Hiroshi Fu­ji­wara The re­luc­tant icon of Ja­panese streetwear on be­ing a re­luc­tant icon of just about ev­ery­thing else

Esquire (Singapore) - - Style -

Ev­ery­thing be­gins with an idea.

Our As­so­ciate Fash­ion Ed­i­tor, Eu­gene Lim and pho­tog­ra­pher, Ron­ald Leong, had this idea for the photo shoot with Hiroshi Fu­ji­wara. Why not have the photo spread be a tour of Tokyo through Fu­ji­wara’s eyes; to shoot him in his favourite haunts, the un­seen spa­ces in his neck of the woods?

Then, the head of­fice at Louis Vuit­ton said Fu­ji­wara will be fly­ing to Sin­ga­pore in­stead. Fine, we’ll shoot him on the streets of Sin­ga­pore. “Fu­ji­wara would pre­fer the shoot to be in the stu­dio. Also, he has a lunch appointment at 1pm.” No prob­lem. An­other brain­storm­ing ses­sion, and Lim and Leong con­cep­tu­alise a photo shoot based on “frag­men­ta­tion”, a play on Fu­ji­wara’s frag­ment de­sign la­bel. Some­thing old­school, some­thing ana­logue. Images will be taken by a Po­laroid cam­era.

There’s a say­ing: prepa­ra­tion is the key to suc­cess. So, Lim and Leong are at the stu­dio early, mak­ing sure that the lights are okay, that the out­fits and the ac­ces­sories from the Louis x Vuit­ton x frag­ment de­sign col­lec­tion are ready. Even make-up artist, Sha Shamsi, waits in the wings. When Fu­ji­wara ar­rives, his cur­tain of hair parts to re­veal sun­glasses and the ghost of a smirk. He’s decked out in, what looked like, the var­sity jacket and the jeans from the col­lec­tion. He looks guarded, like he’d rather be some­where else. It could be that the early call time is a fac­tor for his mood.

Lim greets Fu­ji­wara warmly and shows him the rack of out­fits for the shoot. Fu­ji­wara stops him mid­way. “I want to wear this jacket,” he says. And no won­der, see­ing as the piece he’s wear­ing is spe­cially made for him; it’s the only piece in the world with black sleeves. There will be no out­fit changes for photo shoot. Some­thing in Lim’s eyes dies. There’s an­other say­ing that de­scribes this per­fectly.

“The best-laid plans of mice and men…”

As you read this, some of you might be swayed to pur­chase a piece from the Louis Vuit­ton x frag­ment de­sign col­lec­tion. Alas, it was launched in Sin­ga­pore back in April and it’s sold out, with some of the items ap­pear­ing on re­sale sites like Carousell and Grailed. This Louis Vuit­ton x frag­ment de­sign col­lec­tion will go the way of relics. Ev­i­dence of it ever ex­ist­ing will adorn the bod­ies of deep-pock­eted fash­ion­istas and ap­pear in look­books.

It’s not hard to see why this col­lec­tion is pop­u­lar. The pre­vi­ous Louis Vuit­ton x frag­ment de­sign col­lab­o­ra­tion in 2016 fo­cused solely on bags and was cre­ated only for the Ja­panese mar­ket. In Fu­ji­wara’s own words, it was just “adding the logo to ex­ist­ing [LV] pieces”. This time, the sec­ond col­lec­tion is in­spired by the Ivy League, with a more ex­ten­sive range that in­cludes back­packs and the Cabas tote bag as well as ready-to-wear—a let­ter­man jacket, a cardi­gan, a Boy Scout shirt and shorts.

Fu­ji­wara cites the Cabas tote bag as his favourite from the col­lec­tion. In an in­ter­view with High­sno­bi­ety, he fur­ther elab­o­rated: “I was very in­spired by the dust bag, which is a pro­tec­tive cov­er­ing for Louis Vuit­ton bags. I al­ways won­dered what you could do with the bag be­cause it is quite quirky and useful.”

Caught in the per­fect storm where streetwear is now men­tioned in the same breath as high fash­ion, the Louis Vuit­ton x frag­ment de­sign col­lab was a project fos­tered by a mu­tual friend­ship. Kim Jones, Artis­tic Di­rec­tor of Men’s col­lec­tion, got to know Fu­ji­wara back in the ’90s when the for­mer worked at a Lon­don dis­tri­bu­tion com­pany called Gimme5. “I re­mem­ber Kim,” Fu­ji­wara says, “as a boy who liked fash­ion. He liked GOODENOUGH, then left to work for dun­hill and Um­bro.” Fu­ji­wara wit­nessed the tra­jec­tory of Jones’ ca­reer un­til his move to Louis Vuit­ton.

Jones wanted to do some­thing un­ex­pected for the fash­ion house’s next col­lec­tion. He opted for some­thing more youth­ful and thought Fu­ji­wara would be a good fit. (Jones would later col­lab­o­rate with Supreme for a col­lec­tion).

“We had three or four meet­ings about this. I know what Kim wanted to do [for the col­lec­tion] and, for my part, I think I un­der­stand what you can and can­not do with a Louis Vuit­ton prod­uct.”

Sit­ting across from me, Fu­ji­wara takes a swig from bot­tled water. He is hard to read; the way he hugs him­self makes him look vul­ner­a­ble, and yet, I know he’s any­thing but. He tucks his flatironed hair be­hind his ears and looks at me war­ily. I sound more se­ri­ous than I should when I ask the next ques­tion: Would you pre­fer more free­dom with the col­lec­tion? “I pre­fer if there were rules that I can work with.”

For a man who has done so much in his 50-odd years on this earth, it might come as a sur­prise to learn it’s all due to work­ing with other peo­ple. His part­ner­ships with brands in­clude Nike, Star­bucks and Porter. “I re­ally en­joy col­lab­o­ra­tions,” Fu­ji­wara says. “It has to be my favourite brand or prod­uct though. Peo­ple al­ways ask me to col­lab­o­rate with them and, some­times, I can do it, but other times, I don’t want to.”

His pref­er­ence for a shared re­spon­si­bil­ity for projects means that he won’t put all his eggs in one bas­ket. Un­like his con­tem­po­raries who have launched other busi­nesses, Fu­ji­wara has no in­ten­tion of do­ing so him­self. “I don’t want to do any­thing like that be­cause I don’t want to take a risk.”

Why don’t you want to take a risk? I ask. “Why do you want to take a risk?” Fu­ji­wara shoots back. Be­cause if I don’t, I will for­ever be think­ing, “what if...”

He seems to con­sider that. “If you want to make big busi­ness, you’ll need to take a risk,” Fu­ji­wara con­tin­ues. “But I’m not in­ter­ested in that. If some­one needs my help, I’ll do it. If a restau­rant owner wants me to de­sign some­thing or needs me to pro­vide some ideas, I’ll of­fer it, but I don’t want to own a restau­rant. I don’t want a big com­pany. I’m sat­is­fied with my small team at frag­ment de­sign. I want to do good de­sign, to work with peo­ple. I work with Un­der­cover, get paid; work with Louis Vuit­ton, get paid… that’s just the way I work.”

Fu­ji­wara is never not work­ing. He en­joys what he does and claims that he’s usu­ally in bed by three or four in the morn­ing. “But I al­ways have a lap­top with me so even when I’m in bed, I’m still con­nected,” Fu­ji­wara says. He did con­sider re­tire­ment, but felt that he should keep do­ing what he’s do­ing. He’s afraid of the bore­dom that comes af­ter re­tire­ment.

When he has free time, one of the things that he does is snow­board in the win­ter. It’s a hobby that started 27 years ago. It’s fun for him. As an am­bas­sador for Bur­ton, Fu­ji­wara gets to test out their equip­ment. While he pro­fesses no pref­er­ence for places to snow­board, other sources state that he of­ten heads to Hokkaido, Hakkōda and Nagano.

When asked about his com­pe­tency on the slopes, he says he can ride. An un­der­state­ment. Neil Hart­mann, who has doc­u­mented Fu­ji­wara’s snow­board­ing trips for the past 17 years says he has seen Fu­ji­wara surf style on banks and wind lips, and pull off his best move, the “Ja­pan grab” (one hand wraps around the front shin and grabs the toe edge be­tween the bind­ings. Knees are bent, fold legs back to­ward the board) off any jump he hits.

He’s also a guest lec­turer at Ky­oto Seika Univer­sity, teach­ing Pop­u­lar Cul­ture (Bri­tish de­signer, Nigel Cabourn also guest lec­tures for the same course as well). Fu­ji­wara prefers to “share in­for­ma­tion” with his stu­dents in­stead of the staid method of teach­ing. “I don’t think I teach what I know. That’s not my style of teach­ing. I bring my stu­dents to a café or a room like this and talk about what we are go­ing to do for the se­mes­ter. We’ll go to an ex­hi­bi­tion. We’ll make a ’zine and a Tum­blr page.” Amaz­ingly, Fu­ji­wara avers that his stu­dents do not know who he is. “They are 18 years old,” he says, as though age is an ex­cuse for ig­no­rance.

De­spite his tac­i­turn de­meanour, he’s ac­tu­ally ap­proach­able, but like many things, it de­pends on the sit­u­a­tion. “Last week,” Fu­ji­wara tells us, “I was in a con­ve­nience store and I was buy­ing some food... chicken sa­tay or some­thing when some­one came up to me with a cam­era. He asked if he could take a pic­ture with me. Now, if he had waited out­side and asked me when I ex­ited the store, then yes, I would have done it. But I said, no. I’m look­ing at chicken now.”

Like freak light­ning, Fu­ji­wara’s re­sponse is un­ex­pected and can­did. The in­cred­u­lous­ness of some­one in­ter­rupt­ing his mun­dane chicken selec­tion draws laugh­ter from the rest of the room. Already, it feels more free­ing with the dis­si­pat­ing ten­sion. Rid­ing the crest of the mo­ment, I lob a ques­tion at him.

What is it about in­ter­views that you like or don’t like? (This gets a chuckle from Fu­ji­wara.)

“I mean, I like them but, some­times, they don’t work. Some in­ter­view­ers already have the an­swers in mind and what they want is to cor­rob­o­rate some­thing that they already have. And, be­cause I’m hon­est, I say what I think and, some­times, the an­swers don’t sat­isfy them.

“I pre­fer con­ver­sa­tions. Con­ver­sa­tions are bet­ter.”

Fu­ji­wara re­mem­bers he was seven when he first heard his sis­ter rave about pizza. At that age, he had to con­cep­tu­alise the idea of pizza. There’s a tomato base. It’s smeared over flat­tened dough and cooked in an oven. There might be pineap­ples or pep­per­oni or green pep­pers for the top­pings. There might not even be many top­pings; it might just only be cheese.

Fu­ji­wara hear­ing about pizza for the first time is like a blind man de­scrib­ing an ele­phant.

One day, she brought pizza for Fu­ji­wara to eat. Per­haps he mar­velled at the tex­ture, or winced when he put the hot pizza into an ea­ger mouth. “That was a new ex­pe­ri­ence for me,” he says, “Those mo­ments… I re­mem­ber those kinds of mo­ments.”

He lights up when we dis­cuss his culi­nary in­ter­ests. Fu­ji­wara be­lieves that food is the new ex­pres­sion of to­day’s youth. Food cul­ture is the last true ana­logue medium where you have to make your way out to ex­pe­ri­ence it.

Food fea­tures promi­nently on his In­sta­gram page. There’s an im­age, dated April 21, of a three-by-three grid of sweets by Jan­ice Wong, in­ter­est­ing swirls of colour and shapes; two of them look­ing like LEGO bricks, an­other two like 20-sided dice. There’s an­other of a dish of sliced spring veg­eta­bles at Tomi­nokoji-Ya­m­ag­ishi. And an­other of a sim­ple oni­giri. While Fu­ji­wara says that he’s more in­trigued by the taste of food, In­sta­gram makes for a poor con­duit but the vi­su­als will have to do. It’s cat­a­logu­ing the ephemeral. An at­tempt to wrest a sliver of im­mor­tal­ity be­fore the dish gives way to de­cay and hunger.

“I think, maybe about three, four years ago, [ my in­ter­est in food start- ed],” Fu­ji­wara says. “If I’m sched­uled to go over­seas, and if there’s a restau­rant in that coun­try that I want to go to, I make a reser­va­tion at that restau­rant first be­fore get­ting the plane tick­ets.”

He’s dined at Noma, Os­te­ria Frances­cana, NARISAWA in Tokyo; af­ter the in­ter­view, he’ll head off to Odette for lunch. He wants to go to South Amer­ica and try the lo­cal cui­sine. He had his share of terrible dishes, but he’s al­ways chas­ing that “new taste”, chas­ing that mo­ment like when he first tasted pizza.

Ev­ery­thing ends. But be­fore it does, it would be fit­ting to see the start of en­tropy.

Fu­ji­wara grew up in Ise, Mie. Other than it be­ing known for its Ise Grand Shrine, there was noth­ing in Ise that in­ter­ested him. His sis­ter was a win­dow to the out­side world. Hav­ing in­tro­duced him to the Bea­tles, and fash­ion and life­style mag­a­zines like POPEYE, Fu­ji­wara’s in­ter­est was piqued and he knew that stay­ing in Ise would not give him what he wanted. His par­ents wanted him to be a pi­lot or a doc­tor. All Fu­ji­wara wanted was to get out.

At 18, he moved to Tokyo. He vis­ited Lon­don for two months, hung out with Mal­colm McLaren, flew over to New York and was ex­posed to the DJ cul­ture over there. When he re­turned to Tokyo, Fu­ji­wara started to DJ and was among the rare few to play his own record col­lec­tion in­stead of the ones a club or a disco owned. He free­lanced— remixing, pro­duc­ing, spin­ning mu­sic from his own record col­lec­tion—but left the scene be­cause he wasn’t fa­mil­iar with the newer songs that were re­leased.

And, of course, he grav­i­tated to­wards fash­ion and de­sign. He cre­ated his own T-shirt la­bel, GOODENOUGH and frag­ment de­sign, a de­sign stu­dio, and is cred­ited with re­vi­tal­is­ing the Ura-Hara­juku fash­ion scene. As part of the In­ter­na­tional Stüssy Tribe, Fu­ji­wara was the only one in Tokyo rep­ping the lat­est Stüssy drops. Given his con­nec­tion over­seas, peo­ple of­ten de­ferred to his wis­dom on what’s new and hip.

The years have rolled by and Fu­ji­wara con­tin­ues to be rel­e­vant to the scene, still the trend­set­ter, his fin­ger ever ready on the pulse of pop­u­lar cul­ture. He jokes that “peo­ple are not sup­posed to know the new, cool things. Maybe I should be against new things. Me, an old guy rail­ing at the new things coming up.”

He older now and ad­mits that he’s a lit­tle less cre­ative than be­fore but still, he keeps at it. Even af­ter leav­ing the las­si­tude of the coun­try­side, Fu­ji­wara will still find him, like the rest of us, still re­stricted by time.

“I think it’s eas­ier if you have a time limit, or if you’re aware there is a time limit,” Fu­ji­wara says. “It’s eas­ier for me, at least. I un­der­stood this con­cept re­cently.” He’s a work­horse who has lasted this long be­cause he chose the paths of least re­sis­tance. We get a sense that he doesn’t carouse on his his­tory, es­pe­cially the pe­riod when he was liv­ing in Ise, any longer than he has to. The fu­ture is un­known and there is only the now.

Fu­ji­wara will col­lab­o­rate with the la­bels and the peo­ple he likes. There could be an­other part­ner­ship with LV. He’ll con­tinue to dab­ble in mu­sic. He will take to the snow-capped peaks to snow­board. He will take pic­tures of the food that he eats, the images last­ing long af­ter their sub­ject mat­ter has been ground down by teeth and ab­sorbed by the body. Fu­ji­wara will main­tain his use­ful­ness as a univer­sity pro­fes­sor. He will con­verse with his stu­dents, he will be both­ered in pub­lic when he least ex­pects it. He will main­tain a pol­icy of telling the truth in all that he speaks. He will amass things, not col­lect them. He still will not touch a turntable. Fu­ji­wara will ap­pre­ci­ate the days that he’s alive for; he will take com­fort in a mo­ment most tran­si­tory. He does not care about your opin­ion about the things he makes or leave be­hind. He will live out his days as Hiroshi Fu­ji­wara.

“I’m just an or­di­nary man,” Fu­ji­wara con­cludes. “who did what he wanted to do. I’ve never begged for op­por­tu­ni­ties, I didn’t ask for it. It just hap­pened.”

And af­ter that, the end.

Cot­ton var­sity jacket, cot­ton denim jeans and can­vas bag, all by Louis Vuit­ton X frag­ment de­sign.

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