Tadashi Shoji has been in the industry for three decades, but he never thought he’d be in it for the long haul—or be in it, at all. “I went to the United States from Japan, and I didn’t plan on being a fashion designer,” Shoji, who started out as a painter, says.
“I never dreamt of traveling all over the world,” he continues, even as he finds himself in Manila for the second straight year. This time though, Shoji is going beyond presenting his collection for Fall/Winter 2013: “We have to give back to society. This show will benefit the Assumption Transformative School in Passi, Iloilo, and I am humbled to be a part of the school’s aid,” he says.
Shoji, whose clientele includes Tinseltown stars Octavia Spencer and Katy Perry, often uses material like jersey and silk to support his signature soft and feminine aesthetic. For this collection, he mixes things up by creating a story to go with his looks, adding neoprene to his fabric palette, and coming up with casual pieces—a break from his famed evening dresses. Style Bible puts him on the designer spotlight.
You mentioned that the inspiration for this collection was a trip to Russia. Can you tell us more about that?
After my trip to Manila last year, I flew to St. Petersburg. I've never been there, and it was cold because it was snowing already. St. Petersburg was the capital of Russia before it became the Soviet Union when the royal family was killed—I watched a lot of documentaries and movies. The theme of the collection isn’t so fun, and I made up a story behind it: A princess from the royal family was escaping from Russia, she was going through a snowy field and she was wearing a nice dress. It was much easier to design with that kind of story in my head.
Do you always come up with a story when you design a collection?
It's easier, but it depends on the season, and it depends on the mood.
So what else inspires you aside from traveling?
A movie, a book, news—anything. The starting point can be something I watch on television, like CNN or Japanese TV. It's weird! (laughs) I can't pinpoint it exactly.
Talk to us about working with neoprene.
More than a year ago, we stumbled upon neoprene. We have neoprene in scuba suits. When I saw it, I thought it was possible to make more shapes with it, because it's stiff. But it isn’t wearable for our kind of dresses, so we changed it to make it thinner and softer. Rustan’s bought some of the pieces with neoprene, and even people from Japan and the United States reacted very nicely to it. The media is also talking about neoprene, so that helps.
You’ve been in the industry for three decades. How do you keep evolving as a designer?
I have to do business! (laughs) But you have to express your love for fashion—and it should always be relevant to the present woman. You always have to think of that: If it's not wearable to women, they will not buy our dresses. The present woman is so busy. They don't have the whole day to go to a hairdresser or to have their makeup done. They do their own faces, put on a dress, zip up, and go. They have to be comfortable—the dresses should not be fussy, but they should be presentable and fashionable.
Cocktail evening dresses used to be very stiff and very uncomfortable. So I took off from that, and made them much softer, easier. I use a lot of stretch fabric, chiffon, and jersey; especially for the lining, I use stretch fabric.
Is it more difficult to work in fashion now or was it more challenging 30 years ago?
It was harder before. When we started, we didn't have capital. It was a small company, and we couldn’t be choosy with the fabric. Now, we can afford these things. So number one, financially, I can do whatever I like. But number two is that our industry has changed because of technology. Getting print and pattern samples, getting fabric… What used to take three to four months can take three weeks now. It’s faster and more efficient now, and that helps us a lot.
How long do you see yourself still doing this?
We’re making a stronger team of designers, but I’m still hands-on. My name is still there, and if I’m not hands-on, I’ll lose touch.
Are there things you want to explore?
I do evening and cocktail dresses now, but I want to do more casual pieces.
What kind of woman do you envision wearing Tadashi Shoji?
She’s self-confident. That’s the most important. If you don’t have confidence, even an expensive dress won’t look appealing on you.
Click on the photo gallery to view the complete collection of Tadashi Shoji Fall/Winter 2013.
Photo by Bruce Casanova