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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Interview - Fashion designer Kenzo-A shares fashion, punk and gothic as rituals

For Kenzo-A, dressing up is some kind of an act of ritual, a kind of recognition from one’s inside self and one’s external appearance, and obviously a link between one’s self and the tribe one’s belongs to or claims. Therefore, it’s quite naturally that this fashion General looking-like designer, named his brand Rituals, a brand on the fringes of gothic and punk fashions. A designer for who it’s not his first attempt, as during his collaboration with the company Sexy Dynamite London, he launched the brand Stigmata, which with the opening of a shop in the famous department store Laforet, has earned him a reputation on the Nippon territory.

How would you describe Rituals? If there is any concept behind Rituals, what is it?
I see dressing up in one’s favorite clothes as a kind of rituals. It’s a ritual to turn yourself into something that reflects your inside self. That is like turning into a God-like creature rather than just an evolved ape. That’s why I named my brand Rituals. The Rituals’ style is based on goth / punk background but I don’t want to just copy and reproduce the historical style. I’m more in love with the avant-garde creativity and the deep keen worldview and the free spirit of the goth / punk culture. I’d rather develop an original style carrying on the spirit itself.

How did you start your own activity?
When I was working for the clothing company called Sexy Dynamite London as a designer, I started a goth fashion brand called Stigmata under their umbrella. Then we had some disagreements on directing Stigmata. They wanted me to make cheaper products for beginners but I didn’t want to compromise in my art. Also, I wanted to link my activity as a musician but the company didn’t really like it. You see, I can’t divide the two. They both are about how I see the world. I want my audience to enjoy them both as a whole. So I quit the company and started my own to have more freedom in creation.

Has it been difficult then?
Yes, It was difficult starting up because Rituals didn’t have a recognition as big as Stigmata so we had to work hard to spread the name. Also Rituals was more expensive than Stigmata so most of the young customers couldn’t afford it. And for that, many retailers who sold Stigmata were afraid to stock Rituals. Plus, the big economical depression hit Japan on the day we had our first exhibition and the whole situation surrounding the industry was changed right then. It was difficult to sell expensive clothes. I had to find the point where my creativity and the customers’ budget meet. That was a challenge. Today, Rituals has gained more recognition and more customers who understand that the price is right for what it is so the situation is a lot better. But the economy of this country is getting even worse so the business is still difficult.

Where can we usually find your brand?
We have our shop in Hamamatsu. In Tokyo, you can find it in Kera Shop in Marui One in Shinjuku. Several shops all over Japan carry it. From overseas, you can see on our web site. Unfortunately we don’t have a good system for purchasing from overseas yet but we are working on it. We’ll be wholesaling to shops outside Japan soon.

Who is the typical Rituals customer? If there’s an archetype, could you describe him/her?
I’d say probably goth kids are our main customers. The goth kids that are more into edgy style than the elegant-goth or the goth-loli which are better known by the main stream in Japan. I see some visual-kei fans and mode fashion fans wearing it too. And from any other scenes, people who like dark alternative fashion are our customers.

Do you collaborate with other fashion designers?
Not really yet. Except with PureOne Corset Works, we design to match each other’s products sometimes. And usually in fashion shows, we feature each other. I’m talking to a few other designers about collaboration but we are only talking so far.

You design both women and men clothes, and also have some unisex creations. Is there any genre that you prefer and why?
I don’t care about gender when it comes to designing. You see, when I design, I create an imaginary world in my head and portrait the people in it. So it’s natural for me to design clothes for all genders.

Regarding to your design for woman clothes, you seem to be more inclined to girls with a strong personality than the "kawaii" (1) type. Could you develop?
I think I do design “kawaii” type clothes too though. But I guess they are just “kawaii” in my standard and that’s probably not common. Like I said, I just portrait the characters in my imaginary world and they just happen to be what you call “girls with strong personality” maybe.

Rituals price are not for everyone, we’re far from fast fashion but not yet in high fashion. Could you describe what is the in between and how and why it must exist?
The bottom line is, I make clothes that I think are cool. And to make them, it costs that much. So the price line is not necessary for marketing purpose but more for creativity purpose. And there are people who relate to my taste and would save up to buy it and enjoy it. Simple as that.

You participate into night events. Are these night events a good way to promote your brand?
Yes, it is very effective to gain recognition in the underground scene. Plus, we don’t have our own shop in Tokyo besides the shop booth at these events so it’s not only good for promotion but also for the actual business.

Is it important for your creative activity to be, hang out with people like you?
Well, I think people who understand and agree with what I think it’s cool are my own tribe. It’s important to know who they are and what they are into for the marketing purpose. If you are specifically talking about the people from the underground scene, it’s like a small village, we help each other out. And among the people I hang out with, there are so many creative minds and unique personalities. Hanging out with them is an important source of inspirations for me. But above it all, it’s fun to party with like minds. Fun is a very important factor for my life.

Is there any other type of fashion you have interest in?
I’m interested in art in general so yes, of course! I am especially interested in tribal / ethnic fashion. I’m fascinated by how deep it is rooted down in our soul just as any other tribal / ethnic arts.

Is there anyone you would like to work with? Another designer? Some artist?
Too many to list here but since I am more of a designer and a director, I’m interested in working with workman type creators right now. I mean seeing my design made into a product by hands of a hardworking expert is always so exciting.

Tokyo has a strong image about a forward fashion? What is your opinion as a Japanese national?
I have never looked at it from outside because the time I lived outside Tokyo is ages ago so I can’t really say anything but I guess what’s making Tokyo fashion seem so forward is its influence from manga / anime. You see we grow up surrounded by all these manga characters everywhere so it’s very natural and very unavoidable to be influenced by them. Yet again, I can’t really say it in comparison with other places though.

Is there any way (better or not) to promote Japanese fashion oversea? Of course, everyone takes snapshots and it is a good promotion for Tokyo fashion. But is there any other way we could help Japanese fashion to develop?
Fashion always comes with the culture it’s related to. Especially underground fashion is usually strongly connected to the music and the club scenes. So exporting music along with the fashion would be a very powerful combo. Just like how the visual-kei culture has been spread out. I think that’s one of the ways. And what we don’t have a lot right now is ways to sell the products to overseas. If there is more web mall kind of thing that sells Japanese indie fashion to overseas, that will be a huge help.

Any special word for our readers?
Thank you very much for being interested in Tokyo culture. Tokyo’s street underground cutting-edge cultures haven’t been paid attention so much by the world like today. That is encouraging the creators and artists out here. Our culture might be strange to you and that might be why it’s fresh to you right now but when you’ll have a better idea about it and it’ll be less fresh anymore, I hope you’ll find its real value. I hope the Tokyo culture will survive the ending of this fad and be accepted as a real thing just like any other. So please, keep your eyes on it and enjoy! Again, thank you so much.

Interview & Pictures by Valerie Fujita

Kenzo-A is also the lead vocal and guitarist of the band Gabriels Stiletto (ex Gadget)
(1) Kawaii is a Japanese adjective meaning "cute" but in the origin was meant to refer to round and small things. It is now used to say from things but also animals and even people (mostly girls) that they look cute and adorable. As the word in Japanese means more than simply cute, a lot of foreigners into Japanese culture took the habit to use that word instead of saying cute in their own language, and that's why we are using it it here.

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