Finding Fashion Bliss in Japan's Retail Paradise
GQ Style|Spring 2017

United Arrows has 256 stores— but somehow each of them feels like a lovingly crafted high-end boutique. And now the CEO has his eyes on westward expansion. So we traveled to the company’s Tokyo HQ to experience firsthand what’s coming to America. (And yes, to shop up a storm.)

Noah Johnson

Last year, United Arrows, the Japanese conglomerate of rarefied fashion boutiques, opened its 256th store, in Roppongi Hills. The new flagship occupies two sprawling floors of a massive development in one of Tokyo’s most upscale districts. The 54-story tower and surrounding mega-complex are home to an art museum, a nine-screen cinema, a five-star hotel, and apartments that can be rented for about $23,000 a month. It is United Arrows’ largest store ever, and while it’s a fraction of the size of a Barneys or a Bloomingdale’s, it rivals any retailer in the world, big or small, at stimulating the fashion and design zones of your cerebral cortex.

On a recent trip to Tokyo, I visited many United Arrows shops—they’re seemingly everywhere in the city, like Starbucks for high-end clothes—and I bought many things, including a fleece from the nearly impossible-to-find Japanese brand Mountain Research, a pair of navy pleated trousers cut from stretchy tracksuit material from Beauty & Youth (one of United Arrows’ many sub-brands), some perfectly faded vintage Levi’s 501s, and a bright blue crushed velvet scarf that I basically haven’t taken off since. And before you judge me and my velvet scarf, just know that shopping in Japan will inspire you to take your personal style to adventurous new heights. United Arrows is precisely engineered to create opportunities for that to happen.

United Arrows is a large conglomerate of what are known in Japan as select shops—scaled-down department stores that sell brands from around the world in a boutique-like setting. Like all United Arrows shops, the new location in Roppongi Hills carries top designer brands from all over the world, along with an extensive series of in-house lines. There is also a bazaar-like section with entire rooms dedicated to umbrellas, luggage, handbags, and glasses, and a cute little nook where you can buy Kyoto-style sweets made with matcha and red-bean paste. On the second floor, next to the alteration shop, there’s a small house installed. Inside is an ancient cedar wood-slab table and U.A.’s Junrian line of formal clothes made using traditional Japanese kimono fabrics.

There’s also a whole wing of suits, with a larger, more interesting, and obsessively edited selection than any you’ll come across on Madison Avenue. You can find everything from red corduroy peak-lapel blazers to classic three-piece suits in impossibly dark shades of navy. (Finding blues that most closely resemble black is one of Japan’s many national pastimes.) The selection of shoes and ties is dizzying, with enough color and variety to entice even the staunchest T-shirt-and-jeans wearer. Indeed, suits are best-sellers at the Roppongi store and remain the backbone of United Arrows’ business.

“That’s why we have made our new flagship!” said United Arrows creative director Yasuto Kamoshita.

We met one day in Roppongi Hills in the fall, just a month after the store opened. Like many of United Arrows’ toplevel employees, Kamoshita is known internationally as a man of exceptional style. He wore a khaki peak-lapel suit with picked stitching and a batik-print tie that he’d spread into an upside-down V from the knot to his waist—an intentionally haphazard style maneuver achievable only by the sartorially advanced. His own line of clothing, Camoshita (he swapped the very Japanese K in his name for a C, to add some Italian flair), is produced by United Arrows but is sold mostly overseas. Menswear disciples are familiar with Camoshita because, unlike most other U.A. lines, it’s sold at places like Unionmade in San Francisco and online at Mr. Porter, where it can be mistaken for a tiny independent Japanese tailoring operation. The truth is that it is but one arm of the many-tentacled high-style powerhouse that is United Arrows.

U.A. has been in business for 28 years, but an accrual of factors are building a case for it to be seen as one of the most important forces in style today. Kamoshita’s namesake line was just the first step in exporting that message.

“When we started Camoshita ten years ago,” he told me, “I felt there was something missing from items abroad. I wanted to add the Japanese touch to them. We wanted to see how the world would respond to our taste.”

The new flagship store is almost entirely a representation of Kamoshita’s taste, from his personal collection of kitschy ceramic lucky cats adorning the walls to the ancient lion-dog statues typically found guarding the entrances of Shinto shrines.

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