Tadashi Shoji, Designer Interview
BY OBI ANYANWU
35 years. You can assemble a lengthy list of designers that could not operate their own fashion label for half of that time, let alone for a full 35 years. Longevity is a gift in the fashion industry, and it should never be taken for granted or squandered. This is why Tadashi Shoji, in his 35th year operating his namesake label, introduced his first fragrance and is launching new product categories.
Born in Sendai, Japan in 1948, Shoji moved to the US in 1973 to further his studies in art, and later attended the Los Angeles Trade Technical College to study fashion. Several years before he founded his eponymous label, Shoji apprenticed with costume designer Bill Whitten, creating designs for The Jacksons, Elton John, Stevie Wonder, Neil Diamond and Earth, Wind & Fire.
In 1982, Shoji launched his own label, designing for women of all ages and body types. Actresses and entertainers such as Kate Beckinsale, Helen Mirren, and Katy Perry have donned Shoji’s designs, as well as Oscar Award winners Mo’Nique and Octavia Spencer, who wore a custom Tadashi Shoji gown to the 84th Academy Awards where she won Best Supporting Actress for The Help.
In an increasingly competitive industry, Tadashi Shoji continues to cut through the clutter and change with the times. The LA based designer spoke with The Impression to discuss how approaching designing has changed over 35 years, his influences, new product categories and why he continues to be an inclusive designer.
Looking back on 35 years with your brand, how has things changed in your life and for design?
The Internet and all types of social media, including Pinterest, are available now where as 35 years ago it never existed. I used to read everything in a newspaper and now everyone is paperless. We get everything off of the Internet including inspiration.
Can you recall the first time or first collection where you turned to the Internet primarily for inspiration?
My design teams began relying on the Internet to gather inspirational images beginning with our very first shows in 2007. However, the use of Google and platforms like Pinterest has expanded the resources tremendously.
How have things changed for fashion in New York City and in the US over the years?
For me, personally I have seen attendance at the shows change dramatically. In the past, the shows were just about seating buyers and press. Nowadays, bloggers and major influencers are just as important and sit in the front row as they radically impact your brand image.
How do you manage to keep things fresh having been designing for almost 40 years?
Typically I begin each season with finding something that really inspires me to base the new collection on. I’m formally trained in art school and am still greatly influenced by art, which I think gives me a unique perspective and helps to keep my designs fresh.
Do you still work on art aside from working on your collections?
I don’t work on art on the side however, I am greatly influenced by art – finding a piece that really inspires me is typically where it starts. SS17 was inspired by ‘The Flying Arc’ by Wu Junyoung, and I also collect art and display pieces around my office and in my home in Pasadena, New York, and Shanghai. So I don’t necessarily create art but continue to surround myself with art.
You’ve recently introduced a fragrance, what inspired the scent and packaging?
My new fragrance, Eau de Rose, was inspired by the universal flower, which is the rose. I am very much attracted to the rose scent which I feel is very uplifting and makes me happy.
Any other product categories you wish to add to your brand?
It’s a really exciting time for me, as I’ve recently launched an affordable luxury bridal collection online and in my stores. Our dresses are selling more than ever; so bridal was the next step. Modern brides are more savvy than ever before and don’t want to spend money on expensive gowns but rather put that money towards something like a destination wedding or a down payment on a house.
Additionally, I will also be launching intimates, shape wear, and handbags throughout 2017. The introduction of these new categories is a natural progression of my brand and I’m thrilled to bring affordable luxury to a wider range of consumers. I launched a kids collection two years ago which I have to say is adorable and doing really well.
Can you tell us about the new categories? What can we expect from the new intimates, shape wear and handbags lines?
Intimates will include lacy bodysuits, lacy bralets, panties, camis, slip dresses chemises, robes and more in various colors and prints. The shape wear collection will also include sexy power mesh slip dresses, high-waisted smoothing panties, mid-thigh bodysuit shape wear, in various lacy silhouettes. We will outfit every woman’s need with soft, seamless, and form-fitting designs in bold colors and beautiful prints. This is different from the basic nude and black shape wear colors that the other fashion brands offer.
Lastly, the handbags are the perfect accessories. Inspired by strong iconic women like Diana Ross, Jackie Kennedy, and Sophia Lauren to name a few, each handbag is designed for women who are constantly on the go. The leather handbag collection includes various styles from totes, bucket bags, envelope clutches, satchels, shoulder bags and so much more.
As a designer that never shied away from designing for all, what first drew you to being inclusive? Was it a thought at all?
I think it’s a Japanese way of thinking that I want to give value to my designs. I don’t want to sell unnecessarily expensive dresses and make just a few and then feel satisfied. I want to design for real women of all shapes and sizes who can afford my dresses.
I like designing for strong women, and strong women come in all shapes and sizes. I can make any kind of woman look and feel beautiful. Cut and fit are crucial – if a dress is fitted in the right places, it makes a flattering shape. It’s all about playing with illusions and keeping everything in proportion. With the right fit in the right place, any figure can be proportionate and beautiful.
As the average woman in the US today is a size 14/16, it’s important now more than ever to offer stylish designs in a variety of sizing.
Why do you think it has taken so long for all female body types to be accepted?
The average American woman is not a size 2. The reality is that any woman regardless of their size or shape is beautiful. The fact is the fashion industry is finally finding diversity as acceptable and finding value in people with strong character, integrity, and compassion regardless of body shape and size.
We agree Tadashi. Thanks for taking the time to speak with us, and we’re looking forward to the new collection and new product categories.