Born in Kanagawa Prefecture. After graduating from college, he joined World Co., Ltd., and was in charge of sales, production, and MD. In May 2003, he established the brand, which debuted in JFW in September, 2007. At the time, the brand also features women’s wear, but is now solely focused on men’s wear. He is currently also working on the vintage clothing remake brand, Faker.
Strong and sexy; fashionable yet masculine. Kazuhiro Takura, whose brand @IZREEL is highly regarded both in Japan and abroad, previously worked at a major apparel company. The interview with Mr. Takakura, who pursues the essence of the brand business while accumulating various hands-on experiences, is a must-see for people who are thinking of launching their own brand or who have hit a wall.
What made you decide to become a designer?
Takakura：I went to a college of sciences and entered an apparel company upon graduating. At the beginning, I was in sales, and then I requested to be transferred to production, and then to MD. I always felt that there was a gap between what I made and what I really wanted. However, since I was hired, I wanted to be useful for the company, so I did not consider quitting straight away. I set up my own business after working for 11 years and getting an overall picture of the business to some extent. From two to three years before I left the company, I was thinking about establishing my own brand and conducting several case studies.
What is the origin of your brand name, ＠IZREEL?
Takakura：It is a word I coined from the slang term “Is Real.” I wanted to show the realness of the clothes in a straightforward manner, and it was also an antithesis to major businesses. I wanted to make something that was beautiful, that used quality materials, and to which a lot of time and care was devoted, without thinking about whether it would sell or not. Because of this, I thought that having the keyword “real” in the brand was indispensible. By real clothes, I do not mean the realistic and easy-to-wear clothes that were often talked about in the past, but “real” as in whether it’s something that I would want to buy myself in a store at the sticker price.
What is the concept of your brand?
Takakura：The definition of my brand is Tokyo luxury street wear. Over twenty years ago, from when I was in my late teens to when I was a college student, vintage clothes were very popular. I also loved looking for and collecting dead stock vintage items. But once I was out of college, I couldn’t go to work wearing vintage clothes, so of course I wore jackets, slacks, and ties. I then encountered the brands Dolce & Gabbana, Armani, Versace, and other high-end Italian brands. For a few years, I continued to buy and wear a lot of these brands. By being deeply involved in both the earthiness of American vintage clothing and the refined sexiness of mode trends for a certain period of time, I was able to notice the beauty of Tokyo. The mixed culture of Tokyo, which crosses street fashion with luxury fashion, is unparalleled in the world. Doing bold things is what makes Tokyo fashion unique and interesting.
Vintage neckties are taken apart for making the shirts.”The production concept is to mass produce fabulous shirts using vintage fabrics.”
You have actively participated in the Bread & Butter and Pitti Uomo exhibitions, which are known for their strict screening processes. What differences have you noticed between overseas and domestic exhibitions?
Takakura：Overseas buyers buy “brand-like objects.” Japanese buyers buy “things that sell.” Overseas, the owner buyer takes responsibility for making decisions, and orders on the spot. The buyers of major Japanese corporations are salarymen, so they take the order form back with them, and place their order by fax. I’m not saying that one is better than the other; it’s just that their methods are completely different.
What advantages were there to participating in a foreign exhibition?
Takakura：When I was working really hard, I had about 20 overseas customers, including Dantone in Milan, LuisaViaRoma in Florence, Harvey Nichols in Hong Kong, and H Lorenzo in LA. However, this was not really reflected in business in Japan. The point was that the clothes sold overseas, and that was it. Meanwhile, Japanese buyers are completely mature. They can choose by themselves. Earlier, I said that Japanese buyers buy “things that sell,” but the buyers of select shops in the city do not easily pounce on an item just because it is a brand that sells abroad. Therefore, from a manufacturer’s standpoint, I felt that my business in Japan would not grow unless I took actions that were easily comprehensible by Japanese buyers, and that is why I decided to participate in the Tokyo Collection.
Is there anything you are hooked on at the moment?
Takakura：Golf. I’ve always loved sports, but with golf, your performance is indicated by a score, no matter how bad you are. It’s in my nature to enjoy being tied down by numbers (laughs). I play about 100 rounds a year, and I also go to driving ranges, so that might mean that I’m holding a golf club about two or three days a week (laughs).
I also focus on golf from a business aspect. Consumption in Japan has completely matured now. Consumption for items that are not location-oriented can only be sold at low prices. Recently, there are few people that save up to buy a Rolex or Mercedes. Rather, people are interested in dressing up and enjoying themselves in situations where there is a defined occasion, such as fishing, golfing, and parties. To be honest, when I look at the world around me, the high-street fashion that I am engaged in does not sell. If it were to sell really well, it would be in a developing country like China.
Starting in spring-summer 2011, we will be releasing IZREEL golf wear. When you play golf, you can wear bold clothes that you may not be willing to normally wear. However, these clothes would not be persuasive unless the designer himself played golf and was good at it. The fact that I made these clothes because I am an avid golf player who loves the sport is what I feel is “real.”
Is there anyone who’s caught your attention recently?
Takakura：Ryo Ishikawa. He’s too good for his age (laughs). Creators in my generation also include Tom Ford and Margiela, but I don’t think I’d be able to continue this job if I didn’t have the pride to be able to do the same level of work as them—so much pride that I am able to think, “They must be jealous of my work.” (Laughs) Whatever the truth may be, in terms of self-respect, it is important not to criticize your own work or to rank yourself, considering yourself to be lower than foreign designers because you’re a Japanese worker, or because one brand sells better than another… It doesn’t mean anything (laughs).
What direction would you like your brand to take in the future?
Takakura：I would like to conduct mass-business using the sharp presence of IZREEL. I want to spread what I consider beautiful to many people, so if given the chance, I would like to be actively involved in business collaborations and tie-ups with companies that have the “caliber” and the “people.”
Are there any particular business collaborations that are in the works?
Takakura：Starting in spring-summer 2011, we are signing a contract for direction with The Suit Company (Aoyama Trading Co, Ltd.) and conducting a limited sale of collaboration suits. At the same time, we will also undertake the design for the private brand of The Suit Company. The suit will cost about ￥28,000 for the jacket and trousers. We’re using material of excellent quality, developing the pattern, and manufacturing the suits at a good factory. It’s a price that is possible because of The Suit Company’s production background. In this day and age, it is expected that you can get good things at a cheap price. If you make things that can’t be sold for cheap like what we’re doing, the only items that will sell are things that, although may be expensive, are one-of-a-kind, or are must-have items. Conversely, doing things halfway, like “as long as it’s cheap, it’s ok” or “this should be enough” will never sell. I think what customers are seeking is an astonishing price that is much cheaper than what the item should be worth given its perfect quality plus some additional value. The main customers of The Suit Company are young people who are attracted by the low prices, and I’m guessing that most of them have not heard of IZREEL. I look forward to finding out what opportunities will arise by getting these people to know our brand.
What often surprises people is that IZREEL is a very small company—two employees including myself, and three part-time workers of the store (Shibuya Parco). I think that one way for designers to survive is not to simply stock and sell items, but to peddle one’s own software.
I thought you’d have more staff members!
Takakura：I often get that (laughs). In the past, we used to request press coverage in a so-called show room in order to be featured in magazines, but now stylists come directly to us, so we quit that. We want to keep costs low, so we do what we can by ourselves. We spend money on our collection, but we aren’t worried about appearance in other aspects. Right now, I’m 42, but as an independent member of society, I feel that you get nowhere by having silly pride issues. I don’t mean that you should act recklessly, but you should be prepared to face anything.
How dependable! You must be well-liked.
Takakura：It seems that many of the customers of IZREEL would be “independent men,” but we also encourage “men who want to be independent” to come too (laughs). I think it would be amazing if my clothes lift the spirits of the people that wear them and give them courage. This is precisely the mission of my work. To put it in an exaggerated way, I am working for the greater good. At the end of the day, unless I have a consistent sense of mission, there is no point in my work, and no reason to make money. Simply earning money can’t keep me going. Communicating this to others is the responsibility of those who have found their mission. The fashion business is a business in dealing with people who know fashion. I think that communication is what is most important.
Lastly, can you tell us a bit about your 2011 spring and summer collection which will be announced soon?
Takakura：The theme is Juraku. It is said that in the past, people such as feudal warlords were more infatuated with Western things than Japanese things, and liked rambunctious clothing and items. What we wanted to express was the wild splendor that was found at this time. It is certainly not mainstream Japanese fashion in the modern age, but I think that men have a natural yearning for strong and luxurious things. They are just keeping it hidden because they can’t express these desires openly right now. This leads to our message that “revealing just a bit of this desire and being drastic will pave the way ahead!” Also look forward to our special order US Rags and New Era items!