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celebrating 40 years of beams, the guiding light of tokyo youth culture

A new book charts the Japanese retailer-cum-design-collective’s unique legacy by compiling four decades of its most exciting collaborative efforts (plus, interviews with Sofia Coppola, Nigo, and Sacai’s Chitose Abe).

by Emily Manning
|
17 February 2017, 12:58am

In February 1976, Etsuzo Shitara opened a shop in Tokyo's Harajuku neighbourhood modelled after a UCLA dorm room. (And at just 226 square feet, it was about the size of one, too). It carried the requisite West Coast college apparel, like athletic sweatshirts, but also everything such students would need —even mousetraps. Etsuzo titled this outpost "American Life Shop Beams," reflecting its ambition of shining light on great products from a different part of the world — and leaving a smile on customers' faces in the process.

"Beams offered the iconic Boat and Tote bag from L.L. Bean with a paneled design and deeper bottom." © Beams Beyond Tokyo with contributions by Sofia Coppola, Stella Ishii, Toby Bateman, Johnathan Barnbrook, and Nigo, Rizzoli New York, 2017

Over the past 40 years, Beams's vision has expanded far beyond Los Angeles campuses; first to the styles of East Coast Ivy League institutions, then fashion-forward European brands, and homegrown Japanese innovators like Yohji and Kawakubo — becoming a truly global force. But Beams has never lost sight of its original goal: to expand the possibilities of Japanese youth culture, and open Tokyo's eyes to a wider world. 

"This Strider no pedal balance bicycle for children was popular for its cute light-blue color." © Beams Beyond Tokyo with contributions by Sofia Coppola, Stella Ishii, Toby Bateman, Johnathan Barnbrook, and Nigo, Rizzoli New York, 2017

"I love how Tokyo is a mix of very modern and beautiful old traditions. No city has this extreme as much as Tokyo," says Sofia Coppola in a short interview for Beams Beyond Tokyo, a new retrospective book released this week by Rizzoli. Her observation applies very much to the shop as well. The book  which also features conversations with Nigo and Sacai's Chitose Abe — looks back at Beams's history and evolution by illustrating its countless dynamic collaborations. Developing dedicated relationships with brands, artists, designers, craftspeople, manufacturers, and factories, the Beams team has created its own complete universe of contemporary cool. The collective has partnered with Dickies, Disney, Nokia, Rodarte, L.L. Bean, and Sacai to name only a few. They've created golf bags, merchandise for All Nippon Airways, traditional Japanese wooden dolls, Schott leather jackets, and Kewpie cell phone charms. 

"Legendary fashion photographer Terry Richardson shot Beams's 1997 Autumn/Winter catalogue." © Beams Beyond Tokyo with contributions by Sofia Coppola, Stella Ishii, Toby Bateman, Johnathan Barnbrook, and Nigo, Rizzoli New York, 2017

These collaborative efforts and archival highlights are captured through distinctly Beams imagery — characterized by a mix of playful inventiveness and undefinable cool. Rings are displayed on freshly cut asparagus. A balloon models an I <3 NY bucket hat and pair of Oakley shades; a dog sports one of Jessica Ogden's patchwork quilts. Terry Richardson photographed Beams's fall/winter 97 catalogue, and Mark Borthwick created a special card set in 1999. 

"This basket bag series designed in collaboration by Beams Boy and Disney was so popular that a seventh entry in the series was released in 2016. When placed alongside the Minnie Mouse version, the two appear to be facing each other." © Beams Beyond Tokyo with contributions by Sofia Coppola, Stella Ishii, Toby Bateman, Johnathan Barnbrook, and Nigo, Rizzoli New York, 2017

Just a few years before that, Beams became one of the first Japanese retailers to carry Coppola's MilkFed line. Launched with Linda Meltzer in 1994, it  and X-Girl, Kim Gordon and Daisy Von Furth's label — developed cult followings in the Japanese 90s street style scene, anchored in Harajuku and Shibuya. Coppola later collaborated with Beams upon the release of her film Somewhere; Beams senior creative director Mago even made an appearance in Lost in Translation. "I felt I was really understood and accepted by Japanese culture back then," Coppola explains of MilkFed's 90s heydey in the book. "It seemed like Tokyo was run by teenage girls. It had a big youth culture, more than other places to me." This has much to do with the fact that Beams believes this culture to be worth supporting and expanding. 

'Beams Beyond Toyko' is available now. 

"A limited edition muffler from Sacai was released in a special green and brown color combination to coincide with International Gallery Beams's first shop-in-shop. This was the first special order from Sacai's men's collection." © Beams Beyond Tokyo with contributions by Sofia Coppola, Stella Ishii, Toby Bateman, Johnathan Barnbrook, and Nigo, Rizzoli New York, 2017

Credits


Text Emily Manning
All images © Beams Beyond Tokyo with contributions by Sofia Coppola, Stella Ishii, Toby Bateman, Johnathan Barnbrook, and Nigo, Rizzoli New York, 2017

Tagged:
japan
tokyo
Harajuku
Beams
fashion features
etsuzo shitara