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In greying Japan, old get trendy

fashion-and-trends Updated: Apr 21, 2007 16:10 IST

AFP
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With Japan's population greying, even Tokyo's trendy areas are getting old. Takashimaya, one of Japan's biggest department store chains, has opened its first branch geared to a growing segment of the population -- the "stylish elderly." And it has chosen one of Tokyo's liveliest areas, the Shinjuku district of skyscrapers and round-the-clock nightlife, which includes the city's most visible red-light and gay areas. Peering through his glasses at a bright orange and leather belt, Masayuki Iida, 66, discovered the former teeny-bopper inside himself again.

He plopped down nearly 100,000 yen (850 dollars) on opening day Thursday alone. "I bought a pair of trousers, one shirt, high socks, and now I'm looking around for a jacket. They're brand labels -- they're quite dandy," he said. Wearing an otherwise unremarkable sweater, Iida said he will "go out and have fun" with his new clothes. "I simply find them nice." While other department stores also enjoy elderly clientele, Takashimaya says its 14-floor branch is aimed at older but fashion-savvy customers.

The store, replete with ample seating for tired shoppers, targets middle-aged and elderly customers who want to spice up their "second" lives after retirement. With Japan struggling to find a way to reverse one of the world's lowest birthrates, retirees represent a lucrative market.

"The buying power of baby-boomers and retirees is far from dwindling," said Nana Okada, a spokeswoman for Takashimaya's branches across Tokyo. "With their children grown up and gone from the family home, baby-boomers now want compact furniture. And they also want to keep living in the city where everything is convenient, from shopping to health care," she said. Just targeting Tokyo's young and fashionable is simply no longer sufficient, said Kiyome Nagai, another spokeswoman.

"The tastes of the baby-boomers have changed and so we must respond to their needs," she said. The first floors offer merchandise for the most affluent elderly such as perfume, makeup and lavishly displayed jewelry. Goods for younger customers -- who are naturally still welcome in the new store -- are on higher floors, with the top storeys selling baby clothing and offering an art gallery. While women are the more obvious customers, the store also expects to lure finnicky older men. The men's section features cozy oakwood furniture to sit on and a cigar bar, along with a selection of 1950s-style hats and long umbrellas.

"Men of this age group have actually been getting quite trendy in the past decade and have become more interested in fashion and are no longer orthodox in their choices," Okada said. Takashimaya spent 13 billion yen (110 million dollars) to renovate the building and forecasts revenue of 10 billion yen in its first year, Nagai said.

"I don't usually come to Shinjuku but because of this I might come more often. I'll have to see," said Yoko Takahashi, 74, browsing through the store in her gray fedora and a sparkling black dress. She said that other stores were aimed at "wealthy older women -- the 'madames.'" "Here it seems a lot more fashionable," she said.