Interview: The North Face Black Series with Kazuki Kuraishi

Feature

A key figure in the global rise of Japanese streetwear, Kazuki Kuraishi’s work has been diverse and prolific. Designing for major brands such as adidas Originals, niche labels such as CASH CA, 6876 and A.FOUR as well as his own brand, THE FOURNESS, Kuraishi is known for a discerning aesthetic that effortlessly merges elements of sportswear, streetwear, and traditional menswear. Trained in graphic design, Kuraishi was mentored early in his career by Tokyo streetwear founders, Shinuske Takizawa of NEIGHBORHOOD and Hiroshi Fujiwara while also working for NIGO at A BATHING APE during the brands meteoric rise. For Fall/Winter 2018 The North Face enlist’s Kuraishi for the launch of Black Series, a premium line of urban focused garments that combine the functional materials and details of outdoor wear with streetwear aesthetics and urban practicality. We caught up with Kuraishi in Tokyo to learn more about this exciting new project.

 

 

What are your earliest memories of The North Face?

There used to be an outdoor magazine called BE-PAL in Japan, which I used to buy and read. I’ve always loved the outdoors, and used to go camping as a kid. It was around the time I was in Elementary School that I used to use a foldable canoe and go down rivers and at that time there was an outdoor goods shop in Tokyo called ICI Sports, which still exists now. I would often go there to have a good look through everything, this is where I came across The North Face.

How do you think the perception of The North Face in Japan differs from Europe and America?

I think it largely depends on the period in time, but more recently I guess this is strongly affected by the fashion aspect. From the time I first came to know The North Face, my impression was that it was purely an outdoor brand and to be honest I can’t speak on behalf of a Japanese standpoint, because the perception of The North Face may have continuously changed over time within Japan.

How did you meet The North Face and first start working on the project?

Through an acquaintance I was introduced to The North Face at their offices in Shanghai, and the person who I met at the Shanghai office was someone who I also knew from before because they lived in Japan for a long time. The conversations started from there.

“In the end, I went for something that involves a lot of variety in design, however can still be worn with relative ease. Even though there is a lot of “decoration”, I thought it would be more interesting if the clothes could still be worn by anyone.”


 

Can you loosely share with us your design process and how this collection eventually formed itself?

I can’t specifically recall how I did everything in detail, however I do remember spending a considerable amount of time thinking I had to do something in order to make it special. The North Face is a long established brand, and there’s no need to go tweaking around with that, so I wondered what it was I could do, and everything kind of started from there. In the end, I went for something that involves a lot of variety in design, however can still be worn with relative ease. Even though there is a lot of “decoration”, I thought it would be more interesting if the clothes could still be worn by anyone. Even though the clothes themselves aren’t simple, the clothes could be simply worn by anyone. This is the main point I’m happy with.

Please tell us about the overall design inspiration behind your latest FW18 collection?

There isn’t exactly one specific point of inspiration, as there’s inspiration drawn from various fields, however there was already a loose concept in place from The North Face’s side which was called, ‘Shelter.’ It was from there that I took this concept in, and expanded this idea and design of ‘Shelter’ through clothing. So it’s not as if I just randomly started the design process from somewhere, there was already a loose idea already and I further expanded it from there.

How do you integrate your own design ethos into that of The North Face?

As I mentioned earlier, even though there may be a lot of design involved, I wanted to make something that was easy to wear. There are a lot of things involved in the background but I thought the end result was good because it’s not difficult to wear. This for example, it may have a lot of pockets but anyone can really put it on and not look out of place.

What are some of the hidden technical and utility elements in the collection?

The most obvious one was this one. This pocket has one of the most distinct finishes, where you can roll up the jacket and sling it over your shoulder like a bag. Basically, I think it’s more convenient to have your hands free, so you can carry it if it’s too hot or if you want to ride your bicycle. I also thought about making it packable, but rather than that, I thought it would be more interesting to put the flap on the outside, which is why this long tape is needed in order for it to function. There are people who make it long like this for design or aesthetic reasons, but in this case it’s for function, and in this case, function comes first before design.

“This pocket has one of the most distinct finishes, where you can roll up the jacket and sling it over your shoulder like a bag. Basically, I think it’s more convenient to have your hands free, so you can carry it if it’s too hot or if you want to ride your bicycle.”


 

“I think it’s great how they (The North Face) chose to support people that have their own distinctive and individual style. It’s a brand that does interesting things through unique people.”


 

What does The North Face Kazuki Kuraishi customer look like? What kind of lifestyle do they lead?

I can’t really imagine what they look like or what kind of lifestyle they would lead, however as I mentioned before, although the clothes can be regarded as a little decorative, I don’t think this necessarily means it’s any less wearable, and in the end, I think it turned out to be something that can be worn by a wide variety of people.

Why did you choose to use Gore-Tex®, Primaloft and Pertex?

At the beginning, it was The North Face’s request that function would be a key element to the collection, so most of these materials and textiles were all prepared to be used in advance, which actually made things a lot easier to work with. I thought it was interesting how Pertex is deliberately used on the outside, when Pertex is actually meant to be used as lining on the inside. This is Gore-Tex® and recently I’ve been doing a lot of 3 layer, however found it becomes softer if you use two layers of lining and thought it would be better this way.

What do you feel has been the key to The North Face remaining relevant for 50 years?

I wouldn’t call myself an expert in the history of The North Face, and I only know what I’ve come across in books, however I was always fascinated with things like Hells Angels and The Grateful Dead being involved at the beginning, with The Grateful Dead playing an in-store event at the opening. It’s a brand that had those interesting connections and support at it’s foundation, and after that eventually made it’s way into supporting people that were into extreme sports, mountain climbing and skiing, and I think the way they made these decisions is different from a normal brand. I think it’s great how they chose to support people that have their own distinctive and individual style. It’s a brand that does interesting things through unique people.

Interview: Zen Tsujimoto | Video: Tim Lambourne | Director: Will Goodan | Photography: Paolo Azarraga

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