From Footwear to Menswear: A Brief History of Mihara Yasuhiro
From Footwear to Menswear: A Brief History of Mihara Yasuhiro
- Words Marc Richardson
- Date May 8, 2018
Tama Art University, in Tokyo, boasts two notable fashion alumni. One of them, the venerable Issey Miyake, is among the nation’s most celebrated designers, a true genius recognized the world over. The other, a successful footwear designer even while still in school, collaborated with one of the biggest sneaker companies in the world shortly after graduating and he has dazzled critics with profoundly thought-out collections for almost two decades. Unfortunately for Mihara Yasuhiro, though, he will always be the other designer hailing from Tama.
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Born in 1972 in Nagasaki, Japan, Yasuhiro enrolled in Tama Art University’s textile design program in 1993. Early on in his studies, Yasuhiro developed a passion for footwear which he nurtured through working part-time in factories and through exploring tanneries and wooden last ateliers during a foreign exchange trip to the United Kingdom. Following his trip abroad, Yasuhiro set out on creating his own brand. In 1996, he launched archi doom with the backing of a manufacturer.
archi doom’s days, however, were short lived. Following graduation in 1997, Yasuhiro rebranded the company after his own name. Like its predecessor, the eponymous brand would concentrate on footwear throughout the late-'90s. Initially, the label was solid through a network of independently operated boutiques—the SOSU MIHARA YASUHIRO—the first of which opened in Tokyo’s design-centric Aoyama district in 1998. Akin to a prime number, “sosu” symbolizes an irregularity, much like Yasuhiro’s designs.
While those first few stores provided steady growth for the nascent label, Yasuhiro’s partnership with PUMA solidified him as a footwear designer to be reckoned with. At first, Yasuhiro debuted a range of reimagined classics, before eventually designing accompanying apparel and eventually introducing his own line entirely. PUMA by MIHARA YASUHIRO debuted in 2000 through a number of exclusive drops in Japan. PUMA gave the young designer considerable freedom for the collaborative endeavour, with Yasuhiro saying that, “The only thing they [imposed] was the deadline […] they completely left the work up to [me], they didn't suggest things.”
PUMA’s decision to not impose constraints on the designer paid off in spades. While unorthodox, the collaborative sneakers were impossible to miss. By 2001, PUMA by MIHARA YASUHIRO was available at top tier accounts worldwide. Yasuhiro’s most notable styles from the now-defunct project—dormant since 2014—are built from sneakers spliced with unusual other halves to spawn silhouettes that are as puzzling as they are ingenious. Take his unique MY-57 (a half-suede half-fur version of PUMA’s most famous sneaker), or the MY-72 (a Disc Blaze meets leather brogue mashup that Highsnobiety described as "a futuristic take on menswear with a simultaneously dressed-up and casual feel.”) Elsewhere in the PUMA by MIHARA YASUHIRO archive you’ll find a quasi-infatuation with the concept of dipping shoes into various substances, creating jarring juxtapositions. PUMA by MIHARA YASUHIRO gave the world an informative look into the designer’s philosophy: that art should exist in the every day, and that, through his products, he sought to create a new means of artistic expression.
While Yasuhiro continued to develop his PUMA collaboration, he simultaneously expanded the his eponymous label beyond simply footwear. The designer recalls slowly drifting into menswear, out of both curiosity and necessity. In a rare interview with Billionaire Yasuhiro said that he “always asked [himself] about the clothes—how you might wear the shoes with certain trousers [and] ended up spending a lot of time studying the practicalities of making trousers, for instance.” Eventually that bled into shirting, and then outerwear, and so on. Beyond simple research, his growing retail business demanded additional product—essentially, “[He] needed something else to fill [the stores] with.”
In November of 1999, the designer introduced the inaugural MIHARAYASUHIRO clothing collection at Tokyo Fashion week. First available exclusively at his various boutiques, by 2004, following years of success and international distribution of the PUMA collaboration, Yasuhiro decided it was time to export his main line. He signed an overseas licensing deal with KARADA, who helped the designed land his first international accounts. In June of that year, MIHARAYASUHIRO was shown for the first time outside Tokyo, at Milan’s Men’s Collections. Prior to the Spring/Summer 2005 collection shown in Milan, Yasuhiro’s work had focused billowing, oversized silhouettes that were either deconstructed, off-kilter, or distressed. For the first collection show abroad, Yasuhiro went in a radically different direction. Seemingly inspired by the anarchist archetypes in Fight Club, he presented a rough, almost brutish take on traditional menswear. Elegantly disheveled, the collection was a perfect calling card—a declaration that a disruptor arrived on the European menswear scene.
After four seasons in Milan, Yasuhiro began presenting as a part of Paris Men’s Week. Following his move to Europe, the designer was suddenly recognized for his menswear—not just his PUMA collaboration. Still, it was his Spring/Summer 2009 collection, which was named one of the ten best of the season. In an interview with DAZED, Yasuhrio revealed that every season, he picks a creative whose essence serves as inspiration for the collection. For Spring/Summer 2009, German artist Joesph Beuys filled that role. Nearly iconic with his bucket hat and a fishing vest, Yasuhiro “Liked not only [Beuys’] work, but also his thought.” Apparently, this also included the way he dressed.
Grounded in an earthy palette, Yasuhiro’s Spring/Summer 2009 collection drew heavily on Beuys’ iconic fishing vest to produce a collection rife with pockets, layers and elegantly wrinkled fabrics. Yet, for a collection drawing inspiration from an artist often grouped in the modernist school, the clothes seemed to mimic artifacts unearthed afters years of erosion, with a stunning ombré patina appearing on a number of garments. “Imagine fabrics aged by earth, stained by water, scorched by fire, dried to a paperlike finish by air,” said Tim Blanks in his Vogue review, attempting to describe the sheer awesomeness of detail.
A fair bit of discussion surrounding Japanese menswear designers is centred on their apparent obsession with Americana. With his Spring/Summer 2011 collection, it became evident that Yasuhiro, too, harbored a complicated love for American culture. In one of his most celebrated outings—aside from the aforementioned Spring/Summer breakout season—Yasuhiro drew inspiration from one of America’s most celebrated literary works: Henry David Thoreau’s Walden. Inspired by Thoreau’s work, Yasuhiro channelled his own thoughts concerning urbanism and nature into the collection. The result was profound. Blanks, [described the collection](https://www.vogue.com/fashion-shows/spring-2011-menswear/miharayasuhiro#collection] as, “Combined quietly poetic outfits, rare feats of fabric technology, and some of the most jaw-dropping visual effects yet seen in a fashion context,” before adding (a tad dramatically) that “tears were shed at show's end.” And yes, there was a decidedly American look to match the inspiration: From the distressed Emory University sweaters to the jackets bearing images of Walden Pond and a bald eagle, woven so precisely—using a proprietary technique Yasuhiro invented—that at first glance, you would think they were printed garments.
One of Yasuhiro’s hallmarks is his mastery of the trompe l’oeil: the art of creating optical illusions. Originally a couture technique, the clever tailoring trick allows designers to create the appearance of layers or multiple garments when, in fact, there are none. Yasuhiro has continued to hone his trompe l’oeil tricks, crafting elongated T-shirts from multiple fabrics—with the lower portion made from a waffle-knit cotton that would often be worn under a T-shirt—or multi-layered sweaters with a distressed, loosely-knit exterior with an immaculate backing that give the impression of wearing two pieces. The visual deceit has even infiltrated his footwear design, with one-piece slip-on leather dress shoes distressed to create the appearance of laces and stitching from afar. The effect is but one way in which Yasuhiro aims to merge, “The sublime and the ridiculous.” Coupled with his innate ability to marry the ordinary and the incredible—see PUMA by MIHARA YASUHIRO or the recent Spring/Summer 2017 collection that seemed born from an identity crisis—Yasuhiro has managed to make surrealist menswear his trademark.
Mihara Yasuhiro parlayed the critical acclaim and his distinct aesthetic into a high-profile collaboration with Moncler in 2014, Moncler Y. Infused with Japanese graphics, and Yasuhiro’s love for juxtaposition, the designer breaks the sheen of Moncler’s traditional jackets by inserting tonal heavy-gauge knits. According to Yasuhiro, Moncler Y presented, “A world midway between man and woman” and, in that respect, was ahead of the gender-neutral fashion trend. It’s hardly shocking to hear the designer talk about unisex clothing as Yasuhiro has tended to eschew traditional menswear proportions with long, slim, often dress-like shirting.
Recently, Yasuhiro has rebranded his endeavours to a certain extent. His ready-to-wear line now goes by Maison MIHARAYASUHIRO, and the designer briefly relocated his presentation London Fashion Week: Mens, instead of Paris, putting on a dramatic show in the British capital’s Barbican Center in 2017. The London showcase was, most likely, tied to the emergence of Yasuhiro’s newest line: MYne. A diffusion line of sorts, MYne is rooted in an examination of sportswear and streetwear from the '90s, albeit with Yasuhiro’s unique detailing and textile play. More recently, Yasuhiro unveiled a second diffusion line, Fit Mihara Yasuhiro, that bridges the gap between Maison Miharayasuhiro and MYne. The result is a label that is, “in tune with the streets” set on offering “refined menswear styles.” Branding verbiage aside, the pieces Fit Mihara Yasuhiro has unveiled so far have been drastically minimal compared to Yasuhiro’s established body of work —denim jackets, turtlenecks, monochromatic parkas, pinstripe suits—but crafted from premium textiles, like Tibetan yak wool.
Despite being active for more than 20 years and showcasing a multitude of talents ranging from footwear design to menswear that rivals couture in its thoughtfulness, Mihara Yasuhiro has remained a designer with a relatively niche following in Europe and North America. In Asia, on the other hand, Yasuhiro’s imprint is growing at a quickening pace, with Korean pop stars and Japanese actors often wearing his clothing. Perhaps Fit Mihara Yasuhiro and MYne, in their accessibility and wearability, will help spread the gospel of Mihara; but, until then, Maison Miharayasuhiro’s seasonal collections will continue to transfix those who have discovered Yasuhiro’s unique aesthetic, trompe l’oeil magic, and sophisticated textiles.