Inspired by a smocked children’s dress, with a family history that goes back nearly 60 years, Aya Takeshima created her final collection based on an imagined narrative composed by the journey of her childhood relics. Working on textile development at Chanel and KOCHÉ during her placement year, Aya displayed a range of material manipulation techniques in her graduate project; using multiple layers of gatherings and pleats. As Aya usually begins her creative process by drawing upon the common characteristics she finds in randomly picked photographs, she started to realise how influenced she was by her childhood, as the smocked dress eventually became the core of her most essential design ideas.
What was the conceptual starting point of your graduate collection?
My collection was inspired by a smocked children’s dress that my grandmother made, and was passed on to my aunt, my mom, me, and my sister for nearly 60 years. I turned the journey of the dress into an imagine story, which I based my collection on. At the beginning of my research, I just randomly collected images that I liked without thinking too much about it. But when I started to analyze why I was so attached to these images, I suddenly remembered my old dress. When I asked my mom to send me a photo of it, it turned out to be exactly what my research was all about. At that point I started to realise that I was very influenced by my childhood memories, and so the story came along.
How do you create a visual narrative out of an abstract concept?
I usually start by collecting images that I like. From this, as well as abstract ideas, I try to find things that share common features, and let these key ideas become the core of my visual narrative. Sometimes it can be a bit challenging to translate it into something practical, but once I’m on the right track, the conceptual idea has an ability to display itself quite naturally.
How did your collection develop during the course of the year?
I felt very lost and struggled a lot during the whole process, especially after developing all the textile samples. As soon as I had the manipulated fabrics in real size and started to create the looks, I suddenly found a clear direction, and got some ideas to improve the finals. Between the show and the final line-up I’ve actually changed quite a lot.
Do you get inspired by every project? If you don’t, how do you make projects work for you when you get stuck?
By walking, talking and eating cakes.
What do your design ideas mostly revolve around?
My imaginary wonderland.
What does your development process usually look like?
I focus a lot on the materials at first. I experiment with knits, colours and create different textile samples. Then I continue by making a selection among these options; picking out the ones that I would like to use and start configuring the shapes.
“Having participated in the whole process from scratch, I could see how my textile embroidery sample was used for one of Karl Lagerfeld’s design drawings, and later on became a garment in the Chanel collection!”
How does the conversation between 2D and 3D work for you?
3D informs everything to me. I’m not good friends with 2D…
Do you feel that your collection somehow reflects who you are as a designer?
When do you think your identity as a designer really took shape and a ‘concrete’ form?
The White project, possibly. It was just a memorable thing for me.
What did you do during your placement year?
I worked at Maison Lemarié and KOCHÉ in Paris. At Lemarié, I did textile design for Chanel’s collections, accessories for Chanel’s Haute Couture, and contributed to the production of the show pieces. At KOCHÉ I did sample production, textile development and embroidery on behalf of the knitwear design department.
Did your experience in the industry give you a better insight into how the business of fashion actually works? Is there anything CSM didn’t prepare you for, or did you learn anything you wouldn’t have learned in school?
I gained a lot of wonderful experiences from my internships. Especially how things work technically and professionally, and how you build a collection in the real industry. Having participated in the whole process from scratch, I could see how my textile embroidery sample was used for one of Karl Lagerfeld’s design drawings, and later on became a garment in the Chanel collection! Since they were just at the beginning of launching the label at KOCHÉ, the team was really small and I was able to work closely with the creative director. We discussed everything — from graphic design to knitwear production and the know-hows of building your own label, and we could spend nights talking and making embroidery samples. These experiences are impossible to get in school. Also, one of the most valuable things I learned from both placements was to never stick with the computer, but to always learn by hand.
A big part of the fashion industry consists of a sector that supports a philosophy of material consumption, constantly reproduces unhealthy ideals, can’t manage to find sustainable solutions for its workers, and is one of the world’s largest contributors to climate change. If you’re emotionally engaged with what you do, how do you emotionally disengage with the harm the fashion industry does?
Never use animals and don’t rely on mass production.
“Rethink the importance of each region’s authentic traditional techniques or small industries, and preserve them to create a new diversity and a more sustainable world.”
What do you think that you can do to improve the fashion industry? Is finding systematic solutions to some of the big problems in fashion something that design students should or shouldn’t be concerned with?
Rethink the importance of each region’s authentic traditional techniques or small industries, and preserve them to create a new diversity and a more sustainable world — against globalisation and mass production. Even though you can’t find the proper solutions by this stage, it’s at least better to be aware of the problems that we are facing today. They’re impossible to ignore.
Graduating is about the scariest thing for an undergraduate student to think of. How was that experience for you?
It was a bit scary, but also extremely exciting. After the show I was contacted by some companies and people who wanted to do a collaboration with me, or buy my collection.
What are your plans for the immediate future?
I want to get some experience working at companies where I was offered job opportunities, and look for funding to do the MA.
Do you have any plans for the not so near future?
To celebrate the 30th anniversary of my own company, obviously!
What does your Oscar speech sound like?
Thanks to all of my helpers who’ve dedicated their precious time to make this collection happen, as well as Lemarié who sponsored me in terms of materials. Thanks to the models who made each outfit have a strong character, and to all of my tutors who’ve supported me ever since I started the Fashion Folio course. And finally my wonderful family and grandparents, thank you for all of your love and support. You all mean so much to me!
Words by Matilda Söderberg
All images courtesy of Aya Takeshima
Follow @aya.takeshima on Instagram