SIMONE INC. representative Creative Director
Studied under Issey Miyake at the Miyake Design Studio. Directed “ISSEY MIYAKE” and other projects. Established SIMONE INC., a global branding company, in 2003. Worked on the creative direction and consulting for several fashion, beauty, and luxury brands both in Japan and abroad. His marketing logic with a seasoned knowledge of digital media integrated with refined art direction is highly regarded in other industries as well. Received the NY ADC, GOOD DESIGN AWARD, etc. Founded the SAVEJAPAN! PROJECT, which contributes to disaster recovery through cultural programs.
Kaie Murakami has been chosen as the key visual creative director for two seasons of the “Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week TOKYO,” which will newly start from the 2012 Spring/Summer season. After working at the Miyake Design Studio, he has been working on the creative direction of various fashion, beauty, and luxury brands as the representative of SIMONE. He formed a production team made up of top Japanese creators to work on a new branding for the fashion week. We talked to Mr. Murakami about various topics, including the field of key visual production and issues facing the Japanese fashion industry in the future.
What were you conscious of when working on the creative direction for the key visuals?
Murakami: For the past 15 years or so, I’ve been working in the fashion industry both in Japan and abroad. During this time, despite the fact that Japanese brands were receiving a certain level of recognition abroad, I saw that they were not being rated as highly as brands from Milan, Paris, New York, and London. As Mercedes Benz is becoming the main sponsor and expansion into the global market is expected, the proposition was simple—to use this timing to see how far the value and presence of Japanese brands can be increased. Fashion is now a powerful culture that Japan can transmit out into the world, and is an industry that can become one of Japan’s core industries. Now that there are concerns of Japan’s brand power weakening due to the situation after the earthquake, I feel that there is more that there is more that needs to be done. In the past, creators from various fields were involved in JFW, but this time, I also feel the necessity for people that work in the field of fashion to take the vaguely-defined TOKYO fashion and give it directionality based on their global objectivity and experiences.
Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week TOKYO 2012 S/S Key Visual
skirt: ATSUKO KUDO
shoes: NORITAKA TATEHANA
studs belt: DRESSEDUNDRESSED
socks: ATSUKO KUDO
bodysuits: ATSUKO KUDO
corset: ATSUKO KUDO
shoes: SOMARTA×NORITAKA TATEHANA
vest: DRESS CAMP
suspenders: ATSUKO KUDO
socks: ATSUKO KUDO
body accessories: A LABEL by JIN OKUMA
bracelet: G.V.G.V. private property
Your production team is made up of the top creators that are active in the fashion industry.
Murakami: I first called upon Erotyka (Yonezu Tomoyuki + Tiffany Godoy). I feel that they are one of the few creators that that can express the “present” in the context of fashion while being aware of the two axes of Tokyo and the world. It is quite rare for me to call upon people like this, as I am also doubling as AD, but I did so because I felt the need to carefully filter the process from conceptual make-up to the finish with several layers. I had an image of a combination between Erotyka and the photographer Koichiro Doi from an early stage, and we decided upon the stylist, hair and make-up artist, and models after discussing it together. The team I formed ended up being quite unique because I wanted to take advantage of the perspectives and rules of staff members that are active abroad. Each person is highly skilled and has a superior sensitivity and so there was a feeling of tension on set at photo shoots, but they still worked together very smoothly. I’m sure there are both pros and cons, but I think that it was an extremely productive project.
Please tell us your concept for the key visuals.
Murakami: I thought about how to visualize and orient the universality of Japanese formal beauty and the modern and futuristic sense of present day “TOKYO”. The targets are the demographic that support core fashion culture from around the world and the fashion core demographic that supports everything from the young and aggressive fashions that represent TOKYO to Japanese brands. They welcome Tokyo fashion in a positive way without dwelling on the past, and their influence and diffusing capacity on the WEB is amazing. I focused on creating visuals that were able to respond to their expectations. These prerequisites produced keywords such as “static,” “POP,” “graphical,” “symmetry,” and “sculpture,” but Mr. Doi was a great help when it came to the expression phase. He accumulates and merges an enormous number of cuts for a single photo, and this style is due in part to the sensitive DNA embedded in Japanese people, and his work is receiving international praise. I feel that the method of interweaving technology with professional skill, producing a work that has a simple yet powerful sensitivity presents a way of bursting through the global wall as a Japanese creator.
Do you use only Japanese brands for the styling?
Murakami: Yes. I feel that the driving power behind current Japanese and Tokyo fashion is the editing and clearing away of all social rules and values. This has enabled a mix of everything from global fashion to vintage items, and these elements are seen in these brands.
For the Spring-Summer styling, I extracted the two keywords of “No Rules” and “Energetic.” I also consciously incorporated up-and-coming brands by Japanese designers that are gaining more recognition abroad. In the future, we cannot avoid the shrinking market in Japan, and we Japanese people have to think carefully about how to survive in the global market. In order to do so, it is important to think about how to make ourselves a necessary presence in the Western fashion culture, and brands that have actually managed this are starting to be recognized. Now that information is easily passed on thanks to the Internet, we should pause to discover the values of our own brands and present them in an active manner. I wanted to incorporate an aggressive message that is necessary for Japan right now in my visuals.
Rather than simply making clothes, it seems that the manner in which these clothes are presented will become more important in the future.
Murakami: I think so, and I think this will be an issue for Fashion Week overall in the future. This time, I am only participating in terms of key visuals, but Japan’s fashion industry has excellent infrastructure and technology. The Internet and digital signage are well developed, so I think that presentations that use these technologies will be most Tokyo-like and be a powerful instrument. Of course, it would be ideal to have people come visit Tokyo, but in order for people around the world to recognize what is happening here now, it is important to first actively “convey” this using digital media. Of course, this does not mean that the Internet is the only tool that should be used. Fashion Week is the “matsuri” (festival) at the peak of the industry, and still has an important function as a “salon.” It cannot be denied that the ultimate conclusion of Fashion Week is one of the trends that revitalize the industry. The culture of fashion originally consists of the two aspects of “clothing” and “phenomenon,” and as this becomes increasingly complicated, it is impossible to talk about fashion as a monism. I think that in today’s world, the word “creativity” will no longer pass unless it is accompanied by informational value and communication skills.
I imagine that you have a lot of work that involves presenting fashion from a visual aspect; it seems that visual expressions such as fashion photographs are also approaching a transitional period.
Murakami: I do feel a limit in providing something that fits today’s society with just one photo. Of course, there are many amazing photographers in the world, and I think there is still potential in terms of expression. However, in terms of work, I don’t feel the necessity to aim for the exact same path. I am not interested in tracing something that’s already been established, and I don’t see a future there either. The reason that I quit my previous job (Miyake Design Studio) and launched SIMONE was because I wanted to attempt to expand the potential of fashion through various expressions such as video and technology. Consequently, my ideal branding is to conduct a one-stop direction of all processes other than “clothes-making.” The source of the allure of fashion is “adoration” and “envy,” and this is supported by the marriage between vanity and real-life image that is born out of creation, or in other words, fantasy. It will become difficult to just cut out some parts and create a high-quality brand. Fashion is a special industry that only exists when there is a balance of contradictory phenomena such as vanity and real-life image, expression and function. In fact, in our office, we not only have WEB designers, graphic designers, and programmers in order to realize this, but also staff members that provide interior design, video images, and high-end fashion contents, etc, and we research ways to develop story-telling that is indispensable in constructing a 21st century brand on a daily basis.
What do you value when doing your branding work?
Murakami: When you say branding, many people have the image of outward-facing “mending” work, but in actuality, we start from dull, inward-facing work. What is most important is how far we can pursue the blood and character flowing through the brand and how it differs from other brands, etc. If this concept collapses, the absolute number of people that we want to understand the brand and the penetration rate of understanding among core fans are affected. The key visuals were developed using the same concepts. First, we dug down into the history of fashion, discovered its context and characteristics, created a framework out of a common global language, verified its differences from other brands and external factors such as the current social circumstances, and finally incorporated the “blood” of “Tokyo-ness” into the brand, and headed towards our goal.
After the earthquake, you established “SAVEJAPAN!” and participate in recovery efforts that involve the fashion industry. What do you think will be required of the Japanese fashion industry in the future?
Murakami: In general, it seems to me that the lack of presentation and debating ability of Japanese people is causing many precious opportunities to be lost. Presentation skills that can maximize one’s traditions and technologies on a global platform without the need for language skills is required, for instance, verifying the branding know-how of culturally advanced countries such as France and incorporating it into one’s own culture. Japan’s quality and excellent service are well-recognized facts, and we also have many unique technologies and products that are realized because of the existence of specialized technologies. In the area of creation, there is a wide variety of fashion sense and manufacturers in Japan, including not only the designer brands that are participating in Fashion Week, but also everything from casual to street brands that take full advantage of editing skills. In particular, there are many brands in the casual category that already have a sufficient amount of competitive power when considering the balance between quality and price, and I think these brands should actively step out. Until now, there were many difficulties due to language barriers and problems in terms of production background, but now there are many brands that are finally on track, and we have started to develop and expand infrastructure to actively support these brands.
It seems that globally-conscious expansion will be a future issue. What kind of mindset do you think is necessary when considering foreign markets?
Murakami: I don’t think that the Western culture is necessarily superior, but in order to support the process that the brand is developing in this field, I feel that it is first necessary to deepen one’s understanding of the culture and to respect it. Fashion has a long history and long-established rules that was accumulated under Western civilization. I think the best shortcut is to first build a basic sensation on top of the global language of fashion, and ultimately use one’s Japanese background as a weapon to intentionally betray the context or incorporate new essences. Even if this not necessary now, I think you will hit this wall eventually. Business is the same—unless a stable foundation is built, no matter how much you argue about expression, brands that cannot be continued will die out. How can one interpret and act on the meaning of the term “double standard”? Perhaps what Japanese people need most right now are a deep understanding for survival and the strength and ability to take action.
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