meet the young designer who won the fashion prize at hyères this year

Following his show at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Berlin, we catch up with Wataru Tominaga.

by Alexandra Bondi de Antoni
Aug 2 2016, 1:20pm

Every year, hundreds of students leave the fashion schools of the world with the dream of becoming something big one day. Whether that's having your own label or working for an established fashion house, having a degree in your bag makes the world seem full of opportunities. However, many quickly realize that it's not all as simple as they hoped at university.

One person for whom the stars are clearly well aligned is Wataru Tominaga. The young Japanese designer finished studying at London's Central Saint Martins, and won one of the most desired prizes with his final collection. In May of this year, he was awarded the Première Vision prize at the 31st Hyères International Festival of Fashion and Photography.

But it's not all that surprising. Tominaga's designs are brave; his cuts are refreshingly different in a world where many follow trends in order to sell well. His choice of colors and combinations of various materials and silhouettes are playfully light. He mixes dyed corduroy with oversized cotton shirts in a skillful yet almost child-like way, combining them with printed pants and pleated sleeves. Julien Dossena, a Hyères jury member and creative director of Paco Rabanne, compared the shapes Tominaga creates with those of Issey Miyake. In fact, his designs were inspired by the grande dame of folding arrangements, Madame Grès. 

In October, Tominaga is moving to Paris to learn from the métiers in the Chanel atelier, and to work on a collaboration with the French label Petit Bateau. We met the designer after his show at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in Berlin and asked him about finding success as a young designer. 

Wataru Tominaga

Looking at your collection for the first time, it's the colors that jump out. What fascinates you about color?
I've thought about it a lot but I don't exactly know. I can guess. I've always been drawn to strong colors. As a kid, I was really into American pop culture of the 60s and 70s. I wasn't able to get these images out of my head. This collection is primarily inspired from the clothing of that time and how people dressed then. I think about the hippie movement and the folklore movement. It didn't matter whether you were a man or a woman. Gender didn't really exist. These days, I get the feeling that you don't even have to say unisex anymore, people aren't interested in it. They're women, men, trans, it doesn't matter.

America in the 60s was a totally different culture than the one you grew up in, I'd assume.
Yes, it was different, although Japan has an insane amount of culture to offer, obviously. When I was young, I basically lived online. I didn't have any real friends. I didn't go out a lot. I always read comics and spend days scrolling. I always looked at clothing.

Where did you grow up exactly?
I grew up in a little village in Southern Japan. That's probably the reason I didn't go out that much, because there was nothing to do there. I'm more of a city kid. I'm not interested in nature, which is why I spent my time online. 

Did that change when you moved to London?
First I was in Tokyo and then I moved to London. I always wanted to go to Central Saint Martins. At some point, I found a comic about a girl who studied fashion in London. I read the comic over and over and always wanted to be like her, even though the comic was intended for girls.

You speak about pop culture, which in itself is quite fast-paced. But your clothing seems very thought-through, detailed, and anything but fast, even if it is colorful and opulent.
Yeah, you're probably right. A designer who wants to do something new and original needs time, otherwise they're just one of many. That's the most important thing. These days everyone is making similar things. Stylists help designers. It's almost all about styling. I don't like that. Of course it's important, but I want my clothing to stand for itself.

The craft is just as important as the design?
Exactly. Craft is very important. I'm looking forward to Paris, where, thanks to my success with Hyères, I will get to work in the Chanel's couture atelier. I hope that I can learn a lot there. I definitely want to make shoes, more prints, and embroidery. 

You said that you prefer to take your time. But the fashion world is unbelievably fast. How do you think you can make sure to do this and not get stuck in the hamster wheel of fashion?
You don't necessarily have to give into the speed. Some designers do that naturally and then the stylists come in and make up for what's missing in the design. If the styling is good, your clothes don't have to be that special. I don't like that. If you look at the fashion world, you see a change in thinking. As a young designer, you have to remember who you are and what you stand for, even if a lot of voices may be telling you something else

You just finished university, where you can be free to think. Nevertheless, you've already started thinking about who is going to wear your clothing? 
No, not really. I didn't want to limit myself. Maybe when I want to start my own label, but right now I'm concentrating on the essential: designing.

How do you see yourself in the future?
Obviously, doing my own thing is a dream of mine. It probably won't be so easy. In the end, you can't always get what you want. When you work for a brand, you have to adjust to what the brand wants. That's definitely fun for some designers, not for me. 

What do you say about the comparisons with Issey Miyake?
It's the easiest comparison that can be made. It's the first reaction in a way: Miyake is Japanese, I'm Japanese, there have to be parallels, since we work with textures and colors. Miyake's primary objective was to be able to make a piece of clothing from once piece of fabric. My cuts are flat and simple, since I want to show structures. So maybe there is a connection in there. I think about the material first and then about everything else. If exciting structures develop out of it, then I'm happy and I work with it.

What does this working process with the materials look like?
For example, if I'm working with a material that's elastic, I try to make it less elastic. I want to make everything different. I experiment a lot and take time to try out different things. If a material has holes for example, I think about why it has holes and what you can do with them. I love combining contradictions and getting serious reactions to the designs. The more varied the reactions, the better it is. I get it when someone doesn't understand my clothing because they think it's too opulent. I don't love minimalism. Maybe soon I'll only design classic pieces. Who knows. Minimalism and opulence have many connections too. I love extremes. I always want to be extreme in one way or another. 


Text Alexandra Bondi de Antoni
Images courtesy of Mercedes Benz

fashion interviews
hyères international festival of fashion and photography
mercedes-benz fashion week berlin
wataru tominaga