When I first watched Doublet’s Fall/Winter 2023 runway, I was delighted to see a fresh perspective in the current fashion landscape. Though, I suppose many might not share the same sentiment. Understandably so; models opening the showcase accompanied by a loud fanfare, dressed in what seemed like a terrifying rendition of theme park mascots. They pranced and danced merrily, much to the confusion of the audience, before one of the models took off his bear headgear and strutted down the runway. The atmosphere switched in an instant — the models becoming humans, the audience straightening their backs and phones.
It was interesting to me how quickly the audience ‘switched up’. The moment they took the peculiarity out of the models, they started to take them much more seriously with a critical mindset. It felt like a telling conversation: how people readily pass judgements until they ‘realised’ the other party is also a person, under all the facade. That is the heart of Doublet, whose designer Masayuki Ino I had the privilege to converse with.
Our conversation started on an early Friday morning , hosted warmly by Club21 located in the newly unveiled Como Orchard. Over coffee and a plate of viennoiseries by Cédric Grolet, we had a hearty conversation with other writers, accompanied by Ino-san’s wife Yoko-san and translator Kaji-san. The designer struck me as a humble and easy-going person, the energy he brought into the room undeniably radiant. Truth be told, I was rather quiet on the table, taking the backseat as I listened through the conversations that were taking place. It was not until I had the one-on-one interview session with Ino-san that I apologised for my quiet demeanour on the table. Surprisingly, Ino-san lightheartedly brushed it off, confessing that he was a rather shy introvert too. The chat — or so I would like to call it. Calling it an interview would imply an air of stiffness that was just impossible to have around him — went uphill once the ice was thawed.
When asked to introduce Doublet to the general audience, Ino-san was quick to reply that the brand was his way of communication. It was a platform speaking the universal language of garments, an avenue for discussion and exchanging of views sparked by the ‘oddities’ that are his pieces. “I like that my pieces become points to start a conversation,” he explained, “for example, the shirt that Kaji-san is currently wearing (which had a small teddy bear sewn onto its left breast pocket — an adorable piece, if I may say so). I wore the same shirt before in Japan, and when I went to a Starbucks, the barista excitedly pointed it out to me. ‘It’s Kuma-san*!’ I like that my pieces are able to start small conversations like that, and help me to get to know people.”
He recounted how winning the 2018 LVMH Prize Young Fashion Designer prize was a turning point for him. Previously, he had been dedicating his crafts to the arts of shoemaking and had wanted to dabble into fashion designing, which was the birth story of Doublet. “I knew I wanted to create ‘funny things’,” as he would coin it with a grin, “Something unique and niche, regardless if it’s shoes or clothes.” However, him winning the LVMH award had increased the brand’s awareness and popularity, and he realised that this was his chance to use Doublet as a platform to tell a story instead.
A visionary of his own league, I was curious on what inspired him. It is not everyday that you meet a designer who is so comfortable in challenging the fashion landscape, especially in the era where performative fashion is not as well received as commercial ones. While he had named a few famed artists, such as Lewis Carroll and Banksy, he gained most of his inspirations from his daily life. “Every six months, I need to go to Paris to showcase a new collection, and I figure my surroundings allow me to constantly gain and churn out ideas,” he explained, which led us to talk about his latest collection — Fall/Winter 2023.
“We are all humans. We shouldn’t be so divided.”
I had asked him what inspired the theme for the collection and its theatrical performance during its runway. Ino-san laughed as he explained, “Have you ever seen those mascots in theme parks?” When I nodded, he continued, “When people go to the parks and see the mascots, they think of how adorable and cute they are. However, if you see the same mascot outside of the parks, say in a public space, you may think ‘oh, they’re weird’. So I posed the question: why is there a gap in this reception? That is the core of this collection, to challenge societal perception.” He drew the comparison between his pieces and real life happenings around him, how the collection is a direct link to racism and prejudice in the society. “We are all the same, really,” he said, taking the anecdote of how the models wearing the ‘monster’ pieces were also the same human beings as the audience, “we are all the same people underneath the mask.”
When he explained that to me, it felt fitting for me to ask him who was the real monster: the pieces the models wore, or the models who wore the pieces? “Oh, this is a hard question,” he mused. While Kaji-san and I had a good laugh out of it, Ino-san eventually gave his take on the dilemma. “I think rather than the model or the piece, the ‘real’ monster is the commentator,” he started, much to my confusion. He continued by elaborating his point, “I think if someone looks at a person wearing my piece and says ‘what a strange person’, then that makes the commentator a ‘monster’ for having that sort of prejudice.” He explained how the ‘real monsters’ lie in the form of unjust bias against others. “The pieces of my Fall/Winter 2023 collection are inspired by this anime called Beastars, which is about a cultural division between the carnivores and herbivores in the animal kingdom.” Knowing what the anime is about, I agreed rather enthusiastically that it mirrors the current societal state of the world. Ino-san shared the sentiment (and delight of another fellow anime enthusiast),
As a man with such a creative mind, I had asked him if he ever wanted to dabble in any other art form if he had not found a career in the fashion industry. “I would still be creating something,” he replied calmly, as if it was a fact. “Perhaps I would be a movie director. I have always enjoyed creating short movies,” he said, citing the short films featured in Doublet’s YouTube channel as means for him to explore this passion of his. Though, he later continued by saying he had — in a way — also already achieved this goal. “My fashion shows and runways are, in some way, a form of movie. They are silent movies, telling the story of my designs from start until the end.” He dubbed his fashion showcases as ‘silent movies’; clothes, after all, speak a language that requires no verbal words.
Doublet: What’s Next?
Before we parted, I had asked a final question that I am sure many are curious about: what is next? “For the upcoming Spring/Summer 2024 collection, I am thrilled to explore the relationship between humans and AI,” he had teased. For a moment, we shared our personal sentiments about the role of AI in the grand scheme of the future of fashion, and found out that we shared the same ideologies: AI should not be seen as a foe. “Many people fear that AI may one day take over our work (as creatives), but I would like to explore AI’s capabilities in bettering human lives,” he explained, “we should work on learning how to utilise AI to improve ourselves, instead of being afraid of it.”
Our chat continued for a while longer afterwards, though mostly on our shared interest in anime and literature. Undoubtedly, Ino-san is one of the designers in the current fashion climate whom I respect and look up to. His innovative ideas emphasise yet again that fashion, at its core, is an expression. A performance, if one may. A small ripple of conversations that soon turns into big waves of changes. There is a reason why fashion stays relevant, past all the superficiality and changing trends. For now, I simply look forward to Ino-san’s boundless artistry in his upcoming collection.
*Kuma-san is a rather affectionate term to call a mascot, translating directly to Mr. Bear.