Attracted to man-made objects. Inspired by furniture, buildings and textures. The Tokyo-based fashion designer Yohei Ohno launched his eponymous brand in 2014 with the main concept of ‘exploration of materials and forms’. Ohno’s intention is to express modern beauty through technological materials and details. His characteristic use of textiles and his minimal, constructive silhouettes offer a ground-breaking sense to luxury-wear with sculptural shapes that embody a delicate balance between artistic and wearable.
Yohei, you started your education at Bunka Fashion College, where you acquired the fundamental pattern cutting and sewing skills. Later on, you moved to the United Kingdom after winning a scholarship to study at Nottingham Trent University. Now that you are back in Japan, how did your vision regarding fashion change after experiencing some time abroad?
When I was studying at Bunka Fashion College, I was fascinated by Nicolas Ghesquière's Balenciaga as well as London designers such as Christopher Kane and Giles. My graduate collection and many of the dresses I made during that period were heavily influenced by them, especially in terms of silhouettes. Although I was starting to figure out the kind of style I wanted to pursue, I struggled to find relativity between the clothes I was making and my life in Tokyo. I felt like my pieces were not relevant because I couldn’t find a muse in real life.
By getting out of Tokyo and living in the United Kingdom for the first time, I was able to figure out who I wanted to dress. I took advantage of the opportunity and travelled to different cities in Europe (that included sneaking into shows during Paris Fashion Week) for further inspiration.
What’s in fashion that made you pursue this career? Tell us a little bit about when your interest in this art form arose.
Living in Tokyo means you're surrounded by an overwhelming amount of information, therefore, my attraction to simplicity and its beauty came very naturally. I wanted to explore it through creating and the medium happened to be fashion. I'm also passionate about sculptures and furniture, which have always been my inspiration.
You launched your own label, Yohei Ohno, in 2014, and debuted with your Fall/Winter 2015 collection. Considering that a couple of months ago you presented your Fall/Winter 2019 collection, how has the evolution been through these years? Am I wrong if I say that there’s been some kind of growth in terms of style from your Spring/Summer 2019 collection?
I started my label right after graduating, so there was a lot to learn. I'd say I’m still constantly learning and evolving as a designer. My clothes could be seen as show pieces but I want them to be wearable. It's all about the balance. I've been trying to make them into wearable products, convincing the customers without becoming commercial. I would not say my style is established yet, so there might be inconsistency in my collections. I don't consider that as a bad thing at all though, as crystalising your style could be boring. I want to keep the unexpected.
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Your Instagram account gave us some previews of your Fall/Winter 2019 collection beautifully shot by Adi Putra. Those images seem to be thoughtfully produced in order to reflect the concept behind the collection. Is it the first time that you two work together? Do you personally find it hard to connect with other creatives when it has to do with your own creations?
I met Adi through Ai Takahashi, the stylist. I immediately thought his style would work well with my pieces when I first saw his portfolio. On our first meeting, we didn't need more than ten minutes to share what we both wanted, the communication went so smooth that I knew he was the right collaborator. It doesn't work like that for me every time, I often struggle to find good collaborators, not only because I don't have much budget but also because I'm rather introverted. It can be hard to network with other creatives in Japan since the fashion industry here is very exclusive, but it's something I have to work on for sure.
How do you want to contribute to this industry?
I would specifically like to contribute to the preservation of the Japanese local textile industry by sourcing from and promoting them. The industry is shrinking due to the shortage of successors. I believe that we really need to try and preserve them as they’re worth it. Although it’s not commonly known, many Parisian luxury designers also source fabrics from Japanese local textile manufacturers.
Who is the person that your eponymous brand wants to represent?
I want my clothes to be worn by a woman who is able to decide what is valuable according to her own values.
“I believe that the preservation of local industries is key to sustainable fashion.”
The futuristic, the man-made, or the technological. Yohei Ohno’s main concept is the exploration of materials and forms, which is something we see translated in your sculptural shapes that have a delicate balance between the artistic and the wearable. What are the things that most inspire you to create? And what is something that can’t miss in your collections?
I'm inspired by my ideal life, its space, and the objects that I fantasise would suit in it such as furniture, and a woman who would live within it. I make sure that each piece is simple yet unique. I'm particularly interested in the colours and texture of the materials, which I’d like you to see and feel in real life.
Can you introduce us to your creative process?
Wherever I go, I carry my fabric swatches at all times. I'm always thinking about how to develop my designs and simultaneously the mood I want to communicate, and even the words I want to use in order to describe the collections. Anything could be an inspiration for me, even a random idea that crosses my mind or an object that I find on the street. It doesn't have to make sense as long as it feels fresh.
How much attention do you pay to the rest of the fashion industry?
I maintain close relationships with manufacturers, making sure the production is small so that I can oversee everything. I'm totally against mass production, I only produce the right number of pieces for the people that actually want them. I try to promote an ethical production cycle that is healthy for everyone involved.
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Most of the materials and fabrics used in your designs are domestically sourced and every piece is produced in Japan except for some of the knitted pieces. How do you choose the materials for your collections? And how important is it for you to have it locally produced?
There is no reason to not source locally when you’re based in a country that offers almost every kind of fabric in exceptional quality. I believe that the preservation of local industries is key to sustainable fashion. You’re not a good designer if you can’t design clothes without relying on using Italian textiles.
What is it that appeals you to design women’s clothing?
As mentioned above, Yohei Ohno as a brand is driven by the desire to ‘explore’. Being a male womenswear designer enables me to stay objective and curious. I believe that it’s impossible for a man to really understand what it’s like to be a woman. That is what makes it exciting and worth pursuing through life for me.
Could you give us some hints of what we are going to see in your Spring/Summer 2020 collection?
I will focus on the wearability and comfort while keeping it artistic and sculptural. In terms of communication, I’ll aim to make it clear and simple in order to make sure it appeals to the women I want my clothes to be worn by.
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