March 12, 2007

Japanese designer Mihara Yasuhiro was in New York last week to celebrate the launch if his new book, a seven-year thick retrospective of the sneaker line he designs for Puma with some of his favorite artists thrown in for good measure. We caught up with Yasuhiro before the party to talk plastic-toe caps, traditional Japanese art and why, in the future, robots will be wearing his sneaks. Interview and images after the jump.

Were you much of a sneakerhead before you started designing the line for Puma?

Yes, I grew up wearing sneakers and I specifically took interest in sneakers at age eleven. I started listening to hip-hop music, people like Afrika Bambaataa, and was interested in the movement that was going on in New York City.

What was the first pair of sneakers that you bought?

I saved the money to buy my first pair of Air Jordans, around ’85. I was also really into the movie Beat Street. The break dancers in that movie wear Pumas, but in Japan only the small sizes were available in that style. I happened to have a friend who was a break dancer who was going to New York at that time and I asked him to bring me a pair.

You’ve always added a lot of unconventional twists to your designs, like the big plastic toe caps on the MY-8 and the M-11. But your use of color is really one of your biggest trademarks. How important is color to your designs?

I really started to take more interest in the use of color when I started to design for Puma. I looked at sneakers people were wearing in Japan and it was either really dark monochrome styles or loud hi-tech styles. I wasn’t really comfortable with either of them, I wanted to use colors that you find on the street or in the city.

The book is a combination of your work and work by other artists. What decisions did you make when to curating the art?

Japanese art didn’t start as high art, it started as entertainment for people as a popular culture thing. Like Japanese paintings were about watching people’s lives in the past. It was the same with calligraphy and flower arrangement—it started as entertainment in Japanese culture but over time has become this very sublime, very important cultural thing, which I find very amusing. The artists I picked for the book use traditional art forms but add a new twist. They try and make the artwork evolve a little further.

Image from Puma by Mihara Yasuhiro by Sandaime Uotake Hamada Shigeo

What does it feel like looking at the book and seven years of work?

When I think it’s been seven years, I can’t believe it. I have collaborated with designers in Tokyo on something but nothing has ever lasted seven years. Still I feel I have a lot more I want to try and do. I feel like I have at least two more years ahead.

Where did the “humanoid” theme for your next collection come from?

Scientists have been trying to create a robot in the human shape in Japan for a long time, companies like Sony and Honda. Unfortunately, since the recession, a lot of these projects have been suspended. But some people have still held on to this dream and that’s really the starting point of my humanoid concept. Nowadays, all the new technology is concentrated on cell phones and other gadgets—very few people are working on robots. The robot is sort of being forgotten nowadays and that’s why I went with this theme. I went to Sony Corporation to talk to the scientists who were working on robots. They told me that when the robot was finally able to walk up the stairs they were really excited. I was kind of moved by that, their energy and commitment. For my new collection, I thought to myself once the robot is made that maybe they want to wear sneakers. Their feet are made of iron so what kind of sneakers would they want to wear?

When you were a kid, young people in Japan looked to America for new trends, but more and more people are checking for what’s new in Japan. What’s your take on the new Japanese fashion scene?

What’s happening in Japan is what DJ's try and do with records—a lot of remixing and shuffling. Europe is the place where they have classic design in fashion. We as Japanese creators breakdown these traditions and come up with something very new, and we of course introduce our work in Europe and the US. We represent something that contradicts the traditions of classic things. Like if I designed clothing or shoes like Ralph Lauren, I don’t think anyone would want to wear my designs.

Posted: March 12, 2007