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TRAVERSE TOKYO: An Interview with uniform experiment's Hirofumi Kiyonaga

Prominent Japanese designer and creative mind behind uniform experiment, Hirofumi Kiyonaga, recently sat down with TRAVERSE TOKYO to touch on a variety of topics and affairs relevant to both those interested in fashion as well as business. Reflecting on various collaborations – including their latest with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe – Kiyonaga reveals what it is about the congregation of ideals and art that makes partnerships such an energetic experience. While choice excerpts appear below, the entire interview can be read here.

We’ve been aware of your past collaborations with modern artists but working with a photographer seems to be quite a rare case.
Our collaborations with artists as Julian Opie, Tatsuo Miyajima, and Jack Pierson may have had a very strong impression in the past but actually we have done work with photographers too. We’ve created tee shirts with Wolfgang Tillmans and Kishin Shinoyama and with this Robert Mapplethorpe collaboration, it is our third time.

Where do you focus your consciousness when you collaborate with an artist?
When I create a collaboration, I try to make it an opportunity for our fans to get to know a new artist or an art piece. Nowadays, you see many labels encompassing a total lifestyle, but we’ve been doing that since our foundation 14 years ago. We’re not only about creating quality garments. Its also about giving something more to that. In my younger days, I got to know photographers like Bruce Weber and Richard Avedon through buying clothes. I remember I would do my own research and go to a book store to find their photo books or go visit their exhibitions. My curiosity got me to dig deeper and acquire more knowledge of them. Actually I’ve pulled out a few old photo tees from the back of my closet, that I had bought back in the day. The colors are faded out and the sizes are too large for me now, but looking at these again after decades, I can still say they are very interesting products.

They used to sell vast numbers of photo tees back in the 90′s didn’t they?
Yes, looking back I can still recall many of them. Apart from Bruce Weber and Richard Avedon, ones by Herb Ritts who used to shoot ads for Calvin Klein, Steven Meisel famous for his Vogue covers, and Wolfgang Tillmans from The Face and i-D were very special… You can say that there were many masterpiece photo-tees in in the 90′s. Agnes B was one label that was actively releasing photo tees too. I still have many more that I couldn’t bring to show you today and actually I have a whole collection of them. I remember Bruce Weber tees were so popular, we used to see alot of fake ones too. But of course only the officially released products are still sold at a high price in auctions today.

Can you tell us what lead you to work with Robert Mapplethorpe’s photos this time?
The image we wanted to create for UE’s tee shirt range this season just synchronized with his photos. It seemed to be just the right combination and we were quite lucky to be connected. Out of his works, I’m particularly a fan of the flower series taken in the 80′s. The expression of the flowers are definitely amazing but adding to that, the quality of the props used in the photos like the flower vases are top notch piece of work too. You can find them sold together with the photos at auctions at times and actually I am quite intrigued in collecting those items too. The whole package of being able to collect both the photo and its props is very entertaining to me. In UE’s inline, we used only photos from the flower series but personally I ‘m fond of his masculine photos too. Mapplethorpe is known for his sexual photography, but his photos with bold, strong themes used in this collaboration with TRAVERSE are amazing too. I had an idea in of working with those photos through a different output other than UE from before, and TRAVERSE was the right place for it. In the UE inner line, we didn’t make any collaborations in black, so this is the only place to get a hold of the black version tee.

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