Ryota Iwai, the designer behind the Tokyo-based label AURALEE, has a seemingly straightforward vision. “We want to create all of our items — from a pair of socks or a T-shirt — with the same level of dedication, care, time and attention as more ‘intricate’ pieces like a coat or dress,” he says.
That clarity of perspective is proving successful. Through its collaborations with New Balance and its mainline collections, AURALEE has earned a reputation as one of Japan’s best emerging brands. In the six years since it was founded, its pared back aesthetic has been showcased at Paris Fashion Week, while stockists around the world — from Très Bien in Malmo and Nitty Gritty in Stockholm to global names like Matchesfashion and END. — have also bought into Iwai’s vision.
AURALEE’s pieces might appear simple, but the materiality and attention to detail sets them apart. Stand-outs in the label’s Fall/Winter 2021 collection included sweaters constructed from extra soft South African kid mohair and wool yarn, and sweatpants produced from a super heavyweight jersey.
“I want our garments to be an extension of the wearer — a tool for them to further express their individuality.”
“My inspiration mainly comes from the fabric and material development process itself,” Iwai continues. “It is always a snowball effect where the research of the materials informs what kind of fabric we want to create, and the fabrics decide what shapes will best showcase them or convey their qualities.”
Fabric is, as Iwai says, “everything for the brand.” But not only for its comfort, texture or movement. “Through fabric and natural materials especially, you are able to convey so much feeling, emotion and beauty,” he says. These are, arguably, the three most important factors in his designs for AURALEE, with an understated approach intended to celebrate the wearer’s own personality.
“I really want our garments to be an extension of the wearer — a tool for them to further express their individuality,” Iwai says, discussing how classic pieces such as knit crewnecks can be worn differently by different people. “I want the personality of the wearer to shine through, as opposed to the garment.”
This mission has led to people often describing the brand as “minimalist” — a label that Iwai resists. “I don’t necessarily strive to push the brand in a minimalist aesthetic, but I think it is just a natural result of my own personal taste and preferences,” he says. “I ultimately want our design to move the focus to the fabric and the wearer, and not for the garment to overpower the actual person.”
Throughout all of its collections, AURALEE has continued to develop this idea rather than moving between influences and inspirations. The Spring/Sumer 2022 collection is no different. “We don’t typically have specific themes to each season,” continues Iwai, “but rather each collection has moods and reflections that serve as a continual expression of the brand, chapters of a book as opposed to individual short stories.”
For SS22, Iwai and his team have contrasted with the collection that came before. “Our last collection for FW21 was relatively subdued, warm, relaxed, and calm,” he says. “We wanted to contrast that this season with a sophisticated and transparent collection that evokes the feeling of the outdoors and the natural: vibrant, energetic, fresh, yet serene.” The collection celebrates this influence with a color palette that mixes muted neutral tones with hits of “Almond Green” and “Light Khaki,” while sunflower prints and washed out camouflage link back to nature.
“Each collection has moods and reflections that serve as a continual expression of the brand, chapters of a book as opposed to individual short stories.”
The message at the heart of AURALEE and this collection also extends to its ongoing collaborations with New Balance, which have helped the label reach a new audience across the world. For the SS22 collection, the two brands have worked together for the fifth time, presenting a new take on the 2002r that comes in AURALEE’s now-signature muted color palette.
“The footwear design process actually runs independently from our collections,” Iwai says. “But they always tend to naturally find their place alongside the main collections. I believe we approach the shoe design with the same mindset and attention as the collections.” As Iwai says, the New Balance collaborations share many similarities to AURALEE’s wider work, but each brand brings its own expertise to the project. “With the history, and expertise on athletic products, and access to certain technologies and materials, it allows us to express our ethos in a completely different way that we wouldn’t be able to do on our own.”
While SS22 marks a continuation of everything AURALEE has done so far, the collection is also a time to look back on where the label has come from. “Fundamentally I don’t think much has changed,” Iwai concludes of the journey so far. “Our mindset, approach, values, inspirations and goals with the brand remain constant. We just want to continue working at our pace, have fun, take care of our team and make things we are happy with.”