Balmung from Japanese designer Hachi continues on its self-imposed Tokyo incubation, but offers a glimpse with every seasonal “Cocoon” themed exhibition as to how it might eventually emerge. This process of refinement was immediately evident this season, for while there was nothing to rival his Polyethylene “trash bag” collection or mecha arm bags, instead we found a sense of absolute completion and self-containment that is like nothing else in Tokyo fashion. From the looped vocals provided by none other than illustrator Borutanext5, to the self-constructed racks, down to every last garment you knew right from the moment you crossed the threshold that you were in Balmung’s world, and there were a lot of reasons to stay.
I have talked about Balmung a great deal in the past (most recent collection here), so if you need an introduction to his silhouettes and basic influences I would explore the tag first, but this season I thought I would hand over to the designer himself for a masterclass in one of the most exciting brands on the underground fashion scene.
The collection is called “Samsara”, what does that mean to you as a designer?
It is the word in Hinduism for what we call “Rinne Tensei” in Japanese, or metempsychosis in English. To be born is to die, and then in death we are reborn.
As a designer I am inspired by urbanism, and in particular Tokyo is a very important source of inspiration. In the case of Tokyo it is the various movements, changes, cultures that begin and end, and especially that moment of change that is of interest for me.
In my AW 2014 collection I wanted to focus on the idea of “repetition” inherent in rebirth, and make that my keyword for the season. To some extent I literally wanted to repeat the imagery and items from pervious seasons, but in addition there is an important addition in the form of Hatsune Miku and what her existence has to tell us about rebirth.
And how has Hatsune Miku inspired you this season?
This season I was particularly inspired by Hatsune Miku, and the fact that a Vocaloid program can be considered to “exist”. So many people use her as the vessel for so many different character traits, stories and thoughts of their own, to the point where each observer effectively sees a different Hatsune Miku.
I feel that the connection between the people and Hatsune Miku is the same as the one between the people and the myriad gods of Shintoism. Maybe you could say Hatsune Miku is one of the Japanese gods of the modern age.
Fashion is a construction of so many different factors, and among them national and regional, as well as the religious differences dependents upon them are key. For me Balmung is a representational way of decoding the nationals and religious messages that come out of Tokyo.
This season I visually took the influences of Hatsune Miku into my work but since last season I have been using the Vocaloid software to set the voice of Hatsune Miku as the soundtrack to my collections films and exhibitions.
This season you continued to use the same “Gray Boy and Gray Girl” characters for your season visuals. How do they fit into your worldview?
That isn’t something I can easily put into words, they are more a representation of how I personally feel inside. They are the avatars for my current mood, feelings and humanity.
When I set out to create my world, and the clothes within it I don’t think of there being any distinction between man and woman. Or to be more accurate when I want to express is that even though it can be said there is a distinction, that distinction is really nothing. Especially in the case of infancy, there is really no necessary distinction between the sexes. Thus perhaps what I want to articulate through them is that state of ambiguous existence, or perhaps an admiration for that existence.
Your selection of fabrics continues to focus on a casual jersey as the core textile, why is that?
I can’t help but have some connection with the kind of plush head to toe tracksuit you see people wearing at shops like Don Quixote here in Tokyo, as well the atmosphere of places like that. It got me thinking that in the same way as Paris has “mode” and “chic”, Tokyo has “kawaii” and “ugly”, and now I feel that has become the base foundation for fashion for the city.
By wearing the kind of full body grey tracksuits sold in Uniqlo and Don Quixote, one transcends being casual and actually becomes ephemeral, and I want to reflect the fact that in places like Shibuya and Shinjuku that has become the default style.
I think I take a great deal of influence from that style, but I channel it through my own filter to make it my own.
Do you feel that fashion simply reflects the society that produces it, or does it have a more active duty?
Through my brand Balmung I like to reflect my own perspectives and interests in society structures. However, I don’t think fashion as a whole has a “responsibility” to society at all. That is because fashion acts like a mirror in the same way as art and music – it cannot reflect what isn’t there. I don’t think a mirror has any duty as such.
If someone feels a sense of duty they then have a duty to express it, but if they don’t then shouldn’t.
Through Balmung I have a dual interest in expressing a conceptualization of society, as well as a physicalization of society. In that way I have an interest in expressing what is actually happening, as well as being inspired by reality and projecting my own thoughts on it.
You can see the full collection film here, and make sure you enjoy the full audio experience as well.
On to the exhibition, and hopefully you can get a sense of the work in the flesh.
For my money this structured cocoon of a coat was my favorite single piece, almost robotic, but very cozy at the same time.
This season the pockets have undergone a revision settling on a slit that you don’t immediately notice (I have pulled the one above open so you can see it).
This graphical piece is by Borutanext5, one illustrator who you should be aware of by now.
This is the most literal allusion to Hatsune Miku in the collection, but I think it is obfuscated enough so that it wouldn’t be clocked immediately by the general public.
A look into the gray.
A unique feature of Balmung’s showrooms is that he has his assistants on hand to work on garment to the last second, responding to the reaction to the exhibition as it goes on and occasionally adding whole items to the line-up from the visitors’ feedback.
Stand by for more from the Tokyo underground very soon, and you can see past collections on this site or Balmung’s homepage here.