I met, Yuka Uehara, at an intimate presentation of her couture collection at Atelier Emmanuel in San Francisco. Wearing a hand-painted, fit and flare dress made of foam cotton, she struck me as a cross between a manga heroine and a Japanese Anna Karina. Drawn to her vibrancy and openness, I wanted to find out more about how she came to launch her line Tokyo Gamine in 2015. The dresses possess a fairy-tale quality–a very sophisticated, urbane, cinematic fairy-tale. The body is de-emphasized by employing sculptural shapes, color blocking, and volume.
Yuka grew up in Tokyo and was raised by her grandmother, she painted and wrote stories. While she went on to study medicine, Yuka eventually took a job with her father, a film director, that led to designing costumes for film.
An excerpt from the program of Tokyo Gamine’s grand debut of the Parallel collection held in November in San Francisco states, “Fashion is art, art makes us who we are.” I couldn’t agree more!
True to her roots in film, the collection was presented by professional dancers choreographed collaboratively with the designer. Read on for the interview and see a selection of the Parallel collection by visiting Manika Jewelry boutique.
Sasha: Tell me a little bit about your background. How did you choose to be a fashion designer? Where did you go to school?
Yuka: I did not have any formal training to be a fashion designer. I grew up in a very creative family, and was surrounded by stories, so I think because of that it makes me unique as a designer. I am very interested in the impact and the message of a certain look and design. How they make us feel. For me it is a journey and a growing experience.
Sasha: You have just launched your couture collection, Parallel. Tell me about the collection, the inspiration behind it. You like to use atypical models. Tell me about your approach to casting dancers to present your collection.
Yuka: Couture to me is very personal, and I wanted it to be personal. I wanted the garment to support, inspire and empower the heroine or the individual who is wearing my collection. That is why to tell a story with dancers and actors was very important. I wanted to bring out the individual’s internal power via my fashion. I wanted a chemistry between my piece and the person who is wearing them.
Sasha: How does the design process start for you? What inspires you? Who are you style muses, past and present?
Yuka: To feel inspired, I have to feel happy and excited. It could be taking a trip to Paris and Florence, it could be taking a stroll to the museum, and some days it could simply be something I am doing in the middle of a ballet class. Every day is so different, and I love the fact that I actually have no idea what will inspire me next, how I will feel. I like the unexpected, uncertainties, they challenge your creativity, and allow you to make your version of this world a beautiful place for you.
I love beautiful things, people, and I surround myself with them. It’s not simply a style, it’s their story, their history, things they do, things they don’t do, what makes them happy, what makes them sad, their inner strength and beauty. I love people, and I like to study and observe them. My muses are my friends, who I share deep connections with, who inspire me and give me strength.
Sasha: Your father is a film maker, and you’re very familiar with that industry, does that influence your design process? I think I see the influence in your model castings and presenting your collection through movement, story, and dance.
Yuka: Very much so. I think deep down I am an actress who happened to became really aware of how appearance could have a vast impact in our life, and I feel very fortunate to have the ability to create these looks. I grew up seeing a lot of the struggle my father had during his acting career. And I think one of my objectives in my design is I want people who wear my designs to feel happy, bold, and confident in themselves, and feel powerful to say and do things that they always wanted to say and do. And movements are critical because it is our movements that makes us unique, and I want to really emphasize that in my work. We all differ in our movements and what makes the piece unique and personal is who are wearing them. The interaction between the piece and the individual is unique. It really brings my work to life, and nothing truly makes me happier than watching it when it all happens.
Sasha: How old where you when you first became aware of fashion and style? What is your first memory of fashion?
Yuka: When I was 21. I remember, I just left my fellowship at National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. I was a complete mess, t-shirts and jeans. I came to a realization that a career in science is not I wanted to do at the time. So came back to Tokyo, met up with my father. We were having dinner and suddenly, my father said to me, we need to do something about the way you dress. Lol. I think that was the first time I became aware of fashion.
Sasha: Who do you see wearing your collection? Who is the Tokyo Gamine woman?
Yuka: I see someone who wants to make a statement about who they are. Tokyo Gamine woman is strong and bold, but who is also feminine at the same time. It is a balance of strength and vulnerability, which I find most attractive in a human being.
Sasha: You’re a self described gamine. What are you essential wardrobe and accessories pieces?
Yuka: I dress very simply. I love effortless chic. My essential wardrobe pieces are a one-piece, colorful tights, a comfortable flat or oxford. Perhaps a statement purse or handbag, and sunglasses. I like anything that takes me less than five minutes to get ready.
Sasha: Which current and past designers inform your work? Who do you admire in the world of fashion now?
Yuka: In the past I liked Givenchy, Valentino, Comme des Garçons, Dolce & Gabbana. I think what I wear probably has some impact in the way I create my work. Currently, I am not sure. I am at a point in my creativity and growth, that I try to put myself in a different category. I don’t know where it will lead me yet, but I hope it will eventually lead me to where I want to be.
Sasha: I’m excited to hear what’s next for you? Where do you see your brand a year from now, five years from now?
Yuka: World domination. (haha I am not kidding ). I see it evolving more and more into a lifestyle brand.
Photography by Jennymay Villarete
Yuka: Earrings, Sasha Maks Vintage, Trifari, here / Bracelet, Sasha Maks Vintage, here
Sasha: Earrings, Sasha Maks Vintage, Karl Lagerfeld, here / Rhinestone ring, Sasha Maks Vintage, here / Atom cocktail ring, contact email@example.com
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