Fashion and society are always connected. That is what makes the field interesting. Even today, you can find new connections between items you thought you already knew; in this series, we use the archive as a lens to remind ourselves of the society of the time. For today’s interview, we spoke to Hirofumi Kurino, a senior advisor for UNITED ARROWS. He told us that when buying clothes the trends of the time are a thing he always takes into consideration, and used his private archive collection to tell us some things about each time period. In this first part, we focus on the Seventies to the Nineties.
--- Firstly, could you tell us some things about the seventies, which was the period you started working in this line of business?
“The seventies, in a way, were the continuation of the hippie culture, so while the word ‘sustainability’ wasn’t used per se, it was still there, referred to by different names like ‘ecology’. It was a period where people thought of themselves as living in a world which they had to learn to live with in a balanced manner. Around this period, there was this book called Whole Earth Catalogue, which had a huge impact on brand owners and Japanese editors over the world. The intent of this book was to ask the questions ‘What is necessary for us to live as human beings on this planet’, introducing products that could help us get along well with our planet. This was a very important book solely because of the fact that this kind of information introducing these products providing another perspective weren’t as widely available yet at the time.
As far as the Japanese fashion scene is concerned, a major event is the launching of the magazine “Popeye” in 1976. At the time, they did features on for example mountain-climbing wear, proposing to wear heavy-duty mountain-climbing items while walking around town. In this way, it’s similar to people wearing brands like The North Face and wear sports wear on a casual basis. This is an item I bought back in the day from an outdoor wear store called Sierra Designs who have been around for a while.”
“This parka, made for 60 % out of cotton and 40 % nylon (commonly known as a 60/40) was a defining model for the brand. These days there are a lot more and different high-quality combinations of cloth, but this was high-tech for the time. It’s waterproof and lets through air very well, while also being quite durable, and so it was very popular at the time. I would walk around town in this kind of outdoor wear in those days.”
--- I can see that this spirit of living together with the earth is close to recent trends like you say.
“Definitely! I, for one, think these ideas never disappeared; they just reappeared from that period of time. But then, these days the problem is so much more pressing; it has changed from ‘Living with our planet earth’ to the movement which is asking itself ‘How do we protect Planet Earth?’. If you look back at the past century, you had World War Two ending in 1945, then the Korea War in the 1950 in which America got involved and Japanese companies gained a lot of orders from them to support the war effort, which is said to have been one of the factors helping Japan escape from its post-war depression.
The Fifties were the first period where young people played a central role in defining new culture, the culture of the rockabillies; it was also this period that music and fashion made a lasting connection. Then in the Sixties, being able to mass-produce fashion made a big impact on the kind of items being designed. This was the era of Andy Warhol, where pop culture arrived and reached its peak. The Seventies, in a way, were a period of reflection towards this era of mass production. That is the background towards which books like the Whole Earth Catalogue appeared, a period in which people around the world started to think about how to properly face the way they were living together with Planet Earth. Fashion also evolved together with society, which lead to the idea of wearing outdoor wear as casual items around town as well to show you cared about the earth and the environment. The nuance was that showing off these clothes meant you cared about the planet, which was the cool thing to do at the time.”
--- How did all of this change going into the Eighties?
“This was the period in which a lot of people we today consider true designers were born. Around the year 1986, the Antwerp Six (Dries van Noten, Ann Demeulenmeester and others), and in 1989 Martin Margiela presented their first collection. While brands like Comme des Garçons and Yohji Yamamoto made their debut in the seventies, their items first passed over the runways of Paris in the eighties. In that way, the eighties were the period in which designer fashion started to grow into its own genre.
Looking at it from another perspective, magazines like FACE MAGAZINE (launched 1980) and ID MAGAZINE (launched the same year) had a huge influence on me personally as a way to learn about the world of fashion. These days the raison d’être of paper as a medium itself is being put to question, but at this point it was still widely believed that magazines would become more and more interesting. These two magazines weren’t published backed by big money, they were independent and were mostly able to continue just by the fact that they were interesting. Both were printed in London and didn’t only cover fashion, but also music, sports and politics, so basically the full spectrum.”
“Just like Popeye had a lot of influence in Japan, FACE and ID have left their imprint on the worldwide market. I feel the relative closeness between magazines and street culture was a characteristic of this period”
--- Could you say that after the world-loving seventies, the eighties were a return to old ideas, that there was a mood of people longing for more ‘fashionable’ items?
“The eighties were the decade of divide, the period where the world as a whole split into different fields that couldn't be seen as one whole. People who followed the philosophy of ecology were thinking far ahead of their time, and outdoor wear and the ideas of ecology never died, they still exists as one of the philosophies of our time.
For example, from the end of the sixties to the early seventies, the main idea of hippie culture is the idea of ‘love and peace’, which is a collective idea, the idea of a ‘we’ consisting of different individuals sharing the same message. After that, both music and fashion slowly changed into parts of culture mostly enjoyed by a ‘me’. This was crowned by the arrival of the singer-songwriter, the individual speaking of the individual. The idea of ‘everyone’s different, and that’s a good thing’ spread through society, which is reflected deeply in magazines like FACE and ID. There’s also this magazine called CITY MAGAZINE, for which the father of Olympia Le-Tan drew illustrations; they, for one, put the spotlight on Barcelona when it was still quite unpopular. The fact that they could introduce with the same energy many different countries in the world, each with their own specific brand of interestingness. This was also the period in which street culture evolved into its own genre, and the magazines picking up interesting items did so at a speed that was just right, not too fast, but not too slow either. This, to me, was a really important factor.”
--- What was happening in Japan at the time?
“When talking about Japan in the eighties, I feel the role played by the department store Parco was fairly big. You might remember that they were featured in the news last year because the building was opened anew in Shibuya, which was praised by many people. In reality, they have been doing something similar since the eighties. At the time, advertising was quite amazing. You would have Shigesato Itoi writing the text and Eiko Ishioka doing the art direction. Even people like Andi Warhol and James Brown would be featured on advertisements around Parco. This was part of the bubble economy culture, one of the few good elements; you could really earn your money creating art in that era. Other things like music videos and the design of the stores themselves were also being experimented with in interesting ways. The eighties were the first period in which the job of the designer got the limelight, and Parco played a big role in Japan as a place selling these items to the people. In a single phrase, the eighties were the ‘era of creation’.”
--- The nineties are usually described as the ‘era of sampling’ or the ‘age of everything-is-possible’; what is your take on this period?
“When speaking of fashion, the nineties are the period after the bursting of the bubble economy; while some of the more refined designers like Comme des Garçons, Issey Miyake and Yohji Yamamoto survived the changing times, the way items were designed in itself changed a lot, heading more towards a shabby, street look. Items that were closer to normal daily life became more popular, which was the exact opposite of the very eccentric creations of the eighties. The fashion became more human-scaled, more down-to-earth and human. This piece is from the 1993-1994 Fall/Winter collection by Dries Van Noten, and I feel it expresses the coming of this new fashion quite well.”
“This specific collection by Dries van Noten was themed ‘Bella Ciao’ and was influenced by the movie ‘1900’ by film director Bernardo Bertolucci. The year 1900 was a year in which the classes were still quite strictly divided, but for this collection Dries chose to ignore the flamboyance of the nobility, instead opting to be influenced by the other side, the working class, and turning that image into a marketable collection. This three-pieced suit was designed with working wear in mind, especially at the lapel. This was also the era of grunge; the flashy fashion of the past was gone, and instead arrived a style that preferred simple but cool. In Japan, the brand UNDERCOVER was launched in 1994, and they also did their first runway show in this year. In that way, almost all items in this era were in some way influenced by street fashion, and what was important for both music as well as clothing was to not look too expensive.
This was also the era of the DJ. The idea was not to create new things from scratch, but to cover and mix good music. Everyone started to edit and mix their items; in the year 1990, when I opened my first store, I would be selling Italian suits together with items from Dolce & Gabana and TUBE. That fact in itself shows the importance of mix and edition culture in those times.”
Buyer and creative director for UNITED ARROWS, journalist. Born in 1953 in New York and started working for Suzuya in 1977. After working for Beams for a while, he joined UNITED ARROWS in 1989 as one of its founding members. While working as a senior advisor for UNITED ARROWS, he is also working as a director for a project called FACE.A, which is trying to make a connection between Africa and Japan.
Photo_ RYO KUZUMA
Edit &Text_ TATSUYA YAMASHIRO