Japanese designer Noritaka Tatehana’s works are among the permanent collections of world-renowned museums such as the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. This is part 2 of the interview with 30-year old Tatehana.

Fashion Headline (FH): Why did you choose to major in Japanese art, when you were studying at Tokyo University of the Arts?

Tatehana: When I was in high school, I dreamed of becoming a fashion designer and imagined myself studying fashion in Europe. But then I realized that there was no way that I could surpass the European students studying the fashion of their own cultures, because to me, European culture is foreign. I wanted to start something that was my own, something that no other person could do.

That’s when I began to focus on Japanese fashion and chose to learn about Japanese clothing and art; dyeing techniques as one example.

FH: You grew up in Genjiyama of Kamakura, a place full of nature. How did that affect your creativity?

Tatehana: I’m sure I’ve gained a lot from my childhood days. Since I majored in art, I’m self-taught when it comes to fashion. I learned a lot from animals and plant life. In art, it’s important to recognize the essence of the beauties in nature, rather than comprehend each of the objects superficially. The ability to perceive situations objectively is valuable.

Growing up in a natural environment, I developed the ability to identify the essence of beauty. I can determine whether something is beautiful or not based on my instincts.

FH: As with the differences between Western and Eastern art, the 3D patterns of Western clothing and the flatness of Japanese clothing differ don’t they?

Tatehana: Simply put, Western art grasps objects based on space. Eastern art, on the other hand, discerns objects as forms.

The differences come from the dissimilarities in environments. For example, the air in Europe is dry, and natural lighting is beautiful. When light hits objects, the beauty of the silhouettes of the objects is clearly projected. In Japan, the air is humid and natural lights become diffused, and so, the silhouettes of objects can only be seen softly. Since it is difficult to detect the contrast between light and dark, the Eastern perception of art becomes flat and dependent on patterns.

FH: You are known for designing the unique heelless three-dimensional shoes for Lady Gaga. You studied dyeing techniques such as Yuzen at Tokyo University of the Arts. How did you make the transition to three-dimensional designs?

Tatehana: I studied about the classic styles of Japanese art when I was a student. That’s something I needed as part of my knowledge, but it was not the type of expression I was looking to make. Most people in Japan today wear Western clothing as opposed to Japanese clothing, and my aim was to create something new, so in order for me to do that, I needed a modern concept. I design things imagining them to be useful in present-day Japan.

FH: Do you mean to say that you sometimes implement classical techniques for your designs, which are created for modern aesthetics?

Tatehana: My creations are the collaboration of historical and modern-day Japan. Japan today is a mix of Western cultures so really, my pieces are a fusion of Western and Eastern cultures. People overseas can relate to my designs because they are a mix of what they are familiar with.

FH: The geta sandals and shoes you provided for today’s photo shoot are perfect examples of the fusion of Western and Eastern cultures.

Tatehana: The geta sandals are designed using only quadric surfaces and are imaged after the taka (meaning high in Japanese) geta worn by oiran. The heelless shoes on the other hand are designed using only three-dimensional surfaces. These shoes are imaged after the time when Western cultures came into Japan and people praised the styles of the new cultures. The geta sandals portray Japan up until the Edo period whereas the shoes illustrate the beauty of the three-dimensional aesthetics of Western cultures. The two designs create the concept that I mentioned earlier, the fusion of the flatness represented by Japanese culture and the sculptural elegance of Western cultures.

FH: What types of projects will you plan next?

Tatehana: When I was at university, I was motivated by being the best among others. But now, I’m committed to working as part of a team and sharing ideas and techniques with others. I’m still relatively young, but it’s not too early for me to create new platforms that help to pass on traditions and knowledge to future generations. I think it’s really important to leave behind case studies of the projects that I’ve been involved in. The Shikinen Sengu ceremony held at Ise Jingu Shrine every 20 years is one very good example of how techniques and culture are passed on to the next generation.

FH: Do you find that team building is really important, especially in the light of the global trend of implementing digital technologies?

Tatehana: Perhaps I could’ve aspired to be a charismatic designer of my brand, but then the brand would come to an end once I die. What’s important to me is to promote the entire creative team working for the brand. Using highly-skilled techniques and creating magnificent designs are a given. So my focus now is on figuring out how I should go about growing my brand in terms of passing it on to the next generation.

FH: Why did this feeling become so strong for you?

Tatehana: The person who wore my shoes for the first time was Lady Gaga, but the people that first bought my shoes were an art museum. So, very early on in my career, my designs were selected for the permanent collection of a museum, one way to pass on my knowledge to the next generation. I saw this to be very rewarding and at the same time, I felt very responsible for my actions as they would affect younger generations. I decided to abandon any egoistic designs that I created in the past and work towards creating valuable technologies and ideas for others. A museum is a place for preserving human cultures. Cultural properties are protected against armed conflicts and therefore, it is our universal mission to share and protect the things that we’ve created.

Return to part 1, “Noritaka Tatehana and His Creative Team Supported by Japanese Artisans”.

【On the designer】
Born in Tokyo in 1985. Grew up in Kamakura of Kanagawa. Began to designs clothes and shoes on his own at the age of 15. Entered Tokyo University of the Arts in 2006 and studied Japanese dyeing techniques. Upon graduation in 2010, launched his brand “Noritaka Tatehana”. In 2015, collaborated with Iris van Herpen to design shoes using 3D printing techniques. Held his first solo exhibit at Shibuya Hikarie from the end of 2014 to the beginning of 2015. Has many fans from the fashion and art worlds including Lady Gaga and Daphne Guinness.