This year March I made my first ever trip to Japan. Amongst being super fascinated with the city, I also had the chance to see Tokyo and attended Fashion Week out there. Over the years I’ve just imagined what Tokyo would be like and had to see this fantastic city myself. As you may remember I attended the Tae Ashida catwalk show and met the amazing designer herself, which was an honour. Tae Ashida is fashion royalty in Japan and is the daughter of one of Japan’s biggest designers Jun Ashida. She is renowned for dressing some of Japan’s most important and high profile people including princesses, politicians, the Empress of Japan and Japan’s First Lady. After many years assisting some of the top designers and working under her father’s label Jun Ashida, she debuted as an independent designer in 1991. In 2012 she introduced the Tae Ashida collection. You can find the luxury label online, and flagship stores in Japan and Paris. I had the chance to catch up with Tae Ashida, check out the interview below.
1. What was your inspiration for your AW14 collection?
This collection I was very conscious of the many faces of light: the soft but growing light of dawn in a still pinkish sky, gentle sunshine on a grassy meadow in the afternoon, and points of light in the dark spinning in different directions as if seen through a prism. I have tried to capture some of these qualities through my designs. The mix of different fabrics in the same design is part of the same story: the strength of light, and its complexity when mixed with shadow. Sometimes I tried to emphasize colours by contrasting them with black. I’m not suggesting black clothes, but using the black to emphasize different colours. Also, I have used modern sportswear fabrics for functional yet, I hope, elegant clothing. I am also inspired by the sophisticated new techniques that Japanese manufacturers are constantly developing. My super-warm down coat is a good example: a few years ago, it would have been a very bulky affair, but now my very normal and practical sized garment can provide all the warmth you would need.
2. Who’s your favorite designer?
a) My father, Jun Ashida. As a young man he studied under editor and designer Jun-ichi Nakahara, the only source of fashion and creative modernity in post-war Tokyo. He made his debut, established his own company and, together with my mother, he has continued presenting his collections twice a year ever since. He is the one who first proposed to Japanese women that they stop wearing their traditional kimonos. His original and independent designs, and his constant search for beauty and elegance, have made him the forerunner of the huge pret-a-porter business in modern Japan. I admire him so much as a designer, as a businessman, and as a father.
b) Christian Lacroix: before he had his own couture house, Christian Lacroix studied and worked with my father in Tokyo. He says himself, that he was grateful for the experience because it was the first time he was able to work with luxury fabrics, and that he learned so much about creating commercial designs. Christian got on so well with my mother that he always speaks of her as “My Japanese Mama”. Then, when I was a student, I was able to study and assist at his haute couture collection for Jean Patou in Paris.
3. Your father is also a designer, When you were a child, did you want to become a designer?
I remember my mother saying to me often before I went to sleep that she wanted me to help her at my father’s company when I grew up. So, I don’t think I ever made a decision to become a designer – it was always understood that this is what I would do – it was simply the natural course of events. Maybe, this is just an example of my mother’s magic.
4. Are there any celebrities you would love to dress?
Not anyone in particular. I have been lucky to have had links to many leading women – from princesses of the imperial family, to wives of politicians (and nowadays to women politicians themselves), and stars of stage and screen. I am grateful that Mrs. Abe, Japan’s first lady, often wears my designs, and that many actresses choose my dresses for their special occasions.
5. Where do you work on your designs and projects?
Perhaps they are in my mind all the time. My head is constantly full of ideas and fashion related matters. However, when sketch particular designs I feel comfortable at my desk at the company.
6. What are your favorite cities?
a) Paris – because we have our boutique there, at 34 rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore. I have visited Paris many times, and have a lot of friends there. I feel comfortable and can relax. b) New York – for its vitality and the stimulus it always gives me. Since I was studying at the Rhode Island School of Design, I have often visited New York. It’s always moving, and has wonderful modern art exhibitions. I spend all day at the MET and MOMA. c) Tokyo – it’s where I grew up. It’s my home. Japan has a unique culture and, within this, Tokyo has its own individuality. I’m proud of it.
7. What are your future plans for the Tae Ashida brand?
I want my designs to bring out the inner beauty of the persons wearing them – to express the inner beauty of the wearer. I would like to develop my line so that it would be the first choice of a truly wide range of intelligent elegant women, not only in Japan, but all over the world. Every garment we produce is a carefully crafted item. We have a large and highly skilled atelier at the company, and we make all our own samples and patterns. Last year our company celebrated its 50th anniversary. Over all these years, we have been devoting scrupulous attention to every step of the production process, and our garments have a value over and above their price. I want to continue this tradition, and I think it is natural that our customers will be people who appreciate and value the care we take. I want my designs to match the needs of modern women, and to provide them with choices in their wardrobe. I think my patented original designs “shirring bolero” and “leather pats” fit into this category. I also want to be of use to society, to make use of my abilities and skills to help other people. Last year I initiated a project to help support reconstruction in Minami Sanriku-cho in Miyagi Prefecture, that was devastated by the tsunami three years ago. In the project, Jun Ashida Company offers the supply of left over scraps of luxurious material, and my design and technical assistance, in a collaboration with local seamstresses to produce high quality mascot key holders called “Mina-Tan Charms”. The full proceeds from sales, minus necessary costs of production, are paid as wages to the team of seamstresses. It is not the money that is important, it is the introduction of a worthwhile activity that could bring a new lease of life to the craft production of the area.