The Stories Behind the Stores Part 1: Rebellion and Innovation

You may know from my first blog for AMC, that last year I began research into the strategies of Japan’s major department stores, and others worldwide, in tackling their apparent demise brought about by recent changes in lifestyles and consumer behaviour. And in particular, how they could leverage online content experiences to get people engaged in their brand and ultimately get them back in stores. 

A Lost Cause?

“Japan department store sales hit 36-year low in 2016”.

Department stores cannot compete with online shopping "because they are bland and predictable”.

Gone are the days when families “would go and spend a day buying what they need or want”.

What started as a regular marketing project for me has now become something of an obsession and personal cause for Japan’s stores to once again become a ‘retail destination’. 

So, through a series of forthcoming blogs, I’d like to share some insightful stories that my research has uncovered.

Department Stores Began With Kimono

Many of the word’s oldest and most prestigious department stores share humble beginnings as fabric shops and merchants. In Japan they began with Kimono, which once also symbolised class rebellion and fashion innovation.

Forbidden Colours

The Edo period was a stable time in Japan’s history, allowing the merchant class to thrive. And many flaunted their wealth with kimonos in peacock-like personal display.

This over-dressing became a threat to the ruling classes, and they outlawed lavish clothing for the underclasses in order to protect the strict hierarchy. So the merchants developed their own fashions, characterised by subtle colours and detailing.

But the lure of bright colours could not be resisted; lining and underclothes, not restricted by the laws became red. The forbidden colour spilled out tantalizingly when women’s long sleeves fell back.

Popularity in the West

In the late 19th century, spurred by a fad for all things Japanese, kimono styles were popularised in the West by bourgeois ladies who wore casual variations as ‘housecoats’ - without the restraining obi belt.


Then Parisian couturiers Paul Poiret and Madeleine Vionnet began experimenting with the kimono in the 1920s. And it was around the same time back in Japan that Western trends began to accentuate the traditional kimono outfit.

The Jazz Age

The early 20th century was a hedonistic time. Kimono were draped lavishly in extravagant displays alongside Western imports.

This poster of a lady in a kimono with an imported parasol and handbag was used to advertise the opening of Mitsukoshi department store in Shinjuku in 1925. The lady flaunts a bobbed hairstyle and the child by her side is dressed fully in Western clothing.

Rather than being sidelined by the new foreign styles, the kimono co-existed for a highly fashionable effect.

Part 2 of this department stores series continues with tales of classic and modern innovations.

We’ve just started a Facebook page dedicated to these stories and more. Please visit andLIKE us!

Image credits:

Lady in Kimono, 1925: Hisui/Mitsukosh

Classic kimono collection / Western lady in housecoat: J. Front Retailing Archives Foundation Inc./Nagoya City Museum


First blog for AMC:

36-year low:,783385.html#.WLdi9hhh0lI

Bland and predictable:

Gone are the days:


Popularized in the West:,796489.html#.WMEaexhh0lJ

AN-YAL Faxebook page: