Representing the creative future

Naoya Nakayama: Purified Imperfect

A compliment Naoya Nakayama often receives is that his clothes look “effortlessly beautiful”. As he takes it in, politely and humbly as always, one may wonder how this busy young graduate of RCA in womenswear managed to breathe a feeling of grace and simplicity into such a complex combination of vastly different types of fabric and bamboo sticks, incorporating light in the mix.

As we enter the studio where the video of his new “Purified Imperfect” collection is being shot – you can find a teaser here – the garments seem to come alive under the projection of Naoya’s intricate illustrations onto the models’ bodies. The team is international. The feel is professional, yet strangely festive. Did Naoya just create the ultimate party clothes? Models dance between each take to the original piece of electronic music made especially for the collection by a Japanese composer.

Now picture colourful LED lights running under the fabrics and the soles of futuristic trainers. It is minimalist, fresh and fun. It’s even comfortable! “I want my clothes to be enjoyed” insists Naoya. His fashion is indeed enjoyed in motion. And he creates each uncanny moving piece thanks to a unique, tirelessly refined experimental method.

First, rid yourself of any preconceived ideas. Turn on a video camera as you drape a mannequin with rectangular pieces of fabric, and then watch again, capturing snapshots of what Naoya calls “the in-between moments” – when the fabric is thrown, moved, taken off, or just hangs in an evocative way. Combine them into asymmetrical collages. When satisfied, transform into a wearable piece.

Naoya also closely studies the human body and its interaction with the clothing; especially in regards to how different genders, bone structures or gaits seem to affect the way drapes hang and flow around the body. The models are not mere clothes hangers but yet another source of inspiration, as exemplified by his choice of organza shades. Usually resorting to a nude shade, he also matches the colour range of the fabric to the skin tones of his models from white to dark brown. Organza’s transparency naturally conveys an impression of freshness and lightness. When tone-on-tone, it becomes almost invisible. The different pieces of fabric, bounded without any stitching, then seem to magically float around the body.

Naoya’s interest in audacious designs sprung from his love of drawing since childhood. He chose womenswear over menswear, because he felt the former would enable him to be more creative and “more extreme”. However, he prefers to refer to his collection as “genderless” and “unisex”. “I did not think of the mannequins I draped as male or female” he admits. As a result, he presents a futuristic-looking androgynous collection.

Regarding his influences, Naoya carefully avoids any clichéd cultural reference in his work. He says people typically expect Japanese fashion students to create some sort of “fusion” fashion. Instead, he chose to subtly re-interpret the wabi-sabi concept, paramount in the modernised version of the tea-ceremony, which aims at conveying the beauty of natural imperfection through purification.

Naoya is unafraid to talk fashion ethics, and voice the difficulties faced by his generation of emerging designers. He alludes to the dizzyingly international fast-fashion industry, where big companies produce new outfits every fortnight, burning the leftovers that did not sell. In order to survive as designers, most people choose to present pieces that will be easy to show and easy to sell. Naoya however decided otherwise: “I did not want to make a quiet collection just to attract companies.” He adds: “Remaining an outsider for a while saved my creativity”.

Upon entering the RCA, Naoya already knew imagining the “future of fashion” would be a great inspiration as it had been for the 1960s designers he admires. He loves the “weirdness” and boldness of chain metal clothing or other seamless latex dresses. His own futuristic vision combines natural elements and technology. After experimenting with different elements, torafudake, the tiger-pattern bamboo, became his signature material. Reminiscent of a childhood spent in Kochi, Shikoku, where children made toys out of bamboos sticks, torafudake is both naturally strong and flexible. The owner of his hometown’s bamboo factory was immediately interested in Naoya’s project and promptly agreed to collaborate. “It was a return to my origins. After many years living in the UK I came to this realisation: I am so Japanese!”

Another naturally imperfect-looking element Naoya resorts to is old leather. After years working hard at creating some sort of crackled texture in fabric manipulation, he fortuitously met the owner of a leather factory who, upon seeing his work, generously gave him “a treasure box” of unsold old leather in perfect condition. Black enamel paint was calligraphically applied on the leather for a specific shine, similar to Japanese lacquer paintings’.

Naoya’s endless inspiration and strong creative concepts will surely continue to expand and we’re confident he will eventually reach the recognition and audience he so naturally deserves. For the present, Naoya is eager to join a fashion house in Europe or North America to gain more experience, while continuing to develop bamboo designs in his own time.