At Sakura Con in April, I attended the US Premiere of Exist†trace, a Japanese band of the visual kei (pronounced like the letter “K” to my understanding) genre, which was my first contact with the visual kei genre of music and design. The bass guitar player for Exist†trace is Naoto and Mr. H. Naoto is known for his design work in visual kei so I wanted to attend h. NAOTO press conference at ACEN for curiosity’s sake if nothing else. I still don’t know if there is a connection between Mr. Naoto and Naoto the guitar player as it slipped my mind during the press conference but I am glad I attended that particular press conference as it was fascinating.
[Fashion is not my forte so forgive me, Naoto-san, if I don’t meet up to your desires in what I write. The U.S.A. celebrates freedom of speech and freedom of the press which results in people like me with an opinion and a venue to cover events and topics in a manner that might not occur in other cultures and, in some cases, with little to no understanding of the subject matter.]
I arrived just short of the published time of the press conference wearing khaki pants and a pressed, starched, white shirt. The folks from Progressively Aggressive behind me wore clean but casual outfits suitable for a convention. The fellow in front of me wore what looked to be pajama bottoms with a spaghetti sauce stain on his butt and his pajama bottoms disappearing up his crack suggesting he was going commando (I suspect he had been up partying the evening before and came to the conference straight from the sheets.) I doubt I was the only member of our Free Press present that couldn’t claim fashion design as their forte.
The lovely ladies with Mr. Naoto were wearing shades of grey and he, himself, was wearing a black leather jacket with multiple zippers and a spider web pattern on the left sleeve (so far so goth. Don’t get me wrong as I like the goth fashions, but I just couldn’t resist the turn of phrase. I actually found it rather ironic that this motley crew of news media were interviewing a famous fashion designer.)
Mr. Naoto was asked how he got into fashion design and I thought his answer revealed a passion for art and a practicality that goes back much further than I would have expected for such a young man. In grade school he found his love and passion for art through drawing which is no surprise as everyone has to draw in grade school (though I never graduated from “straight line” myself!) In Junior High Mr. Naoto decided he did not want to suffer the fate of the starving artist and began studying fashion. I loved the decision to pursue his passion for art, but in such a way that he could still provide a decent home and food for his family. Very wise and ambitious for such a young man. I also appreciated his taste in art as he said that my favorite artist, Salvador Dali, was inspirational to him.
I asked Mr. Naoto a couple of questions during the press conference and while he made his response in Japanese I gave him my best attempt at a smile that would convey, “I don’t have the foggiest idea what you are saying as I don’t speak Japanese, however I am sure it is fascinating and I will be enlightened and enjoy your most assuredly fascinating and important answer as soon as someone interprets what you are saying.”
In response to questions regarding his creative process and what he does to work his way through difficult periods when he had difficulty in being creative he indicated that he really doesn’t have difficult times creatively. He is more of a creative workaholic and is continuously sorting through various creative processes in his mind even when he is using the bathroom or taking a shower. Sad that he doesn’t suffer the creative constipation I do as I would have liked to hear his input to solving my own creative dilemma but it sounds like he suffers from the opposite of creative constipation (designer diarrhea?) where he just can’t shut it down (I respectfully apologize for the bathroom humor Naoto-san, but you inspired it by mentioning the creative flow you experience even when using the bathroom.)
I thoroughly enjoyed the discussion of his creative process when he expressed that a key ingredient in the process is communication with his clients. His passion for the artistic process showed through when he was talking about working with Gackt on a design. Gackt will spend half an hour or more detailing the character and concept he is trying to portray. One such session presented the challenge of designing for an ancient but youthfully appearing vampire warrior who endured the hardships and loss of battle, being the only survivor of his army.
I have heard it said that, “Steampunk happens when Goth’s discover brown!” (I think it was one of the Damsels of Dorkington) and I have a black t-shirt with white lettering that says, “You’re Unique, Just like everybody else!” that I wear when I am feeling Goth. Don’t take me wrong, as I enjoy the Gothic look and I love my Goth friends, but black and white with occasional bits of lace can be rather limiting in the fashion design. When working with a client Mr. Naoto does not go in and create a Goth or visual kei design for the client but rather works with the client to create the design for them. Whether or not it fits a specific genre of design is irrelevant to him. If it doesn’t fit a particular genre, he has no problem creating a new one. In his first year of business he created four brands and over the past several years he has expanded to thirty two.
He tailors the design to the client rather than trying to tailor the client to fit the design. I like that.