Monday, May 23, 2011

The Meaning Behind the Designs of H. Naoto

-John J

Naoto Hirooka, more famously known in the Japanese fashion world as H. Naoto, visited AnimeCentral this year to display his h.NAOTO brand to an American audience. His fashion show on Friday may have been an introduction to the concept of his style, but H. Naoto's work is notorious in Japan for it's gothic and punk lolita influences.

In a discussion with the press the day following his line was displayed (with the help of an interpreter), H. Naoto discussed the influences of his work, what it's like working with musicians and bands, and how American audiences view the concept of his style.

Read the transcript of the press interview after the jump.

You've worked with a number of different artists and bands, such as Ayabie, Gackt, Hangry & Angry, and even created a dress for Amy Lee (Evanescence) to wear to the 04' Grammy Awards. What sort of music influences your work?

The way these collaborations happen is that the artists approach me. For example Gackt (Camui) came to me and asked me to design clothing for him. I like to talk to the artist, and know them as people, their personality in the music to get inspiration. After that I'll get their cd's, but mostly by how they are in person.

H. Naoto after his interview
  Having worked with famous artists, who was your favorite to collaborate with and who would you like to work with in the future?

It's very hard to pick who was the easiest to work with. It was very laid back. Usually when the artist approaches me, they'll give me an idea and the concept behind it. We have one check up, a one-on-one meeting. For Amy (lee) she had a design in mind and gave me a sketch. With that one design I expanded on taht, and she was really happy with it.

I like everyone I work with, I especially liked working with Gackt. He explained the storyline behind his concept at length. He would go on and on and on with the story, and it adds inspiration to the design. It's very fun to work with him.

How did you feel about sharing your work with an American audience?

The main difference is that the American audience is very vocally excited, I could feel the excitement when they screamed and yelled. I know they all enjoyed the show. The feeling is very important and I like that. One thing that was very hard compared to Japan is the language is different and communication is difficult. In Japan all of the staff that works with me, they know exactly what I want. Here, working with a staff that has a different language, it is hard. I want to pursue it though, and work more with it in my career.

What are the challenges of being able to design for such diverse groups? Do you run into problems with designing for one individual and have it still fit within a larger group?

It's not really that hard for me. Working with a band, they each have their own personality, but they have to work together to be part of a group. He sees them as a group, not individuals.

Is there an emotional reaction you generally get for the Japanese audience versus an American audience?

In America, it's very festive, audiences are screaming and cheering. It's living in the moment. Japan is much more strict, they see the quality of the clothes, the concept of the design. What I create, they talk about the style and concept, they talk in a much more strict way. I enjoy the American audience's emotion, they connect with the work more with emotion. It's important to understand not just the show but what is behind his work.

In Japan, the women on stage are like idols. The girls need to have a certain image. If you see a bra on stage or the panty line, it's considered taboo. On one piece the buttons are over the nipples, it's breaking the taboo, going to a different state. That's the outfit and concept design, to break their image, to try and get that different state.

American audiences obviously don't have those same taboos. Is that something you noticed during your show? Audiences just showing up for a show?

I don't think the audience understood it on a deeper level, because I didn't explain it on a deeper level. The show was an overall look at my work, it's not as detailed on one single idea of his. I picked the clothing as a basic gothic, lolita and punk focus for those areas. I didn't expect any emotional connection since this was the first time. In the future, I think it would be necessary to educate the audience on my work and the story behind each theme to have more of an emotional connection. There was more of a festival feeling with the audience. It's a long process to move on.

What is your most challenging design situation? Is there something you do to inspire and drive your design?

In 1999 I created my brand. The next year it divided into 4 different categories. Each has a different concept, and it was really hard to do seperate concepts under one. I got used to it, now I think every moment, in the bathroom, in the shower... I'm constantly thinking of something new. (interpreter referred to H. Naoto as a "workaholic", and stated that he has 32 brands under his clothing line)

The most important thing is the communication between me and the creators. I don't necessarily think "I have a new brand and this is what it is". The musicians have new stuff, they bring it to me and it inspires me. Maybe he isn't punk of gothic, but maybe that leads to something new. Every creator I meet, I get inspired and some new brand gets created.

If you weren't in fashion design, is there something else you could see yourself doing as a career?

Cooking. I wanted to become a chef.

If you were any type of cake, what kind would you be?

(After a very long pause) Strawberry Shortcake.

*   *   *   *

Before the press meeting ended, H. Naoto stated that he would definitely want to return, as his time here went too quickly and was too fast paced, he never got an opportunity to see the city.  His interpreter mentioned in closing that H. Naoto doesn't really taalk to people like this, and that this had been a rare opportunity that he had opened up for.

After seeing some of the amazing designs he has put together, the opportunity was definitely appreciated.

For more information on the designer and his work, visit his official site

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