Interview & Report

Daisuke Gemma

Daisuke Gemma

Creative Director

Born in 1975. Daisuke moved to England in 1996. He worked as a buyer for BROWNS in London. After returning to Japan, he established FAMILY (select shop), and served as an executive director. Daisuke became independent in 2007. His clients has included CELUX (LVJ Group), and Branding Director. He now closely works with sacai, and LANE CRAWFORD in Hong Kong. Daisuke can manage projects ranging from product development to interior decoration. He also has experience with a number of foreign contracts.

Daisuke Gemma worked as a buyer for the famous specialty store BROWNS in London at a young age, and has established a unique position within the Japanese fashion industry upon his return to Japan, such as working as a creative director for various brands and shops. His rich overseas experiences have brought him several job offers from Japanese companies as well as foreign companies such as LANE CRAWFORD andJOYCE. Mr. Gemma, with his global mindset, gives us his sharp perspective on the current conditions of the Japanese fashion business and future issues regarding the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week TOKYO from the standpoint of the JFWO (Japan Fashion Week Organization) committee.

What led you to do the work that you do now?

When I was 21, I studied abroad in London. I made many friends over there, and from a certain time, I started to frequent the company BROWNS. As BROWNS had quite a lot of Japanese customers, I was offered the job of a salesperson, and I decided to take it although I couldn’t speak much English. The following year, I was taken along on a buying trip abroad on the recommendation of a buyer named Bernie Thomas, who I am still in contact with today, and from there I started to work as a buyer. After returning to Japan at age 26, I joined a company called WR and established a specialty store called Family as well as a PR company calledPred.P.R.. Right now, I work with sacai and the Hong Kong department store LANE CRAWFORD, etc.

After you returned to Japan to work, did you notice any differences between Japan and abroad?

As BROWNS was a high-end store, I had the sense that high-quality things would sell even if they were expensive. However, unlike London, the high-end market in Japan was tough, and most customers were middle-class. In addition, the cycle was very fast and there was a unique scheme in which clothes were first sold by being featured in magazines, and so it was quite a shock to me when I first returned to Japan. I didn’t have the confidence to work in such an environment, but I didn’t want to be someone who badmouthed Japan after coming back from abroad. I wanted to learn more about the Japanese culture and do something that was truly me. After returning to Japan, I first launched a specialty store called Family with hopes that customers that understood me like family would come to the store.

From what standpoint did you consider being involved in fashion when working in Japan?

There were many people with amazing talent around me, and watching them, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to become a designer. But I wanted to work with these great people, so I figured that I would be like lymphatic fluid and channel the things that they made. I wanted to become someone that could think creatively about everything apart from design, including the business aspects, in order to better communicate the designers’ creations.

You direct a broad range of things from show music to the shop interior and even marketing; how did you acquire this know-how?

First of all, an affinity for the brand and the clothes forms the basis. The same applies to my work for sacai; I really like it, so even though I have no know-how, I try my best and fumble my way through. Meanwhile, for my work for the Hong Kong specialty store JOYCE and LANE CRAWFORD , etc, I can directly transmit the Japanese brands and designers that I like to the world, so it’s satisfying in a different way. I owe a large part of the work I do now to having been able to learn many things including business aspects during my time at BROWNS.

You do a lot of overseas work, but what do you feel about the current status of the Japanese market?

The market is unsatisfactorily large, so I understand that in terms of business, fashion is made to cater to the domestic middle market, but I feel that this has resulted in products being too domestic. The sizes are completely catered to Japan, and pricing is also conducted by determining the retail price and then determining the percentage of this price to distribute the product at. This is also something that is unique to Japan. People from abroad don’t find things that are made in such a domestic manner interesting. Recently, it seems that all domestic brands are doing similar things, perhaps due in part to the fast fashion trend, and I feel that the brands and shops are being manipulated by the consumers. But this shouldn’t be what the customers actually want.

Is there anything in particular that you feel regarding the Tokyo Fashion Week?

I think that there could be a little more tension. The show is where the makers and viewers get their one and only shot. I think that you can’t really get this sense in the current Fashion Week. Also, I think that it is better to take a unique Japanese approach, so I don’t think that it is necessary for all brands to focus on the show. In Paris, there is a fixed mindset that you have to show your creations well in a simple show, but in Japan, there is the sense that this doesn’t necessarily have to be the case. For instance, I think that Japan is good at transmitting its creations to the entire world through high-quality streaming, and I think that it is important to make more opportunities for people abroad to view these creations in this manner. In addition, events in which the general public could participate were really successful in the previous Fashion Week (held October 2011), so I approve of having such events during Fashion Week this time as well. However, when considering the separation between the general public and the professionals, maybe it is necessary to adopt a method in which the entire city is enlivened through retailers, etc. for the general public.

What do you feel about the creations of Japanese brands that are participating in Fashion Week?

Creations are unique to each brand, so I think they should be pushed to the limit. However, I think that brands need to compete in terms of their overall image rather than to simply make clothes, and at the moment, I feel that there are few brands based in Tokyo that manage to do so. Also, I feel that perhaps there are fewer competitive people nowadays. It seems that they are content to just settle at a certain level. People that draw attention in the world are all extremely competitive, no matter where they are from. I’m not talking about winning or losing, but I think it’s important to have that competitive spirit.

Is there anything that you want Japanese brands to aim for in the future?

I think there are many brands that are doing interesting things on their own, but it seems that they limit themselves to their own world. It is fabulous that they have their own unique style, but it’s a shame if it just remains underground. I think that it is cool to do underground things in a major area. It’s like insisting that you’ll just have cheap Conveyor belt sushi without knowing the taste of expensive sushi that costs 100,000 yen per person. That’s different from choosing the Conveyor belt sushi knowing the taste of expensive sushi. I hope to see more brands that have a more international sense.

This may require brands to shift their attention abroad.

If you remain in Japan, you can’t get a sense of what is high-end. I understand this well because I’ve actually been abroad. Recently, it is said that there are fewer people that study abroad, and this is not good, since going abroad opens many doors.

It seems that up-and-coming designers will be required to not only make clothes, but to also be able to think about the overall direction of the brand as you do.

If you want to try your luck abroad, it is important to work with people that have some business knowledge. For instance, many top international designers find a partner that they can rely upon for a certain part of the business, and I feel that it is also very important to keep people nearby that can see things from a different angle. Chitose Abe of sacai, whom I work with, keeps me nearby for just this reason, and Rei Kawakubo ofComme des Garçons creates an environment in which he can focus on his creations. Rather than requiring designers to know everything, I think that it is important to create an environment in which designers can entrust the things that they do not understand to specialists of that field.

INTERVIEW by Yuki Harada

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