This past summer I went to an Hérmes store on rue St-Honoré in Paris, with the idea of buying a cardholder. The one I wanted was sold out, so I decided to browse the store, which was already full of shoppers at ten in the morning. I was almost on the way out when a thin black leather cuff with a matte black leather buckle caught my eye. Attracted by its subtle elegance, I bought it on the spot. By the time I was done with my tax refund process, the sales associate who was helping me magically appeared at my side, with the cuff gift-wrapped and swaddled inside the iconic orange shopping bag. This was one of my most pleasant shopping experiences of the past several years, and an increasingly rare one.
Fashion has a tendency to suffer from collective amnesia. Trendy but questionable concepts tend to die a quiet death in order to free the industry from embarrassment of unfulfilled promises. One of these silent casualties is “experiential shopping.” The term came in vogue earlier in the last decade when the fashion industry decided that customers wanted more from stores than a convenient location, a cool interior, an assortment of desirable product, and great customer service. The specter of e-commerce was brandished before retail executives that spurred them into a do-or-die frenzy. Lounges, live events, interactive art, virtual reality changing rooms, digital mirrors were touted as remedies for failing brick-and-mortar retail. Needless to say, only retail conglomerates and corporate brands with deep pockets could afford to invest in such expensive toys.
For the aesthetically inclined and designed conscious there is probably no better place on earth than Tokyo. And for science fiction fans it’s probably the closest thing to encountering another humanoid civilization – things are similar enough and foreign enough in Tokyo to make it all the more exciting, even though in the last couple of years the intractable march of globalization of culture has left an indelible stamp on the city. I’ve been to Tokyo three times and by now feel confident enough to write a guide of sorts. Because there is so much to do and see here, I decided that the best approach is to break it down by neighborhood rather than the list of places, because there are too many of them. Tokyo is vast – don’t even think about spending less than a week here. I’ll list the neighborhoods more or less in order of preference or proximity to each other. Aside from these recommendations, the best advice I can give you is to get lost in the wonderful maze of Tokyo’s streets – because the best spots are often in the back alleys off the main thoroughfares. You’ll need your GPS.