A special thanks to Miss Marcella for making this interview happen.
Cohérence overcoats are considered the best ready-to-wear overcoat in the world by many sartorial connoisseurs. Looking at any Cohérence piece, the pronounced volume with the luxurious drape of fabrics is usually the first impression you will get. The coat models are implicitly named after some of the iconic artists in the 20th century, including Albert Camus, Le Corbusier, Leonardo Fujita, and Pablo Picasso. While drawing inspiration from the past that imparts a nostalgic and romantic feeling to the design, the garments are always equipped with the latest Japanese textile technology for the functionality and wearing experience.
In the past couple of years, Cohérene has attracted global attention yet remains mysterious for its low-profile operation. During Pitti Uomo 103, Agnes Select had a chance to meet Kantaro Nakagomi san, the Creative Director of Cohérence, to talk about his journey of establishing Cohérence, and his lifestyle as a creative director.
A (Agnes Select) : You majored in textile design at college and studied cutting and sewing from a Neapolitan-style tailor in Japan, but from which point did you decide you wanted to be a designer of garments?
K (Kantaro Nakagomi) : Maybe it’s because my family background is full of culture. My parents love movies and arts, my father was a professional bass player before marriage, and my mother is a Kimono instructor, teaching people how to wear it. You know obi?
(An obi (帯) is a belt of varying size and shape worn with traditional Japanese clothing and uniforms for Japanese martial arts styles.)
Just for that obi, there are many methods to tie it, and it varies by age and occasion… At the same time, my mother is also an instructor for hand-knitting. And my grandmother from my father’s side is an artist of paper dolls working with washi (Japanese paper). Her works were sold at Expo in Japan. That’s why I cultivated my interest in clothing very naturally.
A: So, when you were young, you first got into fashion, I guess?
K: Maybe my first memory about clothing was a hoody. I chose it by myself when I was 7 or 8, wearing a buckets hat with that.
A: That is streetwear, though.
K: Yes, in the meantime, I ride on a BMX cycle.
A: I feel Japanese fashion back then was much influenced by American workwear and the Preppy style. You also have Yohji Yamamoto and Kawakubo Rei rising in the 80s.
K: Yes, depending on the period and history. For example, after WWII, we get much influenced by the United States because we were occupied by the U.S., and that’s why many younger generations from the 1960s and 1970s were so focused on the U.S. style. During the ’80s, economically, Japan became very strong. In the same period, Yohji Yamamoto, Comme des Garçons, and Issey Miyaki appeared at the end of the ’70s.
A: Did you get influenced by those trends?
K: Honestly speaking, not so much. Even I’m working in the garment industry. I don’t have the experience of being stuck with this designer or that designer. But, of course, they are very good. But my preference is slightly different. For me, Cohérence is not a fashion label: We simply like to produce well-made products, and I hope, finally, they will be the next vintage. Of course, each kind of item reflects the breath of the moment, which is part of fashion, but at the same time, I never consider myself as “I work in fashion”, simply focusing on making well-made products.
A: I understand that now, but when I was growing my taste, at the very beginning, I got influenced a lot by Japanese streetwear brands, like Nigo’s Bape, Undercover, or Master Mind Japan. Then, later on, I was attracted to Kawakubo’s dark designs. Gradually it evolves.
K: I was already stuck with this kind of artist or philosopher in my childhood. Even though when I was a child, I didn’t think of the general type of fashion people as very cool. So… my preference always focuses on real people, real outwear. So, that’s why I am not interested in the designer collection. But, of course, I enjoy seeing it. For example, Martin Margiela is one the biggest exploding influence of power because Antwerp Six happened when I was an art university student. That’s why most of my generation is much influenced by that kind of creation, perhaps Dries van Noten. But as always, I don’t do fashion. I do garments. But for me, Margiela is one of the game changers. He made his own game board inside our industry. That’s why I respect him. Maybe Coco Chanel was the first person of that kind of game-changing. And after that, maybe Rei Kawakubo is a game-changer. Yves Saint Laurent is also a game changer because he brought masculine outfits to women. But after Rei Kawakubo, from my point of view, only Martin Margiela is a real game-changer.
A: What Martin Margiela did, in many ways, is very conceptual. It is very different from what you are doing. Because you start from textile, and what he creates is a mind game, it’s a new way to perceive a piece of garment.
K: Similar with Marcel Duchamp. After Marcel Duchamp, the way of art is completely changed.
A: That’s why you name your coats with nicknames of Marcel Duchamp (MUTT) to honour his influence on culture.
A: But meanwhile, although the idea is to pay tribute to some game-changers, the garments you created are very traditional, permanent and classic.
K: Yes. Because due to my inspiration and my mindset about the overcoat, my preference for the silhouette and appearance is very full, glamorous and general.
A: That generous silhouette is your core idea that won’t change.
K: Yeah. Sometimes, some people talk of my collection as oversized. Of course, I can understand some fashion items are designed as oversized. My silhouette is very full and broad, but at the same, it came from the reason for the existence of an overcoat:
First of all, it has to protect you from the wind and dust from the outside. Also, the big hemline provides resistance from the rain to your shoes. So, that silhouette belongs to the original functionality of the overcoat. That’s why I always consider my coats the medium fit for an overcoat.
A: One thing that distinguishes Cohérence from other brands is your know-how about textiles. For only Jersey fabric, you have many types of Jerseys, all weave in different methods with different yarns. What’s your creative process like? Do you start with the fabric creation, or do you start with the look design?
K: There are several processes I have. For example, for the Melton Jersey, first of all, I found the newest Japanese knitting machine. At the same time, I had an idea to make my coat with the Melton type of fabric. However, my Melton, with my aesthetic, if it was a woven fabric, it’s going to be very thick and heavy. Because I know about the technical side that yarn for woven fabric and yarn for knitting fabric is very different. So, in the case of the Cohérence Melton Jersey, my point of view is we would like to keep the original aesthetic of the Melton, which is very heavy and thick, which results in a very clean silhouette. But, at the same time, I would like to put in a little spice of the latest technology. As a result, we get a slightly lighter weight, feel slightly stretchable, and feel slightly more comfortable while keeping the old aesthetic of the old Melton. This is the one type of process of product development we went through.
A: In this approach, you start from the fabric first. You want to innovate the Melton fabric. So, when you finish developing the fabric, you then decide which model to use this fabric?
K: First, the image of a new model, new fabric, and new accessories exist in me separately, but finally, I draw the string to connect them. This (way of thinking) came from a very Japanese culture. As you know, we are using Chinese characters, but we have different Hiragana (平假名) characters, and Katakana (片假名) characters only for foreign languages, so we always use them in a combined manner. In our way of thinking, we capture Kanji (漢字； Chinese character) in our left brain as a picture, and we capture Hiragana and Katakana in our right brain as a sound or something. So, as a natural-born Japanese, I’m used to using both parts of my brain, even when I’m just reading some simple words.
A: I see.
K: As I mentioned, I had experience working with a European label brand from the U.K., so I had to move around Europe as a designer and for production control. During that period, I had to go to factories in Italy, Netherlands, Austria, and Turkey… and I found that having the resources of Japanese production was quite lucky for me. Because if I’d like to make my own yarn, I can make it in a much smaller quantity in Japan compared with making it in other countries.
And in the same time, garment designers and textile designers are working in a completely divided way. That’s why even the garment designer suggests precisely a textile. The textile maker can arrange it in a different way. As a Japanese working in Japan, I have much more flexibility with a small quantity if I want to make an exclusive fabric in Japan. That’s why when I started Cohérence, it automatically meant made in Japan but sold worldwide. I’m in a position where I have to maximise the potential of my Japanese production background. That’s why I’m very lucky because I already know about fabric making.
A: You have expertise in both the textile side of product development and the design side.
K: Yes. And also, the total flow of garment making is a very integral process. That’s why I cannot divide the fabric making, pattern making, design, production, and selling. For me, everything is integral. I can enjoy every process. That’s why everything is naturally combined together inside me.
A: Many of your inspirations from your archive are people from the early 20th century. Like people your coats are named after, from Picasso to Corbusier, they are 20th-century figures. Which period is your favourite in terms of style and culture?
K: Regarding the silhouette, my favourite is the 1910s and 1920s.
A: The Jazz Age.
K: The Jazz Age is my favourite. I love Jazz.
A: Miles Davis?
K: Yes, I tried to play the trumpet in my childhood. Of course, Miles Davis is one of my favourites, and Django Reinhardt — a guitar player of French swing jazz during WWII. That’s why I joined the band, together with my friend, one of them is a tailor, one is the owner of the jazz café, and one is a bespoke hatmaker.
A: That’s an Artisan’s band, indeed. Do you like the 1920s jazz age in Europe or the U.S.?
K: Europe, in Paris. Because the feeling of that period is very Cohérence. Because many of the artists, all around the world, are gathering in Paris. For example, in the movement of Dada and Surrealists, accidentally or coincidentally, many artists who existed in the same period gathered together in Paris and made a big wave. That kind of feeling is very Cohérence for me.
A: Who is your favourite artist.
K: There are many. I respect Marcel Duchamp as a game-changer. But one of my favourites of all time is Caravaggio. And also Francisco Goya. After that, Leonardo Fujita is much loved by me. And in the modern period, Joseph Beuys.
A: In your previous interviews, you mentioned some modern designers like Achille Castiglioni.
K: Yes, Castiglioni is my all-time idol. Also, Gio Ponti, and Carlo Scarpa. Of course, as a furniture designer, I like Wagner from Denmark.
Most people think modern design and minimalism are too cold. But the design of Castiglioni always belongs to the past, and every piece, with his twist, joke, or ironic smile like a kid, has a warm touch. That’s my favourite.
A: What kind of customers do you have in mind when you design your collections?
K: I don’t have a specific client in mind; I just want my items to enjoy their life with each client inside their wardrobe. And hopefully, survive in their next life as vintage for the future. From another point of view, my item works as a medium to share the interest of the culture and to enjoy wearing it for its functionality. Simply, I want to share this romantic feeling about the overcoat with our clients as Cohérence.
A: Finally, please give young designers some suggestions, or what is the most important quality a Creative Director should possess.
K: First, it’s important to cultivate deeply in your field of interest, but at the same time, don’t forget to hold an open mind to different cultures. For example, I love clothing so much, and I’m a customer of bespoke suits maker, but at the same time, I love films, music, and books, every kind of culture. Don’t be a clothing geek. At the same time, it’s always important not to think in a short-term manner because that will make your core weak. Don’t think this season I need to do this number of per cent more sales, because in that way you’ll be chasing a short-term goal, you will be empty inside, if your search for short success, you won’t have the time and opportunity to get in deep of things. So, you have to build your core.
My interest in film, music and books naturally set up characters of mine, and that’s why I can enjoy it even in the field of business. Some young people would ask me: What kind of thing do I have to learn to become a designer? I always suggest to them: If you are interested in movies, go for it. You naturally have an interest in books. Go for that. The most important thing is, even if only one thing you are interested in other than garment or fashion, go for it. I have one interesting example, one of my friends and college school mates, he majored in industrial design, but at the same time, he is a huge fan of professional baseball in Japan, and he ultimately became a uniform designer for many professional baseball teams in Japan, which he never expected. Basically, baseball is just his hobby, but he is a master of that field, and that’s why he naturally focuses on that. And funny enough, he also works as a voice actor in cartoons. The hobbies became his real business.