It might be a label that Fumito Ganryu will never shake—a child of Comme des Garçons. It is a fair statement to make since it’s where he made his name and cut his teeth. But that’s just a footnote in his journey. In the telling of every story, there is a beginning and an end, but if you were to ask Fumito, the man is very much focused on the middle; his inspiration and ethos lie in the exploration of tension between both ends. Esquire Singapore sits down with Fumito to talk about the full story of his journey into the world of fashion and the causes he is designing for.
ESQ: When did your interest in fashion start?
FUMITO GANRYU: When I was a kid, I loved drawing and dreamt of being a painter. But as I got older, my interest expanded to include music and fashion. While I still remain interested in all areas, fashion felt like the most suitable form of expression for me. That’s why I picked fashion.
ESQ: Are there any artists that you admire?
FUMITO GANRYU: There are many artists that I admire, but the first was Picasso when I was around the age of five or six and started taking drawing seriously.
ESQ: So what is it about Picasso’s work that attracted you?
FUMITO GANRYU: The thing that first attracted me to Picasso was not his cubism period, but rather it was his sketch of the dachshund. I was really good at sketching when I was younger, and the people around me, including my teachers, told me that I should pursue painting as a career—they told me that my drawings were so realistic that they resembled photographs.
Hearing that gave me a sense of pride, but when I chanced upon Picasso’s sketches that he made when he was of a similar age, that was when I truly realised the extent of his talents. They were really good and realistic. That’s when I started diving into his other works like his cubism and blue periods. That marked the start of my journey into the world of modern arts.
ESQ: So how did you go from wanting to become a painter to becoming a fashion designer?
FUMITO GANRYU: As a teenager, I was searching for a form of self-expression. I had three choices, but I wanted to pursue music, fashion and art all at once. However, to be successful in all three fields was difficult; I had to pick one field to specialise in and devote all my efforts to it. I was very interested in sculpturing but I thought I had to make a choice in one area, and fashion design was a medium that I was more comfortable with. That’s why I picked that path.
ESQ: There is a sculptural element in the garments that you design. Is that partly due to your interest in that medium of fine art?
FUMITO GANRYU: I am not trying to apply sculptural techniques into my design, but I think my love of sculptures is subconsciously translated into the clothes.
I am not trying to apply sculptural techniques into my design, but I think my love of sculptures is subconsciously translated into the clothes.
ESQ: Let’s talk more about your spring/summer collection. What inspired it and why use water as a central theme?
FUMITO GANRYU: My design codes are based around the theme of ‘21st-century clothing’. It’s something that I feel is lacking in the fashion landscape. I wanted to create clothes that feel current and futuristic at the same time, clothes that answer the people’s needs right now, yet would still be relevant in the future. Another theme in my design manifesto is ‘city and nature’. For the spring/summer 2019 collection, it’s narrowed down to expressing it through the theme of ‘water’. The idea is to create clothes that co-exist with nature.
I think the future is one where there is more co-existence between city and nature. Other industries have been taking steps to create this, but I feel that element is lacking in the fashion industry. My clothes are created with city-dwellers in mind so that they won’t look out of place in our timeline, but I added functional elements so that they may wear the same garment when they are going out to explore nature. That’s my answer to creating futuristic clothes that don’t look futuristic.
ESQ: Why the interest in the co-existence with nature?
FUMITO GANRYU: I am a big fan of nature, the beauty of it is something that I am very touched by. But during my travels, I see many cities with dirty streets and it makes my heart ache. Many cities have come up with the solution of surveillance as a means to curb that, but in my opinion that’s not the best way of doing it. I think the answer is for people who live in the city to go out and experience the beauty of nature for themselves, feel an appreciation for it and cultivate a desire to protect it. That’s why I wanted ‘water’ to be a theme for the spring/summer 2019 collection.
ESQ: Do you think that the quality of the water in a city is a sign of how much we care for our environment?
FUMITO GANRYU: Seventy percent of our body is made up of water and everything we put in our body becomes us. There are some people who are conscious of that fact, but many aren’t. For example, there are people who couldn’t care less about littering in beautiful parks and that’s unbelievable to me. I wanted to find a way to change our mindset towards that. That everything we put in our environment comes back to us.
Another reason that I chose ‘water’ as a theme is that water can exist in other states besides liquid—it exists as a solid as ice and as a gas in the form of vapour. Water also represents purity; there is a certain sense of spirituality about it which I am very drawn to.
I wanted to create clothes that feel current and futuristic at the same time, clothes that answer the people’s needs right now, yet would still be relevant in the future.
ESQ: Exploring gender is a big part of your design ethos. You defined your collection as ‘non-sex’ rather than ‘unisex’. Why the choice of a non-sex collection rather than unisex?
FUMITO GANRYU: I have experienced the process of being a designer for both genders as well as designing a unisex collection. When designing a unisex collection, you add both elements of menswear and womenswear and divide it by half. Both elements still exist when designing such a collection. It is because of these experiences that I am able to design a collection that starts from zero, where there is no element of gender and the focus is purely on the garment.
ESQ: Why is non-sex important to you?
FUMITO GANRYU: I feel that people living in the 21st century are always under a microscope; you feel that you’re always being watched. The tendency is to express things more mildly because they are afraid of criticism. But men are more ready to embrace their feminine side and vice versa, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing and something that would be more apparent in the future. So a non-sex collection is also my answer to clothes that answer the needs of the future.
When I was a student, I wanted to create a line that was neutral, one that works in every environment. That stemmed from a dislike of having to change too many times in a day, so I wanted clothes that are not defined by occasion, that you can wear throughout the day. For me, neutralism is one that is similar to non-sex, where they share similar concepts and elements.
ESQ: In Asian cultures, where gender roles are very pronounced, do you see a future where the roles and expression placed on genders are removed?
FUMITO GANRYU: I think there is less of a divide between gender roles and it’s something that I envision would only be accelerated, where people would lose the mindset of the division between gender roles. There are certain traditions that I feel would remain, only because those gender roles have meaning to them. However as we progress from generation to generation, those gender roles will lose their meaning and become unnecessary.
I enjoy watching social debates. When women activists take to the stage and discuss what it is like to live as a woman in our society, it makes me realise that there are issues faced by them that, as a man, are not apparent to me. There are unnecessary cultural gender roles, for example, men always taking power away from women; those are things that I feel should change.
As we progress from generation to generation, those gender roles will lose their meaning and become unnecessary.
ESQ: I notice that a lot of your work is an exploration of the space between two ends: the present and the future, men and women, city and nature. Is the tension or the differences between these points a place where you find inspiration?
FUMITO GANRYU: I’ve always wanted to create neutral clothing, so it’s a big focus of mine whenever I am designing. I do not define fashion design as fine art, but there are designers out there who are designing wearable art. That’s not my goal when designing. I want these clothes to have a function. At the same time, I share the sentiment of wanting to elevate my designs into something that can be defined as an art piece, so I am putting more effort into my design work to make it more conceptual
ESQ: So how do you feel your work has evolved from spring/ summer 2019 to autumn/winter 2019?
FUMITO GANRYU: For the autumn/winter 2019 collection, I didn’t want the functionality to be obvious. So for the autumn/ winter 2019 collection, I looked towards studying human anatomy and trying to apply that knowledge into my designs. For example, instead of applying fleece throughout the entire garment, which would make the piece extremely expensive, it’s used strategically through understanding the cardiovascular system to maximise its function. It is less visible, but still very functional.
ESQ: It sounds like the best way to experience your work is to put on a piece from Fumito Ganryu. Is that an accurate statement?
FUMITO GANRYU: Yes! Not only to wear it but to move in it as well because clothing is more than an object and something that moves with you. Sometimes I design pieces that are big, but I don’t want it to be so massive that only your head sticks out of it and you can barely move. I want the clothes to have details that you will only notice after you wear them.
Rather than being called a fashion designer, I want to be remembered as a fashion inventor.
ESQ: From your previous to your current role, how do you feel you have grown as a designer?
FUMITO GANRYU: As a creator, there are certain designs and forms that I like and prefer. There are certain similarities. Take for example the trousers that you see in the past and current collections—the ones in the new collection look more dynamic when you move in them, yet they look totally different when you are standing still. There are two different characteristics in one piece of clothing that neutrally coexist.
ESQ: So what would you like your legacy to be?
FUMITO GANRYU: Different designers have different values in their design. For me, it’s about bringing to life the concepts I have in mind and creating new values in the fashion industry. Rather than being called a fashion designer, I want to be remembered as a fashion inventor.
ESQ: When working in a creative medium like fashion design, the definition is subjective. Are you worried that your ideas and messages will be lost in translation?
FUMITO GANRYU: There are many messages that I try to convey in my clothes and I would want people to understand them. There are other designers who are very creative at bringing attention to the theme or the messages behind the design. But for me, it’s more interesting for consumers to have their own understanding of the theme in ways that I never thought of.
So one of the things you will notice about the label on the clothing is that not only will you see the name of the brand, but the fabric and the form. It’s a minimalist approach to understanding the clothes; not the overall collection, but an understanding of each piece. However, I don’t want it to have too much explanation because people will stop thinking. It would feel like they are not wearing clothes, but rather someone is making them wear it. It’s a very difficult balance—I want fashion to be about freedom, but as a creator, I want to pass on the correct message.
ESQ: So is it fair to say that Fumito Ganryu is about neutrality and balance?
FUMITO GANRYU: Yes!