7am and there’s people passed out in the club and outside on the street; it’s typical though, no one messes with anyone. The worst thing I saw in there was a guy who was passed out in a chair for about 3 hours, then suddenly, woke up and pee’d in the middle of the dance floor-- he got thrown out.
“It wasn’t until mid-shoot that we noticed we were all wearing ‘Human Made’ by Nigo who is also the founder of Bape.”
KB: You got stopped in the street multiple times for modeling gigs throughout the month and mentioned one above as well in our search for herb. Can you paint the picture of how those interactions went down and what those shoots were like? I heard you modeled for one of Nigo’s brands in a spread for Grind Magazine.
Gordo: Yea, it was wild. I heard it happened occasionally, but didn’t think it would happen so easily. I was just hanging at Shibuya Crossing when I got asked by strangers if I’d like to model. I didn’t take it too seriously at first, but said sure. A week later they contacted me to meet up. I got there, and there were 3 other foreigners -- including that weed connect -- and they took us out of Tokyo on a limousine bus. I’m still not sure where we were, but I think it was a city called Saitama in an empty billiards hall. None of us fully knew what was going on because we couldn’t communicate much with the director/photographer/stylist/etcetera, but they gave us drinks and food and treated us as what I’d guess it’d be like to be a model. It wasn’t until mid-shoot that we noticed we were all wearing “Human Made” by Nigo who is also the founder of Bape.
Recently I’ve gotten messages from Tokyo friends saying that I’ve been spotted in the magazine. On my way walking home from that shoot, I got asked by another stranger to model and did some shoots for that magazine as well. For that shoot, I was alone and they had me doing all this stuff like standing on rooftops, drinking beer while acting drunk in a park and chillin’ in a car. It was cool to be in a car over there driving on the other side of the road, and they let me be backseat DJ while they took pics. Still not sure what magazine that was.
"I gathered some foreign friends and just hit the immediate areas. . . this shoot shows the street aspect of the brand, and how in an area like Shibuya or Harajuku, it can be worn as casual, everyday streetwear."
KB: What can you share about your creative vision for this most recent Latokyo lookbook? Where was your head at in terms of aestheticism, scenery, models used and so forth?
Gordo: My first few times in Tokyo I was really inspired to shoot lookbooks and do the most, this time, I was just as excited to be there, but really just wanted to hang out as a local. I was more caught up in hanging out and getting the vibe of what it’s going to be like living there next year than wanting to shoot a lookbook. Then all of a sudden it clicked: I made this lookbook and the editorial shots just that. It just plays off of the vibe of being a local in Tokyo, but still standing out as a foreigner in the typical street/neighborhood scenery. I gathered some foreign friends and just hit the immediate areas. With Latokyo being more of a couture and atypical style of apparel in the States, this shoot shows the street aspect of the brand and how in an area like Shibuya or Harajuku, it can be worn as casual, everyday streetwear.
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