Sunday, December 9, 2012

SOMARTA: Exclusive Interview

By Eva Fydrych

Fashion & Technology

Luminous Body and Ice Dress (Photos courtesy of SOMARTA)

The talented designer behind a Japanese brand SOMARTA, Tamae Hirokawa, is a graduate of Bunka Fashion College and was mentored by one of the most famous designers, Issey Miyake. While working for Mr Miyake, Tamae Hirokawa created her own design firm called Soma Designs and SOMARTA was part of this umbrella organization that also included graphic design and sound direction.

Tamae Hirokawa specializes in creating seamless knitwear, which became an iconic product for the brand, and uses advanced technology in her textile manufacturing. Her designs "transcend time and open an innovative path toward the future of fashion" [from A New Era of Tokyo Fashion].

Luminous Body (Photo courtesy of SOMARTA)

Tamae is also known for presenting the narrative elements of her designs in a form of film projections - created by Soma Designs - during the catwalk shows. At her famous Spring/Summer 2007 show, a 50-meter wide panoramic screen transformed the runway into a train station platform. The show started with a train arriving at the station, and the illusion of the moving screen in the second part of the show made the audience feel as if aboard the departing train. In 2008, "The Secret Garden" installation in Italy was created using the latest digital output technology, which formed the basis of the exhibition.

"Fashion is not only about clothes but also about creating certain feelings and opening up a new horizon for creative expression." - says Tamae Hirokawa.

Fashion Studio Magazine had a chance to meet the visionary Japanese designer during her recent show in Singapore and asked her a couple of questions about the importance of technology in her designs.

Tamae Hirokawa

Occupation: Fashion Designer
City: Tokyo, Japan

Backstage at Japan Couture Evening 2012, Singapore (Photo courtesy of L'Officiel)

FASHION STUDIO: You graduated from the Department of Apparel Design at Bunka Fashion College. What is your most important memory from that time?

TAMAE: I started to learn about fashion quite late compared to other fellow students at Bunka Fashion College and that motivate me very hard to catch up. As a result, it was my great honor to receive some awards as well as to express my own way of creation. If you ask me about the most important memory, that would be fellows who have their own brands and trying to achieve to be on top in Japan and all over the world.

FASHION STUDIO: At the beginning of your fashion career you worked with a famous Japanese designer Issey Miyake. What were the most important things that you learnt during that time?

TAMAE: Thanks to Issey Miyake, I could manage to look at fashion as a creativity of design or art. From fashion point of view, it was superb experience for me to be in a process to complete clothing from just one piece of string.

Ice Dress (Photo courtesy of SOMARTA)

FASHION STUDIO: One of your iconic designs, a stitched lace bodysuit from AW 2007 “PROTEAN” collection, was encrusted with Swarovski diamonds. What was your inspiration behind this particular piece and how long did it take you to create it?

TAMAE: As “PROTEAN” is the word from Greek myth, Proteus who could change his shape freely, I was wondering if man were to have shining metal body. It took almost 3 months as I needed to place a crystal element patch by patch along with design pattern.

FASHION STUDIO: That design was later worn by Lady Gaga during her live performance in Tokyo in April 2010. How did your collaboration with Lady Gaga began? Would you like to design more outfits for her in the future?

TAMAE: When Lady Gaga came over to Japan for her concert, it was planned for her to appear in a number of TV shows and magazines and her stylist recommended my clothes to her. She liked them and that was the beginning. Since then, she loves to wear my clothes not only in Japan but also in the US at various photo shoots and also in her private life. It is very exciting to design for her and I would be more than happy to do it again.

Photo courtesy of and Soma Design

FASHION STUDIO: Your clothes feature the most cutting-edge technology in textile manufacturing. Could you explain to our readers what role technology plays in your designs?

TAMAE: I think technology gives add value to my designs. For example, I am doing body wear with no stitch. Unlike western making process, cutting cloth and sewing by machine, knitwear is all about braiding on flat surface to create pattern and this is similar to Kimono making. What if we could have clothes without any stitch? This has been long awaited technology in the industry and it gives me thousands of possibilities of new designs.

FASHION STUDIO: Do you think young designers are now becoming more interested in technology then, let's say, five years ago? What changes have you observed?

TAMAE: To be honest, I have no idea. Perhaps, with or without noticing, designers are more familiar with advanced technology than five years ago but it depends pretty much on a designer who needs to have creativity to transform it to design. If one can do this, I am sure he or she will have more interests in technology.

Bodysuit by SOMARTA Autumn/Winter 2007

FASHION STUDIO: How important, in your opinion, is it for the young designers to stay up-to-date with the latest technology?

TAMAE: As I said earlier, technology is one of the greatest tools for your design creation but it could not be a solution for all your needs. It is important to understand that even advanced technology has its pros and cons. As a matter of fact, craftsmanship is getting less and less popular in Japan due to technology which is a very sad thing for me. I believe it is part of designer’s important role to balance technology and textile industry in their own country.

FASHION STUDIO: What are the challenges and opportunities in using technology in fashion?

TAMAE: Clothing is necessary in everyone’s life. Some may want to have excitement, comfort or something else. Like 3D technology gives great affect on architectural design or mobile phone changes our lifestyle, material evolution contributes a lot in fashion. If we have more varieties for the process of making clothes, fashion and design would change like no one can imagine. It would be new creativity, beyond fashion criteria. I love to challenge that.

SOMARTA, Japan Couture Evening 2012 (Photo courtesy of Fide Fashion Weeks)

SOMARTA, Japan Couture Evening 2012 (Photo courtesy of Fide Fashion Weeks)

Brand History

2006 - Established the design project SOMARTA. Launched the body wear series "Skin" under the concept "the possibilities of body wear". Tokyo Collection debut in Spring/Summer 2007.

2007 - Won the 25th Mainichi Fashion Grand Prix Newcomer's Prize and the Shiseido Sponsorship Award.

2008 - Presented the installations "The Secret Garden" and "ENGRAVER", plus the "Skin + Bone Chair" interior furniture at Canon NEOREAL Exhibition at the Milano Salone 2008, Italy. Presented Concept Car and installation works at the [iQ X SOMARTA MICROCOSMOS] exhibition with Toyota at Designtide Tokyo.

"The Secret Garden" at the NEOREAL Exhibition, Milano Salone 2008, Italy

2010 - Presented her creations at the First International Jewelry Week in Mumbai, India, in partnership with budding jewelry company CVM Exports. Invited to the Second Aurora Fashion Week in St. Petersburg, Russia, where she presented her collection.

2011 - Designed uniforms for Shiseido The Ginza.

2012 - Showed her collections at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week TOKYO and Japan Couture Evening 2012 Singapore.
Source: A New Era of Tokyo Fashion

Mami Shirakawa, Tamae Hirokawa and Eva Fydrych at Japan Couture Evening 2012


  1. Wow, this is indeed one talented designer. The materials are out of this world and the designs are really mysterious and intriguing. She is definitely one of a kind in her generation as a designer.

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