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In recent  seasons the mainstream fashion world has seen a growing influence of  the art and creativity of Toyko street fashion, be it  Gothic LolitaVisual Kei, or Cosplay.  And while Western designers may just now be cluing in to this remarkable, and wholly originally phenomenon, Japan's most cutting edge and influential designers have been drawing on this subculture for inspiration for over a decade. One such designer is the internationally renown Hirooka Naoto, who will launch his first US flagship h. Naoto store in San Francisco later this Fall. Style Wylde caught up with the designer via e-mail earlier this week to talk about art, fashion, and all things Tokyo street style.

SW: When did you know that you wanted to become a fashion designer? Why fashion over other forms of art?  

hN: Since I was small, I wanted to create something spectacular. And the reason I choose fashion over other art was simply the fact that I grew up with it.  Since then I started to wonder why we wear clothes in the first place and why we need fashion? I didn’t really learn textiles in school, but I always believe that experiences in life itself made me learn more about fashion.

SW: As a young, emerging designer who were your major style influences? Which brands, (if any) either Japanese or international did you idolize?

hN: Either I don't really have one or it's a secret.. If I say that, h.NAOTO will no longer be a mystery.. And that’s no fun, isn't it?

SW: Since launching your own label in 2000, you have remained faithful to a “punk”, or “street style” esthetic. What is it about this subculture that you find so inspiring?

hN: It's not that I have a rule or anything about being faithful to Gothic, Punk, or Visual Kei, but it's the fact that I'm influenced a lot by the variety of different mixtures of fashion here in Tokyo.

SW: In recent years the Japanese street styles of Gothic Lolita and Visual Kei, for which your label has become internationally renown, have exploded in popularity throughout the world.  Why do you think that is?  What do you think attracts people to this particular form of self-expression through clothing?

hN: h.NAOTO represents GOTH, PUNK, Visual Kei and Lolita which basically is "Cosplay" fashion, or costume play.  Fashion has no longer become a dress up to protect our body and be comfy. But fashion itself now is more of an act or expression of what we want the world to see us. And I think there is no originality on how we live. We tend to think how to live life in our own way and be mesmerized by society and the people around us. Consequently people tend to find originality, and therefore people use fashion as a way to express their own ideal self. And with the fashion world evolving and expanding rapidly so is the popularity of Goth, Lolita, Punk, and Visiual Kei fashion, which are the "Cosplay" fashion my brand offers. And so more people are interested in the products I propose, as they sense an understanding of my point of view of a world of costume play. And this is why people buy my clothes.

SW: What prompted you to decide to open your first US flagship store in San Francisco?  Do you see the fashion community in the Bay Area as similar to the Japanese fashion community, if yes, how?

hN: San Francisco  is in a way the first place in America that has been influenced by Japanese modern culture. This is why I choose to open a shop in San Francisco. My brand has been established for over 10 years now and I thought it was the right time to step up my game. Obviously the city and the community of Tokyo and San Francisco are completely different but I can only say that my fans who comes to visit my store in the US will have the same senses as my fans in Japan who visits my store there. 

Image: S. Whittle for Style Wylde.