April 24th, 2014, marks the date Billy’s opened up their flagship Shibuya store. The concept behind Billy’s was to serve up “luxury and relaxation”, blending fashion and culture whilst providing consumers with a unique selection of sneakers from a variety of brands.
As Billy’s Ent PR Keita Sato puts it, “At Billy’s, we wanted to make a space for people to relax and choose the shoes that they want. We have good easy-listening music, uncluttered shoe displays and spacious areas to try the shoes on.”
That simple recipe combined with a steady supply of solid footwear collabs has led to Billy’s expanding their presence with a total of 9 boutiques across Japan now. Each store has an original commissioned artwork specially made for it, so even if you’re not looking to cop anything, you can just pop by and check it out.
However, Shibuya is were it all started again for Billy’s back when the brand was revived, so even though it is not their largest store, it is still considered their flagship and is a must-visit for sneaker fiends. As Keita-san elaborates upon the 3 Tokyo locations, “Shinjuku is more futuristic and spacious, Harajuku is like a shoe museum, whilst Shibuya is our most important store and has a pop-up space for launch parties as well as collaboration showcases”.
One aspect that has helped Billy’s get international recognition is their exclusive collaborations with Vans that are only available at their own stores within Japan. In an era where sneaker releases have become so globalised and – relatively speaking – easily available, the Billy’s x Vans collabs are a throwback to the “only in Japan” late 90s to mid 00s period that drove sneakerheads crazy with either joy or frustration.
The person responsible for the ideas behind those collabs is none other than Keita-san. Being a PR-guy, he isn’t a designer and didn’t have any prior experience working on sneakers, but that didn’t stop him from giving things a try. He shows us some of the rough drawings of ideas he sketches out almost obsessively throughout the day whenever he has free time. It seems that he has been on a roll, as not only has many of the releases become highly sought after, but their success has led to certain models or ideas being adopted into Vans’ global lineup.
We take a look through some of Keita-san’s work on the Billy’s x Vans releases over the years.
Towards the end of 2014, Billy’s launched their online shop and to mark the occasion released the “Pirates” Slip-On based on an archive Vans model.
Shortly after in 2015 saw a key collab, this year was the Tenderloin Eras, which came about due to Keita-san being surf buddies with Tenderloin’s founder. These were made using premium fabric from Tenderloin and caused a huge line-up of 200 people outside Billy’s when they were launched.
In 2016, Billy’s brought back the classic Half Moons from Vans’ archive in both Era and Classic Slip-On forms. The response was so well received that Vans global added the Half Moon model back into their line-up for worldwide release.
One of Keita-san’s favourite releases came in 2017 for Billy’s 3rd anniversary, he created a mismatched pack of Slip-Ons and Style 36 which went through a lot of rounds of sampling to get right. The sneakers were a hit and the mismatched style has become somewhat a Billy’s signature.
Later on in the year, Billy’s released the Old Skool “Band” to commemorate the launch of their new store in Sapporo. The kicks feature a big elastic strap over the tongues to essentially make them into slip-ons.
Usually the start of a new year in Japan marks sale season, where retailers usher in the new year with crazy bargains. However, in 2018, Keita-san decided he wanted to commemorate the new year with cool shoes instead of cool discounts, so they carried on with the mismatched madness and released a trio of Style 36s.
This new year’s idea was a success and was repeated for 2019, where Keita-san created a trio of Style 36s in mismatched neon colours. Apart from that, the Jazz Stripes on the sides were velcroed on, so you could get even more craziness if you bought more than one colourway and swapped the stripes around.
Finally, the latest design that has just been released are these Vans Authentic “Kung Fu” slip-ons. Apart from the traditional Chinese jacket buttons on the uppers referencing classic Kung Fu clothing, the Japanese Katakana on the sides literally translate to “aah- choooooooou” – a nod to iconic Kung Fu fight shouts.
Lastly as a bonus, this pair that we spotted on display at the Shibuya store weren’t designed by Keita-san but is a custom piece painted by Japanese artist Ryoono. The ATCQ Midnight Marauders colourway NEEDS a release, what do you think? Either way, pop by the store to check it out in person as well as the painted skate deck artwork by Ryoono for Billy’s Shibuya.
hanks to Keita-san for the interview and Kazuma-san for helping with translation!