When indie designers were priced out of the hip Daikanyama district in the late 1980s, they fled to storefronts along the river in nearby Nakameguro, a sleepy corner of southwest Tokyo showered with cherry blossoms in spring. Today, "Nakame," as it's called by cognoscenti, has found its voice - it's a place where stylists shun international luxury brands to found labels of their own, or launch eccentric concept shops such as a café for dogs.
Still, some denizens fret that the secret is out. Hideaki Ishii, manager of the pioneering men's shop …Research General Store, shakes his waist-length dreadlocks toward two sleek high-rise towers near the subway station. "The vibe here is like New York's Lower East Side; very comfortable for bohemian types like me," he observes. "But I'm afraid rising real-estate costs will push out the young designers."
Let's leave it to the bloggers to debate whether trendsetters will move on. Right now Nakameguro is an invigorating jolt to the Western eye: An afternoon of shop hopping along the canal, one block from the subway station, offers a survey course in new Japanese style.
Family planning In this neighbourhood of young singles, the household's coddled youngster is quite likely a dog. Tarlum Garden indulges these pampered pets with hoodies ($139), onesies ($100) or a pink tutu with a necklace attached ($41), to be worn in doggie dance class, we presume. After shopping, pets and their people can dine together in the neighbouring café, which has a special canine menu. Aobadai 2-16-8; 3461-7601; tarlum.com/garden
Senior thesis The collection at Drastic could be the groundwork for a fashion scholar's dissertation on reconciling extremes. The museum-like shop creates pairings such as distressed denim with finely woven silk. One mannequin wears a jean jacket ($365) dramatically draped with a vest made of feathers ($165). Standout pieces come from Japanese designers, including Aula Aila, and the only big names, such as Yves Saint Laurent, are on reworked vintage pieces. 1-16-4 Aobadai; 5773 1060; naka-meguro.com/S90970.html
Original Research Some of this quarter's most arresting fashion is just across the canal at …Research General Store, a showcase for Setsumasa Kobayashi's groundbreaking yet wearable clothing line. Designed for men, these pieces are so meticulously draped they also flatter women. One of the more audacious items is the Mountaineer's Veil, a scarf made of handwoven silk squares lashed together to resemble a prison escape rope. Yes, it's pricey at $235. But you needn't purchase a whole garment to sample the look: The current Mountain Research collection offers punctuation marks such as a cashmere collar for $105, or a pair of goose-down sleeves for $211. 1-14-11 Aobadai; 81 (3) 3463-6376; sett.co.jp
Required reading Cow Books next door, also owned by Kobayashi, reveals Japan's love affair with literature as well as its fascination with 20th-century Americana, especially its social rebels. This is the place to find elusive first editions by the Beat poets, African-American writers and fast-disappearing examples of late Sixties underground press, along with loosely related midcentury ephemera such as college varsity letters. 1-14-11 Aobadai; 81 (3) 5459-1747; cowbooks.jp/english.html
Lunch Break Down the street, Hanabi Café gives a fresh spin to classic Japanese food and design. Here, too, dogs can join their human companions around traditional low tables or atop metal stools with blazing red wheels. A popular dish is mitsuba, the Japanese herb pizza, and the beverage of choice is fresh juice: The signature squeeze mixes 19 vegetables and three fruits. 2-16-11 Aobadai; 5456-4404; hanabi-nakame.jp
Art department Find handmade, vintage and one-off buttons at the rambling shop &STRIPE, which is organized apothecary-style with hundreds of drawers. From sedate granny designs to wicked biker skulls, to its signature style pressed flowers and insects, the buttons are laced on necklaces, strung into bracelets, woven atop hair ornaments or sold singly so you can make your own creations. The shop also sells charms, the most distinctive series shaped like a medieval key to dangle from your cellphone: That style is all the rage with high-school girls, who often serve as a bellwether of next year's fashion. 1-25-3 Aobadai; 3714-3733; www.and-stripe-easton.co.jp/pctop.html
A fashion-forward tea Early-afternoon tea at drôle, a smartly spare café favoured by fashion-forward twentysomethings, is a primer on young Tokyo's design aesthetic. Look for the entry, a nondescript passageway sandwiched between boutiques. It opens onto a sea of tables occupied by arty types in thigh-high boots and raccoon-eye makeup, nibbling on pan-Asian small plates such as Thai pork rice, topped off by classic North American desserts like strawberry cheesecake. 1-23-4 Aobadai; 81 (3) 5722 6083; ambidex.co.jp/drole
Opposites attract Tokyo boutiques sometimes couple unusual products, so it's only halfway strange to see a Nakameguro café, Be My Self Deli, that has excellent food and its own house-brand shampoo. A look upstairs sheds light on the source of the shampoo: the spa Be My Self, which offers facials, reflexology and massage, including treatments for expectant mothers, along with a full line of aromatherapy products. Aobadai 1-25-1; 6412-8381; bemyself.jp
Wind down at the izakaya Izakayas, Japanese pubs, are sprucing up much like British gastropubs with fine food and craft beers. The popular side-street gathering spot Spray goes a few steps further, chilling beer in copper mugs and importing wine by the barrel. The menu combines rustic Japanese dishes such as beaten rice pancakes and pig's feet with accessible Western choices such as pizza. Kami-Meguro 1-14-9; (03) 6415-9100; s-nakameguro.com
Special to The Globe and Mail