A Conversation with Takayuki Minami
Words: Sam Wittwer
July 06 2016
As Creative Director of Need Supply Co. Japan, Takayuki Minami has helped to establish the presence of Need Supply Co. in one of the most design-saturated cultures in the world. The creative polymath first established himself with alpha.co.ltd, a creative agency and communications firm that took part in developing some of Japan’s premiere brands.
Over the past few years, Minami-san dove into the design and development of his proprietary collection known as Graphpaper. We tapped into these skills to develop our most recent NSCO collection, a functional melding of traditional Japanese and American styles. To celebrate the launch of the new collection, we speak to the man who made it happen.
Mr. Minami, we’ve been officially working together for almost a year now, but I would like to start a little further back. Could you tell us a bit about where you were born, and where you grew up?
I was born in Nagoya Prefecture and lived there until I was three. Then I moved to a dodgy area called Ichikawa City in the Chiba Prefecture, which is right next to Tokyo, until the end of middle school. Ever since I entered high school, I’ve been living in Tokyo.
What sorts of things were you interested in as a kid? Any particular idols or people you looked up to?
When I was young, I wanted to be a painter in the future, so I drew at home every day. I used to like Picasso, Monet, Modigliani back then, so I would imitate their work. This was when I was about a fourth or fifth grader. When I was even younger, I used to draw characters from cartoon and comics. I have never looked up to or admired idols or people in my life. I’ve never had that feeling.
What was the first piece of clothing you truly loved?
It was a COMME de GARCONS HOMME PLUS matching top and bottom. I really liked the crisp texture of wool gabardine. I also liked their little boxy over-sized design. I still think that they were really good pieces of clothing.
How is it that you first got involved in the world of art and design?
Simply, I didn’t want to become an office worker wearing a tie. That’s all.
Can you tell us a bit about the founding of alpha.co.ltd?
After I quit H.P. France, a company which I worked for more than ten years, I didn’t want to be employed again. Being an employee was not my thing, so I felt “Now’s the best timing to start on my own!” and founded alpha.co.ltd. For the first five years, I didn’t hire anyone, nor did I have an office. I was a nomad worker – working all alone, running around.
What is your day-to-day like when you are working?
I have meetings with my staff about the designs and more meetings with clients and I visit shows and presentations from morning to late at night. My schedule is packed. However, just recently I got permission from my staff to have a free day called “no-appointment-day” which I can use as a thinking day for myself. I use that day for refreshing by just resting my mind, thinking about new ideas, or visiting bookstores and museums. I think this is also a part of my work.
Your work is largely a practice in good style, can you tell us who or what inspires you?
I look at things from different angles, visit the sites where things are made, and communicate with people. By doing these on a daily basis, there are moments where different dots (points) are connected and form a line. And eventually, those lines become source of inspiration, which are formed in to a shape.
Onto the line you’ve recently produced for Need Supply Co., NSCO – can you tell us more about the specific inspirations for the designs?
I combine traditional elements — both Japanese & Western — and modern elements, modern living and necessities in everyday life. An example of a traditional Japanese element is “wafuku” (literally meaning “Japanese clothing”; such as the kimono, obi, or hakama). For Western elements, I work on redefining and updating only the function of traditional tailoring, workwear or military wear.
The clothing seems to be rooted in a fine balance between American and Japanese tradition, what do you feel makes these two cultures work together so well? Or, what do you feel the are the traits that make American and Japanese culture complimentary?
Basically, any “yofuku” (literally meaning “Western clothes”) in Japan are originated in foreign countries; while “kimono” is born in Japan. Each has specific functions and each is well thought out, but their functions and ideas also link. I pick out where the functions and ideas overlap, and apply that to the design.
In other words, clothing has a core function – warmth, protection – no matter where you live. Bringing together two ways of solving a similar problem makes for a complimentary idea.
What was the most notable difference you found in working on this particular collection?
The way the patterns are created is very different. Wafuku (Traditional Japanese clothing) is designed and cut flat. People wear it by wrapping, folding, tucking up and tying. On the other hand, Western clothes are made three dimensional according to the line of the body.
Do you have a favorite piece in the collection? Which one and why?
Of course, I like them all, but particularly I like the wide pants with an obi belt. I like the action of tying an obi – which is very Japanese – and its combination with trousers in a wider silhouette, which is very traditionally western.
Do you have a particular design philosophy?
With anything, I try not to over design…but I design what I want and what I would like to see. Maybe people empathize with these points.