You may know him from having been part of Miyake Design Studio for a decade, taking over the direction of men's collections for several years. But Japanese designer Yusuke Takahashi is now on his solo path under his own brand, CFCL, which stands for "Clothing for Contemporary Life". A project that disassociates itself from the fantasy frequently associated with the fashion industry, that faces the problems of the sector and society through functionality, comfort and a still emerging technique that promises to revolutionise the scene: 3D-computer knitting. “It has the potential to replace all woven products, make life more comfortable and simplify the production process”, explains the creative, who now presents his second collection.
CFCL has been defined as “a brand for the new era”, so it seems that having launched a project from scratch in such a fateful year as 2020 has apparently also had its advantages. But if he has achieved recognition so quickly, it is because Yusuke knows perfectly the gears of the fashion industry. “In my previous job, I visited production areas all over Japan many times. I fully understand that they are indispensable in the creation of innovative products”, he comments on his experience at Issey Miyake, with whom he shares the fundamental values of his philosophy. But leading his own project has allowed him to coin his own term, “Knit-ware”, and lead his vision of fashion defined by the search for a brighter future. "If you believe that the world or surrounding would be a better place if everyone around you or the greater world wore your clothes, then that’s when it’s time for you to start a brand".
Cfcl Metalmagazine 1.jpg
Cfcl Metalmagazine 2.jpg
Yusuke, I guess it must not have been easy to launch a fashion brand in a year as fateful as 2020. How did you experience the last months?
I view it as a positive thing that I was able to launch my brand in a year that is memorable like 2020. It is usually said it is important to start small with a business and because of 2020, I had no choice but to do so. We had to pause bringing our brand overseas and waited until very recently to rent an office and hire employees. Even our first showroom viewing was minimal and small. Fortunately, many buyers and journalists in 2020 were willing to confront the problems facing the fashion industry and, as a result, we had the opportunity to be featured in the media as a “brand for the new era”, which led to orders from financially stable clients.
Now you are the founder and creative director of CFCL (Clothing For Contemporary Life), but many of us already knew you because you were in charge of Issey Miyake Men for seven years. A Maison that revolutionized the way of understanding fashion, through the fusion of ancestral techniques and new technologies. What would you highlight from your stage with the acclaimed Japanese designer?
In my previous job, I visited production areas all over Japan many times. I fully understand that they are indispensable in the creation of innovative products. Including ones outside of the fashion industry, many companies have access to unique and specialised technologies. Innovation starts by thinking of ways to use technology in a way we couldn’t imagine before. We work directly with the engineers in the field and up until now, we continue the trial and error process.
You seem to share certain values with Issey Miyake since your work philosophy is based on comfort, functionality and social and environmental awareness. How have you taken advantage of the knowledge you gain in your personal project? Did you always know you would end up launching your own brand?
I learnt a lot about comfort, functionality and social issues while at the Issey Miyake company. In this area, we are fully aligned. I had always dreamed of owning my own brand since I was a student. While at Miyake Design Studio I was entrusted with a major role as the men's designer for the Paris collection, I always thought about when to establish my own brand. After ten years of being with the company, I decided to start my own brand. When I was a student, I discovered 3D-computer knitting and studied knit dresses. In 2009, I won a prize in an amateur contest, Soen Prize, with that dress, and collaborated with contemporary artists Elmgreen & Dragset. Since then, I have been working on the idea of starting my own brand with 3D-computer knitwear as the main product.
Cfcl Metalmagazine 4.jpg
Cfcl Metalmagazine 3.jpg
Simplicity, responsibility and garments designed for both men and women are some fundamental axes of CFCL. Issues that, according to experts, will define fashion after the pandemic, which confront the maximalism and ornamentation that many designers continue to bet on. How would you define the DNA of your project?
I feel that we are becoming less and less influenced by the fantasy of fashion. No matter how attractive it looks, if it threatens human rights or the environment, it must be stopped immediately. I believe that to face the current situation plaguing the fashion industry and the problems of society, we must show efforts to solve them, it’s an important element in the definition of cool clothes.
And as you have just said, 3D computer-developed knitting is an inherent technique in your work, being interested in innovation processes in fashion to respond to the needs of contemporary life. What can you tell us about this methodology?
I believe that 3D-computer knitting can meet the needs of modern life in the following three points. First of all, the efficiency of the production process made possible by programming. In the creation of woven fabrics, the fabric is purchased, post-processed such as printing or embroidery is done to differentiate the product from others, and then the fabric is cut and sewn. Computer programmed knitwear, however, is a completely different process. We purchase the yarn, design the knitting structure and yarn combination, and create the product from the yarn all at once. Knit products do not have to go through several factories for fabric processing and sewing, and there is no waste produced when cutting the fabric. It can be regarded as fuel-efficient in every respect.
Secondly, the flexibility of production bases made possible by full automation. Many manufacturers have been making efforts to lower prices by locating their production bases in developing countries. When labour costs become high, they move to areas with even lower labour costs to keep prices down. From China to Vietnam, Vietnam to Cambodia, Bangladesh, and so on. In addition, they promise the factories to produce in large quantities to keep the wages even lower. This approach is not sustainable. However, if the production is fully automated with programming data, the price will be almost the same whether it is made in Japan or Bangladesh. If the product is made in an area close to the market, the transportation cost and CO2 emissions can be reduced.
And finally, further possibilities of technological innovation. You probably still remember how knit shoes revolutionized the sneaker industry. They were extremely light, supple, and breathable, and were immediately accepted by many people. Although programming knitwear is still in its infancy and has many limitations, it has the potential to replace all woven products, make life more comfortable, and simplify the production process.
Has the world and our lifestyle changed a lot since you graduated from Bunka Fashion Graduate University in 2010?
When I made a dress with 3D-computer knitting in 2009, there were very few designer brands that made dresses with jersey or knits. Recently, however, we are seeing more and more of them. In the last decade, the time has become more casual, and knit dresses are now ready to handle any occasion. For better comfort, stretchy clothes are now preferred. Although knit dresses are not yet the mainstay of the fashion industry, I believe they are sure to gain more market share in the future.
Cfcl Metalmagazine 6.jpg
Cfcl Metalmagazine 5.jpg
You have coined your own term, “Knit-ware”, in which knitwear and your passion for architecture, an art that has also been adapted to the needs of the world at all times, converge. Could you explain what this word consists of?
The concept of "Knit-ware" may be easier to understand if you compare it to tableware rather than architecture. For example, in tableware, it doesn't matter how beautiful your dishes are if they don't make meals look nice, it is not a good design. The role of a plate is to make people say, "that was delicious” after they have eaten. The point is to have a person say that over saying, “that’s a nice plate”.
Your grandfather was an architect, and I'm sure that your time at Miyake helped you understand the relationship between fashion and the construction process of buildings and structures. Clothes wrap our bodies as if they were buildings. What fascinates you most about each discipline? How do you combine them in your work?
When I was a child, my dream was to become an architect. Although I liked fashion, I still wanted to be an interior designer when I entered university, so because of this, I decided to then major in textile design. My interest in Miyake Design Studio was also triggered by the fact that the design studio had produced Mr. Tokujin Yoshioka. I thought that if I could find a job at this company, I might be able to work as a product or space designer. Even now, I want to work not only in fashion but in lifestyle as a whole. By designing fashion and holding on to these aspirations is what most likely led to CFCL and what it is today.
The Pottery Dress seems to have become the star piece of your brand, at least for the moment. A garment made of recycled plastic bottles, which avoids generating waste and can be worn by any type of body. How did this dress come about, and why is it so meaningful to you?
For me, the use of recycled yarns, the fact that there is no waste, and the claim that people of all shapes and sizes can wear the clothes. I value the potential of knit dresses with 3D-computer programming the most. I enjoy communicating directly with knitwear programmers and yarn developers, saying, "we can do this, we can't do that". I think it is incomparable happiness to be able to support as many people as possible in living flexibly in contemporary life by creating original clothes that have never been seen before.
Cfcl Metalmagazine 7.jpg
Cfcl Metalmagazine 8.jpg
You have just presented your second collection, in which architecture is present again. The inspiration taken from the columns of Ancient Greece is evident, and I can't take my eyes off a pair of trousers that seem to be in motion, as if they were the waves of the sea. How do you get that effect?
I start my creations without first deciding on a collection theme. I just have a vague idea of what I want to do, and gradually find the words as I shape them. For example, in Vol.2, from the very beginning, I thought, "I want to make robust Knit-ware”. This is because, in general, knitwear is a standard item for winter, casual and relaxed. I lined up words that are contradictory to the image of "knit" such as construction, straight line, and solid. On the other hand, I wanted to keep the theme from Vol. 1, so I searched for a word with equal power to the previous word "pottery". As a result, I chose the theme of housing, or architecture, as well as pottery, which has been around humans since the beginning of civilization. It is not inspired by any particular architecture, but rather by images from ancient, modern, and contemporary architecture.
You bet on modesty and oppose designers' ego and the constant need to show off. You prefer your work to be the true protagonist. What do you think about the current fashion scene? Are creators too preoccupied with fame and public recognition?
Fashion is one of the most accessible industries to all people. The fashion industry is global and expansive. Designers and fashion shows are at a surface level easy to understand. We believe consumers need to become aware that they are only one of the many geological layers that exist on this Earth. On the other hand, designers need to be more conscious and aware that they are more than a layer on this Earth and they are easily recognisable and carry influence. It is our duty as designers, to overcome and help solve the problems of the industry to help shape and share a better vision of the future. To emphasise this point, it is not enough to just show, but we need to take action with a long-term vision of our own. We hope that the media and the industry will support this over the long term.
Will we see a CFCL face-to-face show soon, when the situation permits it?
I have my doubts and concerns about the semi-annual show within the fashion industry, However, I don’t have any negative thoughts about having a show itself. It does take a lot of effort and energy to put on a worthwhile fashion show that moves people. It would be nice to have a physical show when it has a special meaning to it. Examples of this are when it's an anniversary, or when a partner shares the same feelings.
What advice would you give to all those designers who are thinking of starting their own fashion brand, but are not sure where to start?
There are countless fashion brands all over the world, and there is more than enough clothes to go around. When you think about the need to start a brand and make clothes, if you believe that the world or surrounding would be a better place if everyone closely around you or the greater world wore your clothes then, that is when it is time for you to start a brand.
Cfcl Metalmagazine 9.jpg
Cfcl Metalmagazine 10.jpg
Cfcl Metalmagazine 11.jpg
Cfcl Metalmagazine 12.jpg
Cfcl Metalmagazine 13.jpg
Cfcl Metalmagazine 14.jpg
Cfcl Metalmagazine 15.jpg
Cfcl Metalmagazine 16.jpg
Cfcl Metalmagazine 19.jpg
Cfcl Metalmagazine 18.jpg
Cfcl Metalmagazine 21.jpg
Cfcl Metalmagazine 20.jpg
Cfcl Metalmagazine 23.jpg
Cfcl Metalmagazine 22.jpg
Cfcl Metalmagazine 24.jpg
Cfcl Metalmagazine 25.jpg
Cfcl Metalmagazine 26.jpg
Cfcl Metalmagazine 27.jpg
Cfcl Metalmagazine 28.jpg
Cfcl Metalmagazine 29.jpg
Cfcl Metalmagazine 30.jpg
Cfcl Metalmagazine 31.jpg