photo: Takao Iwasawa
text: Kohei Onuki
translation: Hashim Kotaro Bharoocha
Daisuke Obana’s N.HOOLYWOOD COMPILE has released a series of videos and photos for their FALL 2021 collection. N.HOOLYWOOD took a bold approach and entrusted the entire creative direction of the visuals to photographer Takao Iwasawa and his team. The worldwide COVID-19 pandemic has pushed fashion brands to take diverse approaches to premiering their collections, so we asked Obana why he chose this approach for this season. We also invited Takao Iwasawa, who was in charge of the creative direction, to share his thoughts.
―― Mr. Obana, I wanted to ask you about your thoughts on how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the world of fashion design. N.HOOLYWOOD COMPILE is known for putting a modern twist on formal wear and dress wear, but how has your approach to design changed before and after the pandemic?
Daisuke Obana (DO): At the foundation of my design work is expressing what I love and feel in a straightforward way, which gives my designs a certain kind of energy. It’s all about gathering items and information that I know will inspire me to create. This approach welled up from inside me when we showed our collection in New York in 2010. Regarding the clothing I wear everyday, there are two aspects that are important to me. First of all it has to be fun, and secondly, it has to be stress-free. In these past few years, I have been focusing not only on the fashion side of things, but also the functionality of the clothing. I’ve been conscious of that even before the pandemic hit, and I incorporated that approach into the new COMPILE collection. The items in this collection just happened to fit the needs of the post-pandemic world, but my designs weren’t influenced by the pandemic. The main collection is based on certain themes, but the COMPILE line is different because it features simple designs with only the essential functionality. You can wear these items as fashion, or just wear them to lounge at home, so these clothes have a lot of freedom, and they shift the focus on the wearer.
I usually don’t explain this, but I thought that the time during the pandemic would be a great opportunity to experiment. The clothing from COMPILE can be interpreted in different ways, so I wanted to find someone who could interpret the collection in an interesting way, and have them work on the visuals and creative direction. That’s why I asked Takao to work on this project. Takao’s work is very multifaceted, so I asked him vaguely “Do you think you can work on this?” I was interested in what he could come up with.
―― I think it’s rare for a brand to give complete creative control to someone outside of the brand, but didn’t you think it would be risky?
DO: This was the first time I did this, but I thought that there were more possibilities than risks. I have many years of experience in this industry, and I take pride in the quality of the brand and our clothing, so I wasn’t worried at all. If Takao’s creative direction went beyond my imagination and was something that I couldn’t understand, as long as his explanation was convincing when I asked him “What’s the meaning behind this?”, then it would be fine. I’m also drawn to things I don’t understand. In the past, Takao showed me a project he worked on that was slightly grotesque and mysterious, so I thought that maybe he would take that kind of an approach (laughs), but he always challenges me with his work and ideas. Normally people come up with different approaches and will try to see what I like, but Takao is very bold and will show me things and say, “Hey I can do things like this too!” which I find amusing (laughs).
―― How did you two get to know each other?
Takao Iwasawa (TI): I took portraits of Mr. Obana for a magazine, which is how I got to know him. Later, he invited me to his exhibitions, and he taught me about the process of how his clothing is made. The shirt I’m wearing now is by N.HOOLYWOOD, but I wasn’t sure if I should buy black or brown at the exhibition, so Mr. Obana chose this shirt for me (laughs).
DO: That’s right (laughs). I’ve had many photographers take portraits of me, but Takao’s photos left a deep impression on me. He took photos of actress Haruka Imo for a whole year which I got to see, and I thought he was someone who was able to express himself in different ways.
―― We got to observe the photo session and your creative process, but how did you come up with the ideas for the film and photos after getting the offer from Mr. Obana?
TI: The clothing from COMPILE is designed so as to highlight the wearer, but in the visuals and photos, I wanted to highlight the clothing. I got this mental image of an invisible person wearing the clothes, so that’s why I decided to have the models wear full-body tights that were the same color as the background. Mr. Obana said “I’m giving you 100% creative control,” so I put in 120% of my energy into this project.
DO: I apparently said this just once to Takao early on, which was that each of the pieces from the COMPILE line can stands on their own, so if we did a fashion show where the models wore full-body tights with only a jacket, then it would be like a “moving exhibition” which I thought would be interesting. So Takao happened to be thinking the same thing as me. However, I didn’t want to influence the direction of the visuals, so I did my best to keep my mouth shut. I felt that we would get the most interesting results if I let him get inspiration from the clothes themselves. Regarding the music for the video, I had seen a previous music video that Takao worked on where he used four-on-the-floor beats, but I had no idea he would use classical music.
―― Since the brand gave creative control to Mr. Iwasawa, Mr. Obana probably didn’t know all the details until the day of the shoot, but I felt that the visuals would be different than the previous image of N.HOOLYWOOD. As the director, Mr. Iwasawa hired a unique team including stylist Koji Oyamada, musician Ryo Konishi, ballet dancers Daichi Matsuno and Ryuhei Ito, but how did you come up with the overall structure?
TI: I asked Oyamada to work on this project because I felt that he could dress down the COMPILE clothing in an interesting way. Also, I had seen him style projects using full-body tights, so I felt that he was the only person who could do this. Regarding Konishi, when Mr. Obana said to me, “You can do whatever you like. Is there anything you’d like to try out, being inspired by these clothes?” I replied to him right away and said, “I want to make a 20 minute short film.” Right then and there, I started hearing Konishi’s music in my head. When I heard the music that Konishi was working on, I immediately saw an image in my mind of dancers wearing full-body tights, and that’s why I asked Daichi Matsuno to come on board. I had worked with Matsuno before, and he’s very sharp in front of the camera, as well as being an incredible performer. Though the theme was complex, I had a feeling he would accept my offer to be on this project. Matsuno brought in Ito, who was a dance student of his. I was trying to create something that was very complex, so I was worried about perfecting the overall vision beforehand, but I was surrounded by a great team and environment, and I trust everyone on the team, so in that sense I wasn’t worried at all.
DO: Whenever brands announce the visuals and campaign for an upcoming season, they’ll try to create a buzz with the name value of the photographer, stylist, and hair & makeup artist, rather than relying on the quality of the actual content. I can understand why they’d do that, but it often feels strange to me. The members of Takao’s team are all up-and-coming creators, but I could tell that he chose them for a reason, and their overall teamwork really showed in the visuals and photos. I gave creative control to Takao so that he could be like a chef, and use our clothing as ingredients to create a dish that I could never come up with. While I was watching the shoot, the energy and passion of all these young creators really inspired my thought process and approach. My projects in the future will probably be different than this project with Takao, but I would love to continue investing into young and up-and-coming talent.
―― Mr. Iwasawa, would you say that this project opened up new possibilities for N.HOOLYWOOD as Mr. Obana explained, as well as for you, since you mainly work on photos for magazines and advertising?
TI: Definitely. I come from a background of loving commercials, but I’ve also been interested in expressing myself through film. Brands often use social media to show their fashion clips, so I wanted to create something short for social media, but also create a 20 minute short film, since I like to go against the grain (laughs). I had heard that layering would be an important component for the upcoming COMPILE line, so I used “layer” as a keyword. From there, I came up with the idea of a kamishibai (Japanese picture-card show) where multiple drawings would overlap with each other and change in a box. So I decided to create a minimalistic stage, and shoot it wide and have the camera angle fixed. But with contemporary dance, shooting wide and fixed can be difficult without some sort of story, so I felt that I needed to create a narrative. Konishi’s music was based on a Noh theater piece, so we created a narrative for the performance based on that piece.
―― You also used flowers as a motif in an effective way in the film and photos.
DO: It was great that he used abstract-looking artificial flowers. If he had used fresh flowers, the flowers would have had too much presence. When the dancers, Matsuno and Ito, take off their full-body tights, their faces have very striking features and a powerful aura. So if it was a combination of their facial expressions with fresh flowers, the direction of the visuals would have been completely different. If any element in the visuals was too strong, it would have undermined the overall balance. So by keeping the various elements subdued, it shifted the focus to the clothing.
TI: I felt that if everything went as I envisioned, the project would turn out beautifully. The idea was quite complex, so everyone on the team knew that if we made one wrong move, it would destroy the whole piece. So it was important that everyone on the team shared the same vision. Regarding the film, if we had combined wide and tights shots, and then used excessive lighting, it would’ve turned out to be a stage show. I didn’t want to do that, so I kept the lighting the same, and shot wide. For the photos, I was a little worried about how it would turn out until I finished shooting the first look, but as soon as I started shooting, I knew we would have something great. The lighting for the photos are also flat, but I made sure there was a lot of contrast, even though it might be hard to tell at first glance.
DO: I was inspired by Jun Takahashi, who has been like a big brother to me, to use fabric from his brand UNDERCOVER for some of our items. I’m sure that Jun would also love these visuals and photos. I was a little worried that the UNDERCOVER patterns would stand out too much and take the focus away from the main line items, but that wasn’t the case, and our solid color items had a lot of presence too, which made me happy. Apparently, Oyamada had a hard time styling the clothes, but in a good way.
―― It seems like these visuals will appeal to a new group of fans that might be different than the conventional N.HOOLYWOOD fans.
DO: I think so too. Or the old fans will abandon us (laughs). I don’t think that will happen, but people might get the illusion that this is a completely different brand. If there are people who become fans of the brand after seeing the film or photos, or if there are people who think “This is different from the N.HOOLYWOOD I know, so I don’t like it,” it all has significance. Even if there are people who see the visuals and feel that it is strange, I hope that it inspires them in some way or leaves an impression on them.