Onitsuka Tiger: Aisyah Aziz, Tabitha Nauser, and more rock Andrea Pompilio's latest collection for the Japanese heritage label
Japanese heritage shoemaker Onitsuka Tiger, which is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year, is far from settling into august elder statesmanship. Long associated with the youth fitness movement in postwar Japan, the brand is carving out new territory as an all-encompassing lifestyle label, led by Italian designer Andrea Pompilio.
Following the news-making launch of its collaboration with Givenchy last month, Onitsuka Tiger unveiled its fun, rave-inspired fall/winter 2019 collection to the likes of Singaporean singer Tabitha Nauser, Thai model-actress Baifern, and more Asian celebs at — what else? — a party chez Bangkok's Warehouse 30. Before slamming down some seriously good cocktails, we chatted to Pompilio about helming a Japanese icon, the Ibiza of Italy, and why he can't stop, won't stop (working, that is).
What are your earliest memories of fashion?
Andrea Pompilio (AP): I come from a small-but-affluent city in central Italy, where we had some really great fashion boutiques despite our small size. As early as the age of eight, I got to look at Gianni Versace and Franco Moschino’s designs in the windows, and to touch them in-store. I used to put aside money in my piggy bank, to save up for sweatshirts from Moschino or trousers from Versace.
As a designer, are there any references that you return to over and over?
AP: I collected Helmut Lang pieces when I was younger, and studied his style in great detail. His influence was in my blood; a lot of my work at university was inspired by him. My sensibilities have evolved since then, but every so often I go back to Helmut.
Onitsuka Tiger’s latest collection draws inspiration from the rave scene. What are your earliest memories of music?
AP: I’m a child of the ‘80s and ‘90s, and grew up not far from Riccione, Italy’s Ibiza at the time. I spent every weekend there clubbing, and loved how open-minded an environment it was; as a teenager, I was exposed to people of all nationalities and gender identities. It was the music that brought us together.
Your work is often subculture-inspired. What about youth subculture attracts you?
AP: I like taking inspiration from the street, by which I don’t mean streetwear, but ordinary people living their lives. I'm not the kind of designer who looks to imaginary muses or films, which are easier to distil into fashion. I’m interested in reality, and what people need. That’s why youth subcultures like the rave scene are so interesting to me, because they’re about new generations trying to change the world with positivity.
What item in your personal wardrobe sparks the most joy?
AP: Let’s see... I spend a lot of money on shoes, because as a man, you can only own so many shirts or pairs of jeans. Socks can completely transform the look of a man. But if there is one item of clothing I can’t live without, it’s my boxer underwear. [Laughs]
Where are they from, if you don't mind me asking?
AP: Some are from my own line, and others I get custom-made in Milan — they even monogram them for you.
Streetwear is dominant in fashion right now. What do you think of the whole phenomenon?
AP: The streetwear movement has been interesting, but I think it's going to die very soon. I feel that people want to get dressed up again, as they did in the past. Fashion is about dreaming, streetwear isn’t. I remember when the sight of Naomi wearing Versace in the ‘90s could move me to tears, because it was cinematic and emotional. Fashion is mundane now, and I haven’t felt that same impact from any brands out there.
All that said, were there any shows that you actually enjoyed from the recent runway season?
AP: Prada and the Comme des Garçons, for sure, but then again I love what Miuccia Prada and Rei Kawakubo create every season.
Onitsuka Tiger’s identity is very rooted in postwar Japanese culture. As someone who’s previously declared yourself very proud to be Italian, is there anything from your own heritage that has shaped you as a designer?
AP: Italian fashion culture is strong, very strong. And I would know, because my family owned a boutique; I grew up surrounded by colour, by great tailoring, by lamé and other extraordinary fabrics. I try to bring a little bit of these influences with me to Onitsuka Tiger. Conversely, I’ve infused my own line with some Japanese influences, too.
You’ve previously worked for Prada, Calvin Klein, and Yves Saint Laurent. How did each experience shape your approach to design?
AP: I was only at Prada for nine to ten months, but I remember finding the working style there very graphic and precise. At Calvin Klein, I was working more in a merchandising capacity, so I studied markets and customer preferences. To then jump from those experiences to Yves Saint Laurent, with all that eclecticism and classical music soundtracks, was like entering a completely different universe. Each of these experiences has become a part of me, and has informed my own perspective on design.
How does a brand that’s known primarily for sneakers change people's minds about its ready-to-wear collection?
AP: It’s true that Onitsuka Tiger is far better known for its sneakers than ready-to-wear. But the RTW arm of the business has been growing steadily, which comes down to selling it as part of a world, not just standalone items of clothing. It helps the brand click better with people. I manage the world-building and advertising for Onitsuka Tiger very closely with my team; the vision of the brand has matured, and is now 360 degrees.
At Onitsuka tiger, is your design process the same every season?
AP: More or less. One of the pivotal moments in the design process of any collection is the first fitting, when you can really get creative, You start cutting, and cropping, and tweaking, and see the new silhouette develop as you work. For me, it’s a far more creative phase than the initial stages of sketching the collection.
What’s next for Onitsuka Tiger?
AP: We have something incredible planned for October in Japan, which I can’t say much about. But I can maybe, just maybe, tease a kidswear line.
And what’s next for you personally?
AP: Work, work, and more work! I wish I could spend a year on a desert island, but I know I’d go mad after a week or so of rest. I love my work, I love travelling and meeting people. I’m a very lucky man!
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