07 Jun 2018

An Interview With
Mihara Yasuhiro

Keisuke Otani

Sosu Co., Ltd.

Special Thanks
Keitaro Nagasaki
Kelvin Pang
ND Chow

Senthil. M

Journal 02: Mihara Yasuhiro
In his Shoes

© Ben Hassett

As an admirer of his works from the earliest days, Larry has found in Mihara Yasuhiro a kindred soul whose design philosophy elegantly enfolds layers of meaning and complexity within disarmingly simple constructs. This conversation takes us into the psyche of a man who has forged his own path beyond the limits that the world would place on his creativity and sense of self.


We were chatting briefly about your logo previously, which I find very interesting. What caught my attention was the design of the brandmark itself — you once told me that the unique inkblot was inspired by your childhood memory of a Rorschach test.


Typical visual of the Rorschach inkblot test

Symbol of the Mihara Yasuhiro brandmark

A fragment of childhood, a mark of awakening

Larry Peh: How old were you when you went for that test, and what do you remember about it?


Mihara Yasuhiro: I was six when I was tested. I was a little bit behind for my age. I couldn’t read at that time and I wasn’t very good at using language to express my emotions, so sometimes I would get hysterical over things I couldn’t cope with.

Except for my parents, people around me thought that I had an intellectual disability. So I underwent several tests, like the one to find a number or letter within a picture of coloured dots, or the one to describe what an abstract inkblot graphic resembled. But what I remember most clearly at that time was how I couldn’t understand the questions being asked, nor the reason for taking the tests.


LP: What made you decide to use the inkblot brandmark, and what is the meaning behind it?


MY: It was the first time in my life that I used my creative abilities. I felt free.


The Mihara Yasuhiro brandmark

LP: When did you first create the inkblot brandmark?


MY: It was 1996. That was when I started my own brand while studying at Tama Art University.


LP: The inkblot brandmark seems to hold a special place in your heart, since it has remained throughout your brand expansion. What makes it special to you?


MY: Usually, a brandmark will carry specific meanings but I wanted to abandon that approach for my brand. I felt that a person should be free to see whatever they want in it, which is the essence of of my creation. Similarly, while products have prices, it is up to individuals to decide for themselves what the value of creativity is.


The many aspects of Mihara the brand

You’ve gone through a few brand extensions, expansions and renaming — from archi doom, MIHARAYASUHIRO, SOSU to today’s Maison Mihara Yasuhiro. It’s interesting how such expansions cause extreme confusion in the West; however, it seems perfectly normal in Japan.

貴方はこれまでarchi doomからMIHARAYASUHIRO, SOSUそして今日ではMaison Mihara Yasuhiroとブランドの拡張と名称変更を何度か行い続けてきました。このスタイルが西洋においてはどれほど大きな混乱を招いたのかは大変興味深いところですが、日本では完全に当たり前のことのように見えます。

Brand extensions

LP: What is your view on the brand expansions you’ve undergone?


MY: I think there might be a bit of misunderstanding about this. archi doom was the shoe brand that I founded in the beginning. It was later changed to MIHARAYASUHIRO because I thought I should brand it with my own name. SOSU is not a brand itself but a company name; it means ‘prime number’ in Japanese. The reason why I changed the brand name from MIHARAYASUHIRO to Maison MIHARA YASUHIRO is because I felt that we had grown as a team over the years of working together.

これは何かの誤解があります。ArchiDoomは僕が最初に始めた靴ブランドです。ただ、その後にMIHARAYASUHIROに変えました。それは、やっぱり自分の名前でブランドをすべきだと思ったからです。SOSUというのはブランドではなく会社名です。意味は素数。Prime Numberからきています。日本語読みがSOSUです。MIHARAYASUHIROからMaison MIHARA YASUHIROに変えたのはブランドが長く継続してチームという意識が高くなったからです。

LP: What future plans do you have for brand expansion?


MY: I recently launched a Tokyo street-style brand called MYne, and also a brand called FIT, which advocates a ‘new basic’ style. Both carry the DNA of MIHARA but are totally different from Maison MIHARA YASUHIRO. For the future, I hope to launch more footwear brands as I have a great passion for designing shoes.

最近はMYneという東京ストリートを牽引するブランドやFITというNew Basicを提案するブランドを始めたばかりです。このブランドはMIHARAのDNAを持っていますがMaison MIHARA YASUHIROとは全く異なるラインです。また、希望ですが靴ブランドを発信したいです。個人的に僕が靴デザイナーとしての想いが強いからです。

MYne and FIT brandmark

FIT SS18 Collection

LP: Where do you see your brand in the next 10 years?


MY: I don’t know. I don’t try to look too far ahead because, for me, I feel it is not important to plan too deeply. What is important are things like: What will I create? What will I express? And how will the resulting output inspire those who will use them in their daily lives.



Personifying his style

It’s hard to put a finger to your style. It’s been described as playful, unexpected, clever, highly detailed, among other things.


LP: What best describes your style?


MY: Sublime Meets Ridiculous.

LP: How different is your style (Mihara Yasuhiro) from your label (Maison Mihara Yasuhiro)?


MY: Fundamentally, there is no difference. I am a part of the brand and my style also goes into the creation of the brand.


LP: What is your favourite item that you’ve designed, out of all your collections?


MY: That’s a difficult question but I will say this: I am happiest when I am designing shoes because within that microcosm, I can fully express my personal philosophy.


Taking joy in ideas that provoke a conversation

You count Marcel Duchamp as an inspiration. I can see similarities between you and Duchamp — in the way you make your audience pause and take another look at your works.


LP: What are you inspired by? Where do you get your inspiration from?


MY: Marcel Duchamp’s work compels us to ask: “What is art?”. So, that led me to the question: “What is fashion?”. Once people start thinking about it, then they can decide for themselves what the value of fashion is. I think it will be quite different for everyone.


Marcel Duchamp, Fountain, 1917. Photograph by Alfred Stieglitz. Credit: Wikipedia

Marcel Duchamp, L.H.O.O.Q.,1919, Tate Modern, London. Credit: Wikipedia

LP: Can you share more about why you count Marcel Duchamp as an inspiration?


MY: He had a series of artworks called ‘readymade’ where he selected a manufactured product and placed his signature on it. While there are lots of studies about this, I am not interested in the meaning of it. What struck me was the realisation that here was a new way of thinking creatively about ‘existing’ objects. It felt exhilarating and it’s something that I cherish deeply in my own creations. In fact, I think it’s a must when it comes to defining fashion.


LP: One of my favourite pair of shoes that you designed is the one with leather over the laces. What was the inspiration behind the design of this pair of shoes?


MY: That pair is all about the ‘4th dimension’. We may live in a three dimensional world but what about images that peel back time to reveal the past? I wanted to express the past as if it were preserved in a vacuum pack — that was the design inspiration behind those shoes.


「4次元」Series shoes

Love for the strange

I collect kaiju toys, and I like them because I think they are ugly and silly-looking, yet also honest and charming in a non-pretentious way. I know you are a big vintage kaiju collector too.


LP: Why do you collect kaiju?


MY: The simple answer is: “because I like them”; it would take too long to fully explain my fascination. To me, kaiju are not like normal creatures. You could say that their existence is a metaphor for the sins of humanity. And I certainly don’t think they are just toys made for children — kaiju are meant for everyone.


Takkong, one of Mihara-san’s favourite kaiju characters. Credit: Wikipedia

LP: Are there people who judge you because of what you collect? As in ‘a grown man collecting and playing with toys’ kind of image?


MY: No, there isn’t. It’s probably because I’m so serious about it.


In tune with his emotions

LP: What music do you enjoy listening to?


MY: That’s a tough one… I listen to all kinds of music. Thanks to my wife who is a jazz pianist, I started listening to jazz but personally I enjoy experimental music very much. I like music that’s more intense because of the emotions it brings out in me. That’s why I like Aphex Twin.

難しい質問です。様々な音楽を聴きます。妻がジャズピアニストのおかげでジャズも聞くようになりましたが僕はもともと実験的な音楽が好きです。そして、激しい音楽もエモーショナルな気持ちにさせてもらえるから好きです。Aphex Twinとかが好きなのもそのせいでしょう。

LP: Do you play any musical instruments?


MY: Sometimes, I hit the drums.


The impact of Americana on post-war Japan

LP: You once told me that you collect vintage bomber jackets. What is it about bomber jackets that appeals to you?


MY: For me, it’s the functionality and background, like wondering how many prototypes were made before a jacket is finalised and produced. Also, I find that the appeal of military wear depends on nationality. This is because the approach to rationality and functionality is different according to each country’s character, and you can get a feel for this in the materials, details and shape of a jacket.


American culture motif in Mihara-san’s bomber jacket collection

LP: What is the most expensive and least expensive bomber jacket that you’ve ever bought?


MY: That’s a secret… but honestly, I don’t remember. That’s because I don’t base something’s value on its price.


LP: Which is your favourite bomber jacket?


MY: I love them all. There isn’t a favourite but I do like one very much, even though it’s a bit heavy — the duffle coat invented in 1916 by General Montgomery of the British Army.


Generals Bubbles Barker & Monty in huge Duffle Coat

LP: What is American culture to you? What role and influence does American culture play in your daily life or inspirations?


MY: For my generation, clothing was very American in nature. Japan had been greatly influenced and changed by American culture and I sometimes use this theme as a creative motif. You could call it a symbol of mass production or a stereotypical image of clothing in our collective imagination: tailored wear, workwear, military wear, etc., these are all easily recognised as American by definition, and are thus ideal as motifs for creative expression. It’s similar to using motifs in paintings.


How he chooses to work and live

LP: If you weren’t a fashion designer, what would you be?


MY: I’d probably be an artist or doing something that’s art-related.


Mihara-san at work

LP: How do you design your business?


MY: That’s a tough one but If I could put it simply, it’s ‘don’t be greedy’. Expanding the business is not a priority for me; I just need to make enough to keep things running.


I’m happiest when I’m creating — it’s the core of our business. I don’t have time to dislike anything.

LP: Describe your perfect day.


MY: Surfing in the daytime and sleeping peacefully at night.


Mihara-san surfing


You started working with Puma and over the years I’ve seen more frequent and surprising collaborations with other interesting brands or artists. Quite honestly some of them surprise me, like working with a competitor like Hysteric Glamour, and your recent one with Billabong (I know you like to surf!). Of course my personal favourite is the 2013 Spring Summer Collection with the artist Jun Inoue.

あなたはプーマとのコラボレーションを始めてますし、これまでの間に度々、驚くべきコラボレーションを興味深い他のブランドやアーティスト達とするのを見てきました。率直にとても驚いたことは、幾つかはHysteric Glamourや最近だとBillabong(サーフィンが好きなのは知っていますが!)のような競合とも一緒にコラボレーションしていることです。勿論、私が一番個人的に気に入っているのはJun Inoueとの2013年春夏のコレクションです。


MIHARA YASUHIRO X BILLABONG “Airborne Troops”  2016 SS Debut Collection:

Serendipity as catalyst

LP: How do you pick your collaborators?


MY: Many are like encounters in daily life. It could be due to a simple interest that I have or maybe a company with totally different values from mine. The purpose of any collaboration is the possibility of a ‘chemical reaction’ — that’s the most important thing.


LP: What is your favourite collaboration, or product created as result of collaborations?


MY: I really liked what we did with HOSOO; they make beautiful fabrics that are absolutely wonderful. But my favourite has to be the sneakers collaboration with PUMA because It clearly marked the start of a new era for me.




Keeping it meaningful and relevant

I recall your collaborations with traditional kimono artisans, where their heritage dates back 1,200 years, during one of your early collections. I felt that this references how the Japanese love keeping their traditions alive.


LP: I do feel that, at the same time, there is an underlying desire to make these traditional craftsmen and artisans uncomfortable, by pushing their craft towards a modern style or medium. What’s your thinking behind it?


Behind the scenes of the MIHARA YASUHIRO X HOSOO AW13 Collection

MY: That was the project with HOSOO, the makers of Nishijin fabric. Originally I was skeptical about collaborations between traditional Japanese crafts and designers. It usually meant ‘matching traditional, legacy techniques with trendy designers’, which, to be honest, is something I find unpleasant and lacking in belief. I won’t support meaningless projects.

HOSOO proved to be the exception because they had already evolved their techniques using their own strengths in craftsmanship and knowledge. In combining tradition and innovation, they were ahead of the curve and embodied the ideals of traditional crafts.

I was drawn to that energy and thought that my ideas would be compatible. That is why we were able to very naturally create something new together. It was an experience in creative expression that didn’t destroy any aspects of eastern or western culture.



I have visited many of your stores during my visits to Japan. Your original store hidden away in the basement of Aoyama is still one of the best stores I’ve ever been to.

Fast forward to your new Maison Mihara Yasuhiro store at Omotesando Hills, which took on the same DNA but with a seemingly more elegant look.


Deciphering memories of Omotesando Hills

LP: Can you share some insights on how you tackle store design?


MY: I often use the theme of ‘memory’ and emotional impulse as a motif when I design a store. In that sense, I’m not really interested in totally new things. Memory is like the pieces of a puzzle scattered by the removal of our internal timeframe. So ‘imperfection’ in a store is OK as I would keep shaping the situation, and the new works that we produce will added as ‘merchandise’ to be put on display.


Flagship store interior at Omotesando Hill

LP: One thing that caught my eye in particular was the muted turquoise ‘gates’ throughout the store, which was different from the usual metal/steel/concrete/wood materials. What was your inspiration behind this?


MY: Omotesando Hills is one of Tadao Ando’s architectural works but I hated it because it turned Omotesando street into a commercial establishment. I loved that street when I first moved to Tokyo. It had its own culture and charm, like the singing birds next to the old Dojunkai apartment complex, and it was all destroyed by that building. But after 10 years I thought that enough time had passed for Omotesando Hills to change itself, and for me to face it once more. And so I made the decision to relocate my flagship store there.

Still, I wasn’t keen to coexist in that world of concrete and stainless steel. At first, I wanted to transplant an old wooden house from the countryside but it wasn’t possible under the fire prevention law. I decided instead to transplant the details of a small industrial factory from the early 1900s, which had metal frames in a blue-grey colour.That colour also happens to be used in my home, to express the ‘flatness’ in my character. Originally, it was like a primer undercoat but I was drawn to the strength that lay in the colour’s emotional neutrality. That is why I decided to surround the store in that colour.


Flagship store interior at Omotesando Hill featuring the ‘blue-grey’ metal frames as seen in Mihara-san’s home

LP: Do you personally undertake the space planning and design, right down to the details?


MY: Not really, but If I was asked I would give my input. I haven’t had any requests like that so far.


Sharing the love of craft

Your Atelier Mihara Yasuhiro store in Shibuya is really impressive and it came at the right time as it’s a popular thing for customers to be able to work on their custom products and be a part of the process.

渋谷にあるatelier MIHARAYASUHIROはとても印象的で、ちょうど良いタイミングで顧客が自分たちのカスタムする商品の製作工程に触れられたりする場所が生まれ大変人気となりました。

Workshop space at the Omotesando Hills store

LP: How did this idea for a workshop-like environment, and to actually conduct workshops for shoppers, come about? Was it a result of researching the market or just instincts and experience over the years?


MY: That was a limited time workshop that has already concluded. Right now, there is another project on-going at the shop. The reason for the workshop was because I thought there was more to enjoying fashion than just finished goods, and I wanted people to know the process and effort that goes into making our products. At the moment, we have retained that functionality in a smaller space at the back of the Omotesando Hills store.



Success and succession

LP: What will the future hold for Mihara Yasuhiro? We’ve seen from history how a designer’s departure can affect a brand’s future (e.g. Helmut Lang), or your peers who don’t seem to have a succession plan in sight (e.g. Yohji Yamamoto). Have you thought about your exit plan?

貴方(MIHARAYASUHIRO)にはどんな未来が待っていますか?私たちはデザイナーがどのようにスタートしブランドの未来に変化を及ぼしていくかを歴史の中に見てきました(例:Helmut Lang)。もしくは、貴方の同輩のように一見成功へのプランを持ち合わせていないかのような人もいます(例:Yohji Yamamoto)。何か最終的なゴールようなものを考えていたりするのですか?

MY: I haven’t thought about it at all, but success in this business and the status of a creator are only maintained through the continuous work of creation. I believe this is my life’s work, so my plan for the future is to keep on creating.


LP: How would you like to be remembered?


MY: I’m not the sort of person who maintains an archive of my past works. So, I think the record of my existence will be through the different ways that each person remembers me from their own lives and times.


About Mihara Yasuhiro

Born in 1972 in Nagasaki, Japan, fashion designer Mihara Yasuhiro first made his name in footwear with his own line of shoes in 1994 whilst still attending Tama Art University. Breaking new ground with his avant garde sneaker designs in collaboration with Puma in 2000, he would go on to present his first menswear collection at Milan in 2004, before shifting to Paris after 4 seasons. More recently, Mihara became the creative director of Sanyo Shokai’s new ‘Crestbridge’ brand. His flagship store re-opened as ‘Maison MIHARA YASUHIRO’ at Omotesando Hills in Tokyo in March 2016.

07 Jun 2018

An Interview With
Mihara Yasuhiro

Keisuke Otani

Sosu Co., Ltd.

Special Thanks
Keitaro Nagasaki
Kelvin Pang
ND Chow

Senthil. M