Personalities

Exclusive: Inside the mind of fashion prodigy Kei Ninomiya

We have one of the few rare opportunities to interview fashion designer Kei Ninomiya on his challenges of absolute creativity— the main driver behind his fast- rising brand, Noir Kei Ninomiya.
Reading time 8 minutes

It’s hard not to find the sartorial work churned out by the Comme des Garçons universe fascinating, especially more so with Kei Ninomiya now onboard. After attending a few of his shows for Noir Kei Ninomiya in Paris Fashion Week, it is easy to see why his collections have been going viral in the digital space.

Ninomiya’s enchantment with Rei Kawakubo grew after visiting one of her Comme des Garçons stores in Japan. From a casual interest in fashion, he became motivated to pursue it professionally.

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After graduating with a degree in French literature from Tokyo’s Aoyama University, he then applied to the Royal Academy in Antwerp to study fashion. During a summer
break, he applied for a job at Comme des Garçons and hired him on the spot by Kawakubo after he interviewed with Comme senior creative Junya Watanabe, leading to Ninomiya quitting his studies to join the Japanese fashion company.

Four years after working for Kawakubo as a pattern-maker, Ninomiya was given the opportunity to launch his own label under the Comme des Garçons umbrella in 2012. Ninomiya’s eponymous brand has been presented to a small audience at Paris Fashion Week since 2014 in Comme des Garçons’ Paris showroom in Place Vendôme, before it was upgraded to a more formal venue sharing with Kawakubo’s protégé, Junya Watanabe.

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When our editor Monica Mong was in Japan last December, we managed to secure one of the few rare opportunities to sit down with this fashion prodigy.

Rocking his signature Mohawk and goatee, Ninomiya’s manner was light-hearted and low-key as he opened up about his work. Embracing innovation and new propositions for the post-millennium, his designs never fail to push boundaries in the use of materials, forms, techniques and craftsmanship. 

 

Read through below for Kei Ninomiya's exclusive interview:

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Have you always wanted to work for Comme des Garçons?

I really like the brand. For me, Comme des Garçons is really special, and it’s completely different from other fashion companies.

 

What was your reaction when Rei Kawakubo first launched your brand?

Rei and I were just talking, just like this. It was a really quick decision as there was never a discussion about it directly! In the beginning, I was just focusing on making something new and conceptual. They weren’t wearable pieces. (At Comme, Ninomiya was tasked with creating new things for the showroom to test their commercial value. Proven with the ability to secure buyers, Kawakubo launched his eponymous brand under the Comme des Garcons umbrella.)

 

What have you learnt from Kawakubo?

Many things, everything! Her attitude in approaching the creative process is special which is something I can’t describe in detail as it is hard to find the right words, even in Japanese.

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How did the name of your brand come about (Noir means “black” in French)?

After discussing with Rei, she suggested that I focus on a single concept. I like the colour black; so I focused on one colour so that I can concentrate on the techniques, details and shapes. That was how it started but it is starting to change a bit now.

 

Why black?

Black is beautiful and strong.

 

As a designer with mostly black designs, is your creativity derived from happiness or darkness?

Both, I think. Well, sometimes black doesn’t mean unhappiness. Your collections have evolved from only black to white and red, and then recently green in the S/S ’20
collection.

 

Why not yellow or purple?

Just a change in mood. Not yet, in the future maybe.

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What’s the inspiration of your Spring/Summer 2020 collection?

I wanted to present a strong collection and for the energy to come from plants. That’s why I used green to create the connection in the collection. I initiated the power of nature concept, and then floral artist Azuma Makoto came up with the plant-based headpieces to link the theme with my initial idea.

 

What was the experience like working with Azuma Makoto?

We had a few discussions in Japan over the phone and face to face, finalising things only in Paris from some basic ideas in Japan. The collection is evolving until the very last minute too, so there was nothing for Makoto to see in advance except for just a basic idea about the collection.

 

How did you decide on your last show venue and what was the brief?

I gave the team my theme and mood, and the production team proposed some locations that matched the concept. The keywords: black, underground, natural light.. [Laughs].

 

Can we infer from your hairstyle and designs that you like punk?

My hairstyle? [Laughs] Just a bit actually, not so much.

 

How long does it take to get your hair done before you leave the house? Do you ever change the hairstyle, as in 24/7/365?

5 minutes. No, I’m always like this, I don’t change.

 

Even when you are not working?

I’m always working actually.

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Noir Kei Ninomiya has a bit of punk with a romantic aesthetic, as in strong yet soft. Do you agree?

I guess it’s a mix of both.

 

What is your creative process like? Does it include a master plan or mood board?

No mood board or master plan. It’s hard to have a mood board in the beginning for me, though I want to create one. The mood board only firms up when the collection is almost ready. To be very frank, the coordination that you saw at the Paris show was done just a day before the show.

 

Most of your designs do not require sewing. Why is that?
I don’t think sewing is that a special technique — it is an easy and a basic way to connect fabric. My designs are voluminous with a lot of fabric, so they are difficult to stitch and they can’t fit through the sewing machine either!

 

Do your clothes have a particular shape?

It’s free!

 

Do you have fabrication that you particularly like to work with?

I always like leather, but it is also based on the theme and concept of the collection. So that always changes.

 

When you design, you don’t have a person or a muse in mind?
No, no, no. No muse.

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What kind of talent does the Noir Kei Ninomiya team need to have?

It’s pretty much based on many rounds of communication. We start with pattern-cutting and construction as usual, but we work in unusual ways, so I don’t know who really has the “talent”.

 

You are part of an organisation on a permanent quest to create something new that didn’t exist before. How difficult is that?

To make new things is my role. Of course, it’s very hard and difficult, but it’s interesting to me. It’s more like a learning process to me, like going back to school. Even in making mistakes, I have learnt from it—it’s all part of the experience.

 

How do you balance good business decisions with your creative mission?

I try to strike a balance. I prefer fashion to be wearable for customers to purchase but I also have an eye for strong pieces, so I find and make the balance I think.

 

So you are not bothered by who is wearing your design or whether your designs will sell?

Yes, I just enjoy it!

 

One word to describe Noir Kei Ninomiya.
Noir. [Laughs]

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