The double-header men’s show of UNDERCOVER and TAKAHIROMIYASHITATheSoloist at Pitti Uomo in Florence earlier this year will surely go down in the history of fashion. The way Jun Takahashi and Takahiro Miyashita mixed cultural references, music, and good design into a moving performance reminded us all that fashion can still be exhilarating.
There was everything for those of us who love fashion the most when it addresses other aspects of culture – UNDERCOVER’s references to Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001: A Space Odyssey, TAKAHIROMIYASHITATheSoloist’s uniform for the new world order, and the phenomenal soundtrack from both.
The two designers, arguably amongst the most talented in menswear today, are also friends, and the show was a symbolic expression of their friendship and the mutual respect they have for each other’s work. I caught up with Takahashi and Miyashita the day after the show, as they were having lunch on the sidewalk terrace of their hotel, to talk about their friendship.
The pair seemed in good spirits, as one hoped them to be after the titanic effort that went into putting on a show of such caliber. Though neither of the designers is particularly garrulous, and I was receiving my answers through a translator, we spent a good 45 minutes in conversation. Our interview is below.
Your longtime friendship is a topic that has been largely unexplored. How did you two meet?
Takahiro Miyashita: I think it was in ’96. Jun came to my atelier. It was after my second show. I was so shy that I just said hello and left. But Jun called me after. We went for a drink and we’ve been friends ever since.
Jun Takahashi: Taka was already known on the Tokyo fashion scene. I knew about his work and I wanted to see it for myself.
Taka, did you also know Jun’s work?
TM: Of course, Jun was already a star! Everyone knew him.
What attracted you to each other’s work?
JT: I liked the similar way we looked at things. We had the same cultural references in our work, the music and the movies. I thought, wow, he’s the same as me.
TM: What attracted me to Jun’s work? Everything. The cultural references were the same, but the results were very different, and that was really fascinating to me, how one could express the same things but in a different way. Jun[‘s work] is so different from any other designer. Jun is Jun.
The youth culture references are, of course, often at the center of your work.
TM: Yes, and I feel like that’s a topic that we’ve talked about so much already. We love youth culture, we love the youth. We don’t want to sound like old men.
JT: Time may pass, but our minds don’t change. It’s all about keeping the young mindset.
So, after you met, how did your friendship develop?
TM: I remember Jun calling me and inviting me and my girlfriend over his house. Then we had dinner together. We talked about many things, I don’t remember already. But one thing I remember was Jun convincing me to do a show in Paris. I was completely unsure, and I thought a lot about it, but in the end if Jun says I should do it, then I should. We’ve always had a strong connection; Jun is like a brother to me. I couldn’t say no.
Was it a good time to do this? Did you also feel like you’ve outgrown Tokyo?
TM: Yes, I did, and maybe that’s what Jun was seeing, too.
Before The Soloist, there was Number (N)ine, and my first fashion show in Paris was the last Number (N)ine show: “A Closed Feeling.” What’d you think of that coda?
JT: That was an incredible show! It blew my mind. I was thinking, how can he design such beautiful and complicated things for men? Taka designs the men’s like I design the women’s.
What do you do when you get together these days?
JT: Karaoke! [Laughs]
TM: I know Jun is very focused on his work, especially when he’s working on a women’s collection. I try to stay out of his way. Usually, he’ll reach out to me.
Do you discuss each other’s work?
JT: We never talk about design, and we don’t ask each other for design advice, though of course we look at each other’s work.
But what about yesterday’s show?
TM: We didn’t talk about the show much. We worked separately on our collections.
JT: We only had one meeting about the show, to discuss the overall concept, “Order/Disorder.” And we talked about the finale. [Editor’s note: in the show’s finale, models from both designers walked the runway.] But we did not know what themes we would be using or the music for our collections.
Do you ever wear each other’s clothes? I know that you look at each other’s menswear, since you share a showroom in Paris.
TM: I am wearing UNDERCOVER now! I wore UNDERCOVER for my own show in Tokyo this fall. [Laughs]
Over the years, do you feel that the way you work has changed? So much has changed, fashion, culture, the very cities we live in. Does that affect you?
TM: Yes. For me it’s not so much about the way Tokyo has changed, but about how I have evolved in my work, trying to always go forward and also running a business, not stopping to do only clothes.
JT: I guess I feel similarly. Things change continuously, we evolve. It’s like with music – Taka is always searching for new music.
Looking at the past shows from both of you, it strikes me how relevant the clothes look 10-15 years on.
TW: I spoke with Jun after the first show I did in Paris, and Jun said to me, “This show is an experiment.” And I thought that maybe there was something that wasn’t enough there, something I could change. And it’s been like that. You always have to evolve, to try and make a statement.
JT: I feel the same way. That’s why my studio is called UNDERCOVER Laboratories. Experimentation is what it’s all about.