You’ve already seen every type of garment that AURALEE has ever made before, but you’ve never seen them made this well. Unlike so many “elevated basics” brands that talk the talk, AURALEE walks the walk.
I know, I know, you’ve heard this all before but, trust me, I wouldn’t be this passionate about some silver-tongued Kickstarter copywriter or boring fast-fashion “maverick.” Before launching AURALEE in 2015, founder Ryota Iwai cut his teeth at casualwear label norikoike, learning what made essential items feel truly essential.
Even six years later, Iwai retains the same singular focus at AURALEE, making effortless clothing of uncompromising quality.
I still remember the first time I handled an AURALEE piece. It was a baby cashmere turtleneck sweater from the brand’s first collection, Fall/Winter 2015, and it floored me. From the specificity of the mélange weave to the just-so cut, everything was so beautifully, quietly considered — and this was merely one piece out of the entire collection!
Normally, when a brand is just finding its footing, it’ll usually restlessly test the stylistic waters for several seasons.
Iwai, however, knew exactly what he wanted right out the gate and, thus, AURALEE has only gotten better in the ensuing years. Iwai’s preference for unbothered, approachable items means that each season, AURALEE produces a lot of overcoats, hoodies, T-shirts, slacks, and jeans — the building blocks of a modular wardrobe.
The AURALEE difference comes through in the fabrication. Don’t get me wrong, the cuts are great, too, but the story is told primarily through the hand-dyed finishes and loose-gauge weaves that can only be achieved by vintage spinning machines. I mean, everything down to the buttons and thread used to stitch the clothes is chosen with purpose.
There’s a sect of Japanese customers who may very well be the world’s most demanding. You won’t learn about them from reading the industry glossies because they don’t shop at the country’s malls and department stores. No, you’d only find them at the indie boutiques that sell craft-conscious labels like, yes, AURALEE.
These are the shoppers who expect every stitch to be in its right place and the finishing to be flawless. More than that, they’ve seen every boring basic shirt and “timeless” trouser. They must be wowed by material quality. For this clientele, AURALEE is the gold standard.
Japanese fans practically elbow each other out of the way to snap up AURALEE’s new pieces each season, be they washed finx shirts (Egyptian long-staple cotton) or sweaters purposely knit from threads that intertwine wool with South African mohair.
It’s a small wonder that AURALEE has been able to experiment with runway shows and overseas expansion in ways that many of its peers can only dream of.
Iwai’s vision of humble beauty seems an odd match for the flash and flourish of the Paris Fashion Week runway, but his seasonal shows have actually proven useful for making his elegant, draping clothing more accessible to the Western fashion set.
AURALEE’s exquisite garments have since begun trickling into international boutiques, entitling unwitting customers to the firsthand revelation that occurs when they experience AURALEE’s textiles for the first time.
As Iwai explained to me, his brand must be experienced in person.
Part of AURALEE’s appeal is its tangible quality. Do you find it challenging to translate this physical appeal to runway shows?
Ryota Iwai: Originally it was never my intention to have our collection on the runway, we were more focused on presenting our world through our flagship store and the product itself. So, I definitely found it difficult to translate.
Our ultimate goal has always been to create clothing for real people to cherish and wear. We want to make garments that exist outside of just the runway, a wardrobe that is wearable and that brings joy to people’s everyday lives as well.
I found myself being drawn to the challenge of how to bridge these two worlds, and how to present our work in a way that is true to us. I think there is space for — and even an interesting dynamic in — a brand like ours participating in something like Paris Fashion Week.
How have you taken to AURALEE’s international growth? Given your focus on thoughtful clothing design, has it been difficult to scale?
We could have never anticipated and are so grateful for the positive response and support we have received.
Entering the international market was actually a very gradual process. We have some close long-term partners that have supported us from even before we began to show overseas but, after bringing our collection to Paris for Spring/Summer 2019 — and thanks to the efforts of our incredible team and collaborators — we have been so lucky to see a gradual and healthy increase each season.
Even without being able to travel and only showing our collection digitally the past few seasons, we have been able to make new partnerships.
One of my goals with AURALEE is to be able to support and give back to the wonderful suppliers and factories we work with. In scaling our business, I think we are able to provide even more to those who make our work possible.
I don’t feel like my design process has been affected, though. We just want to continue having fun while creating products that we are satisfied with.
All of AURALEE's collections are distinct but they also have occasional throughlines, whether it be in terms of design, palette, or pattern. Do you design with this interconnectivity in mind?
I wouldn’t say it is intentional but you may notice this because the inspiration and goals for each season often come from the same places.
I view each season not as individual short stories but different chapters of the same book, capturing different moods and nuances of a constant theme.
Fall/Winter 2021, for instance, was focused on capturing a healing mood. Restful, warm, relaxed, cozy.
In contrast, we wanted Spring/Summer 2022 to feel vibrant and energetic, evoking the vitality of the outdoors.
AURALEE’s collaborations with New Balance have introduced the brand to a lot of new fans. Why is New Balance a fit for you and your team?
Especially for an independent brand like us, it has been a real opportunity to extend our reach on a global level.
The New Balance collaborations have been a channel for us to introduce and share our work and essence to an even wider audience, to people and communities who may not otherwise even know we are. There’s also mutual respect that I am very thankful for.
I believe that our partnership makes sense for many reasons. For instance, on a personal level, I have always worn and been a fan of New Balance.
Also, although our scale is completely different, common ground brings us together: we share values of construction, quality, classic aesthetics, and innovation.
What would you like AURALEE newcomers to know and what items would you like them to try to get a sense for the brand?
I suppose I’d want people to know that we are a tight-knit team. We’re doing our best to create timeless but modern garments that bring out the best of our originally developed fabrics.
We carefully view and execute every step of our production process, traveling abroad when possible to both research the finest raw materials and respect the quality of those materials, creating our garments with honest and meticulous production techniques.
We treat all of our products — from a pair of cotton socks to a T-shirt to a hand-sewn cashmere coat — with the same amount of care, from their origin as raw materials to the completed piece.
As the colder months are soon approaching, we would love for people to try on one of our knits or coats, maybe a baby cashmere knit pullover or knit pants. We’d love for a customer’s first AURALEE item to be one that they keep for life.