TOKYO - In Japan, high fashion is no longer limited to clothing but is becoming an experience in itself, with shoppers seeking a moment of pleasure found on a plate, in a spa or between silk sheets.
In one of the world's most lucrative but saturated markets for luxury goods, foreign fashion houses are hoping for critical boosts by venturing into new territories such as hotels, restaurants, and health and beauty services.
Italian designers launched the trend in Milan, home to Gucci's coffee shop, Dolce&Gabbana's restaurant, Roberto Cavalli's cafe, Bulgari's hotel, Versace's furniture and Armani's florist. Now their target is Tokyo.
"Until now, Japanese wanted luxury clothes and items to last for a long time. But recently they've want to taste luxuries that are ephemeral - like nice food, cozy spaces or comfortable services," said Maiko Manji, editor-in-chief of fashion magazine Elle Japan.
"Designers offering lifestyles is a brand new concept here in Japan as there are very few Japanese designers who have opened restaurants or designed things other than clothes. And Japanese jump at whatever's new," she said. The companies are also looking to tap into new fields for growth in Japan, where it is commonplace for even middle-class women to own multiple luxury handbags.
"It's a natural progression for fashion houses to make in a saturated market. The phenomenon of just buying a product has come to an end," said Roy Larke, professor of international marketing at Rikkyo University and editor of the specialist website JapanConsuming.com.
"In the West people spend more money on housing or their families whereas in Japan with smaller housing spaces and longer working hours, people are looking for ways to add value to their lifestyles," Larke said. "Here, the problems with day-to-day living are made up by investing hugely into these 'lifestyles'," he said.
An emotional purchase at an affordable price
When Italian design legend Giorgio Armani last month opened his flagship store in Ginza, one of Tokyo's glitziest districts, he gave Japan a taste of the new lifestyle concept.
While Armani already runs a bookstore, flower shop and furniture boutique in Italy, he chose Tokyo to launch his first spa, paying tribute to Japan's love of hot springs.
"I had sort of neglected Japan because it was not giving me any trouble," Giorgio Armani said in an interview with a fashion journal released on his company's website.
"That, however, is exactly when we need to take action, because markets change quickly, competition sneaks in and we must be prepared to fight it with new and different ways," the 73-year-old designer said.
The Armani Ginza Tower's 12 floors include the Giorgio Armani and Emporio Armani collections, the Armani Casa furniture line, an Italian restaurant and a members-only bar.
Armani also hopes to open his first hotel in Japan but has not yet found the right location, a company official said. All the furniture displayed in Armani Casa was designed by Armani himself and imported directly from Italy. Included are complete bedroom sets for men and women as well as interior decor and table ware.
Italian jeweller Bulgari on November 30 opened its largest flagship store in the world in Ginza, coming on the heels of its first cafe. The Bulgari Ginza Tower now completes a street corner where French rivals Louis Vuitton, Chanel and Cartier have their main stores.
Chanel's 10-floor boutique, opened in 2004, includes a concert hall and a restaurant of celebrated French chef Alain Ducasse.
The ten-storey Bulgari building features an Italian restaurant, a bar with an open terrace and a bridal boutique. At the Bulgari cafe elsewhere in Tokyo, gold leaf delicately decorates 1,000-yen (nine-dollar) bitter chocolates.
"Japan is our biggest and most important market and despite a lot of fashion designers here, there is still room to grow," said Sergio Scudellari, a Bulgari associate manager who visited from Italy to oversee the shop's opening.
The company is planning to open a Bulgari hotel in Tokyo in two to three years, which would be the first for a designer here and the third for the company, after those in Milan and on the Indonesian island of Bali.
However, with the prevalence of fashion among the general population, competition is tightening as the price of luxury is becoming more affordable.
"The world has changed so much and young people today are always looking for an emotional purchase at accessible prices," Armani said. Dinner at Bulgari or Armani ranges from 8,500 yen (77 dollars) to 20,000 yen (181 dollars), average for an upscale restaurant in Ginza. 90-minute treatment at Armani's spa costs 45,000 yen (410 dollars).
"Even if you're not that rich you can treat yourself to these comforts. So fashion brands are going to need to be increasingly innovative and creative from now on to lure Japanese customers," said Manji at Elle Japan. Fashion houses may also start facing competition in new areas, such as foreign travel, said Larke of JapanConsuming.com.
"These brands are really looking to diversify to new areas. The only way to expand further is to develop new brands or apply their brand to new products like champagne or cigars," he added.