Frapbois designer Eri Utsugi thrives in her dream world-where
Takanori Kobayashi catches up with her.
|Eri Utsugi goes carefree
Jovial is the first impression that designer Eri Utsugi gives
when you meet her. The boyish-looking woman, who designs under
the Frapbois label, chuckles a lot, and her high-pitched voice
has a cheerful effect on anyone around her. So it's
no surprise that the clothes she designs for both men and
women of all ages reflect her cheerful nature. For Utsugi,
wearing clothes should be fun.
For her 2002/2003 autumn/winter collection, Utsugi shows
a balance between reality and fantasy. Her intriguing use
of fabrics, in which she uses chic textiles and fabrics in
dark brown jackets and matted green thick one-piece outfits
with orange hoods, for example, evoke characters from a fairy
tale. "Some people only see their dreams and never
reality," says the 36-year-old designer, "while
others do the opposite. I myself tend to follow my dreams
more, but it is not good to be stuck in one world or the other
For Utsugi herself, becoming a designer was no fantasy but
a realistic dream. Born in Tokyo, she got early exposure to
making clothes through her mother, who was a dressmaker. Before
long, she was making odds and ends from pieces of fabric scattered
about her room. Her mom would always give her a few tips and
help with needlework. "I found creating clothes fun,"
Utsugi says, "so naturally when I got older I entered
a design school to study more about it. Looking back on it
now, it all seems pretty natural to me."
Still a relative newcomer to the Tokyo fashion scene (she
debuted in the Tokyo collections in spring of 2001), Utsugi
came up with her brand name by using a combination of the
French words "frapper" (hit) and "bois"
(wood)."It's quite hard to find new name for
a brand these days because most popular names, words and phrases
have already been taken and officially registered by other
brands. So I had to find an attractive name that didn't
violate others' copyrights."
Utsugi says her prime source of inspiration is what she sees
in her everyday life. "Every moment, whether it is
going to convenience stores, taking a ride on the subway,
watching TV and so forth, are filled with opportunities to
encounter something interesting that gives me some hint for
a new fashion," she says. "I focus on movement;
I like changing things as time passes. Designing constrained
clothes is not my style."
Utsugi says she gets more new ideas especially from the current
fashions of middle-aged or elderly people than from young
people. "While most young people are cool and fashionable
in their own way, older people's fashions are always
an eye-opener. I mean they usually wear something quaint or
old-fashioned, often in surprising combinations that I would
never consider," explains Utsugi. "Perhaps,
they are not as self-conscious about what they wear, but for
me, it is a stimulus. I've seen elderly people wearing
dowdy clothes which I was able to rearrange a little bit to
come up with something really lovely and new-fangled."
Utsugi also gets a lot of inspiration at construction sites,
of all places. "I think what those construction workers
wear is really neat," she says, referring to the typical
work pants that most dokata (laborers) wear on the job. Their
shapes are fairly unique-extremely wide baggy pants
whose cuffs are closed at the ankles. Also, dokata typically
wear rubber-soled tabi (socks). The combination of the pants
and tabi make it easy to move around and are certainly efficient
for the job, but not many people would agree with Utsugi that
they are chic. In her collection this season, Utsugi has designed
a few outfits based on dokata wear, using different fabrics,
designs and adornments, but keeping the unmistakable silhouette.
Utsugi is one of a small number of women designers who design
for men as well as women. "From a business point of
view, designing men's clothes is hard because I cannot
guess what kind of clothes men want to wear in a certain situation,
which is the key to raising actual sales figures. I try to
listen to men's opinions about what they want to wear
and I have a lot of ideas of my own. Nowadays, I actually
prefer designing men's clothes since it is a greater
challenge to be more innovative," she says.
Indeed, Utsugi seems to be a fount of ideas. Coming up with
new ideas for each show every six months can be tough work
for some designers, but not for her. "My problem is
how to get all the ideas out of my head and into shapes and
styles." She is also weathering Japan's recession
fairly well with nine boutiques across Japan. Utsugi thinks
the capriciousness of Japanese consumers is a positive factor.
"From a designer's point of view, this fickle
characteristic of Japanese is good for business. If people
love only one type of style and show no interest in anything
new, we couldn't survive. It would be a boring industry.
There is always a demand for something innovative."
The only time Utsugi's brain takes a break from thinking
up innovative designs is when she is playing with her six-year-old
son. "But even then, my mind is never very far away
from the business because I try to find new ideas from him."
Photos by Takanori Kobayashi,
courtesy of Frapbois