Designer Akira Naka studied fashion at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp, and he is known for creating clothes, which bring out the beauty of the wearers.

Naka refers to his own designs as “couture,” and his favorite pieces are knitwear, which he conceived while studying in Antwerp.

“In Antwerp, I saw many people wearing knitted items. People in Antwerp also enjoy knitting as a hobby and there are many yarn stores, which sell various types of yarn and also serve as a place to gather and enjoy knitting,” explained Naka.

One of Naka’s early knit designs is the “gradation knit,” combining knits and other fabrics, making it seem as if the yarn is melting into the fabric.

“At one point, I was very interested in European and Baroque styles. However, I found it difficult to incorporate these concepts into the clothing I was aiming to create, which was functional. This is how I came up with the idea for the gradation knit. In order to express the knits as gradually melting into the base fabric, I had to do everything by hand. I would make the knitting fabric thinner in steps and fuse it with the base fabric.”

Many fashion brands create samples by hand and then ask factories to mass-produce the designs by machine. However, this type of process makes it difficult to maintain the quality at the same level. If you compare Naka’s hand-knitted designs to machine made ones, the difference in quality is unmistakable.

“There are advantages in using machines to design clothing. If I were to compare machines to paintings, hand knits would be considered as sculptures. I wanted my brand to focus on hand knits, and so I began to look for people that could help me create such products. I visited many places, but the answer I received was that one piece could be created, but no more, because it is too difficult to reproduce.”

“I began to give up on the idea of producing hand knits, when a client of mine told me that there was a person who might be able to make the kind of knits I was aiming for. The person I was introduced to was Yasuko Hayakawa of Atelier Manoa,” said Naka.

Hayakawa talks about her encounter with Naka below.

“I unexpectedly received a phone call from Akira, and he told me that he wanted to talk to me about a design he was trying to create. After talking to him, I was keen on supporting a young designer who aspired to sell his designs to the world. He wasn’t very experienced as a designer at the time, but I was excited to work with him on his big project,” said Hayakawa.

Hayakawa began her career in fashion by writing books on knitting and eventually became a star in the Japanese fashion world for her excellent knitting techniques. However, Naka’s proposal was going to be a big challenge for her as well.

Find out more in Part 2.