Fashion specialty boutiques, known as serekuto shoppu (select shops) in Japan, are highly popular in this country.
The shops, which can also be described as independent fashion boutiques in English, are distinctive because they sell only brands or goods that match the owners' tastes.
Said to be much more sensitive to trends than conventional clothing stores, select shops became widespread in Japan in the 1980s.
Currently, the United Arrows chain is regarded as the best-selling fashion specialty boutique in the country, with annual sales of as much as ¥100 billion (S$1.1 billion). But nearly 70 per cent of its sales comes from private-brand products, or items designed and made by United Arrows itself.
That shows United Arrows is now like companies known as specialty store retailers with private label apparel, or SPAs, that plan, produce and market their clothes.
Having almost entirely lost the strong appeal that fashion specialty boutiques have for highly fashion-conscious consumers, United Arrows seems to have become a mere sales- and profit-oriented company.
Meanwhile, unique indie boutiques run by fashion specialists are springing up.
The triangle of land framed by the Omotesando, Aoyama-dori and Meiji-dori roads in Tokyo is dotted with small fashion specialty stores through the residential area.
At the very centre of the triangle near Onden Shrine, the highly unique store Graphpaper opened on Feb. 27.
Owner Takayuki Minami is a well-known figure in the industry who says he "curates" the shop.
Minami has been involved in the opening of popular indie fashion specialty stores including 1LDK, which now has three stores in the Nakameguro, Harajuku and Minami-Aoyama areas in Tokyo. A Paris branch also opened earlier this year.
Many fans of Minami gathered on the opening day of Graphpaper, his first shop.
Located on the first and second floors of an old apartment building in the Harajuku area, the shop is easy to miss thanks to its lack of any signboard at the entrance.
Even if you find the shop and step inside, you will see only about 10 big black wall panels. However, there is more than meets the eye.
If you pull on one of the wall panels, a garment rack or set of shelves hidden behind them come out, laden with merchandise such as clothes, handbags and ceramics.
The "black jack-in-a-box," layout so to speak, helps hide away the "jewels" Minami found after searching throughout the nation.
The shop is not designed to encourage buying things through the beautiful display of goods.
Instead, it challenges customers to believe in Minami's selections and open the black jewel boxes. This mischievous gimmick must be irresistible for those who love fashion trends but have become weary of overt commercialism at more conventional specialty boutiques.
Graphpaper also runs a bar on the second floor of the apartment building, where the Utrecht specialty bookstore is also located. The Tumbler & Flowers florist shop can be found on the first floor.
With its comforting, timeless atmosphere, the apartment building makes you feel like you've found highly developed Japanese fashion culture.