Interview with Fashion Designer Hideki Seo

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Paul McInnes (PM): Tell me how you started your career as a designer and artist? What is your background?

Hideki Seo (HS): I studied graphic design at Kyoto City University of Arts. While I was still working as a graphic designer I started traveling across the world. I’ve visited a lot of different places such as Asia, Europe, Africa and the Middle East. I love traveling and love to see the differences amongst cultures. For me, fashion is always the first thing to realize while I’m traveling. Each country has its own fashion. It describes the country’s climate, culture, and even economic situation. I enjoyed looking at the differences among cultures. For example in Africa, they need to think about the fact it has a very hot climate so the clothes need to shut out the light from the scorching sun. On the other hand in Tibet, clothes are more ethnic. It represents their racial characteristics. Fashion always describes the culture of the country.

After coming back from Africa I started to think more about fashion than graphic design. My interest in fashion had been getting stronger and that’s why I decided to go to Belgium and start learning more about fashion at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp.

PM: How would you define your work?

HS: Right now I’m doing two different things. One is my fashion design work with Alaia. The other one is my own project. I work as an assistant designer at Alaia’s maison during weekdays from very early morning to midnight. And at night and weekends I do my own project.

My project is becoming more artistic rather than fashion based these days, so I guess I can be defined as both a fashion designer and as an artist. My project may be more artistic in the future.

PM: How does being Japanese affect your work?

HS: It has been about ten years since I left Japan. When I first came to Paris being Japanese might be a little difficult to work here because everything would be totally different from Japanese culture. But now, after ten years, I really don’t care about it. That may be just because I’ve gotten used to living in Paris.

However life in Japan while I was young sometimes reminds me that I am Japanese. For example I used to read manga when I was little and also I did a research on Kabuki when I was in a college in Japan. Perhaps these memories as Japanese person are still with me even after ten years since I left Japan.

After studying graphic design for four years at Kyoto City University of Arts I worked as a graphic designer for three years at a company in Kyoto. I believe that studying graphic design, so far, provides a good foundation to build on my idea now. It was a hard decision to quit my job as a graphic designer. But I feel that it was not a waste of my time because graphic design can be the very base of every aspect of creation, such as fashion and art. People who want to work in the creative world should know about graphic design.

PM: Tell us more about your work with Alaia? What have you learned from working with him?

HS: Alaia has had a great influence on me and the other staff in his maison. He is like our father. He is an extremely strict person who never cuts concern especially when he’s working.

Here’s an interesting story. I had never stayed at the same place more than six years before. I mean, six years at the elementary school was the longest one. Three years for junior high school, another three years for high school, four years at college, three years working as a graphic designer, and another four years of studying at Antwerp. That’s it. However I realized that it has been already six years since I started working as Alaia’s assistant.

It means a lot to me. I spend a whole day with him. So I can see not only his work but also lifestyle. I’ve been inspired by Alaia. I learned a lot from him. He is a person who will never compromise. I learned the strict and serious attitude towards work. Moreover Alaia teaches me the importance of putting things in perspective and looking at the world with a broad view.

I often get scolded by Alaia which is very scary, but thanks to him I know the importance of seeking out the meaning of his life.

PM: What do you think of the state of Japanese fashion design and art? Do you have any favorite designers of artists from Japan?

HS: As I’ve said, it has been for a while since I left Japan, so I really don’t know much about the fashion scene in Japan. But Japan has lagged behind Western countries.

I understand that when it comes to fashion or art everybody has a different opinion. But we all know that Europe is at the forefront of the fashion scene in the world. However I feel that many Asian countries are developing comparing to the past. So as a Japanese man I really hope Japan develops in the future.

Rei Kawakubo is a person who I respect. I look up to her in many ways. Not only as a fashion designer but also as a skillful business person. Especially in such a difficult situation in Japan Kawakubo established her own fashion brand, Comme des Garcons, which is now world famous.

PM: In your own work or your work with Alaia do you collaborate with artisans? Local manufacturers or material producers?

HS: Yes we do. Especially when it comes to my own project. I usually work with 20twenty. 20twenty is a company owned by Keizou Murase. This company is famous for making the Godzilla costume.

It has been ten years since we started working together. I see Murase as if he was my real father. We are tied by trust, a resolute and unshakeable faith. It’s a treasure in my life to have met Murase. I’m very thankful.

Also Murase’s actual son, Fumitsugu Murase, helps with my project. Fumitsugu is the person who gives shape to my idea. We understand each other very well. I feel that the chemistry between us is perfect.

PM: What kind of work are you working on now?

HS: When I design, I normally draw my fashion illustrations on an A4 size sketchbook. But one day I started wondering about “Why it should be fit in such a small size –A4 size.” I thought that if it would be bigger, like a life-sized sketchbook, I might be able to come up with more new interesting ideas.

Because of that I have been drawing life-sized fashion illustrations more than two meters in size.

When I saw the finished work I realized that it shouldn’t be defined as fashion. It was more artistic. I was so excited to across the line between fashion and art. I enjoyed creating new things.

However there was a problem. I needed a lot of money to continue working. It cost so much for me to get such a huge sketch board. One day 20wenty decided to help my project and soon we started working on it.

I then thought that sculpture is better than clothes. Then suddenly I came up with another idea. It’s based on the notion of luminaire. I thought that if those fashion sculptures can be fused with lighting apparatus it would be more beautiful. And immediately I asked 20wenty again if they could provide the lighting equipment and they said yes.

When I saw the picture of my finished sculpture which 20twenty sent me tears came into my eyes. I couldn’t stop crying. I felt like I could work beyond the province of fashion. I felt like I got more freedom from this experience. It shouldn’t have to be just about clothes or other materials. Now I can use anything around me to reproduce what I really express. Coming up with a new idea always gives me a new world for my future. I don’t know about what kind of project I will work on next, it may be sculpture, luminaires or clothes.

Written by
Paul McInnes
Photography
Provided by Hideki Seo