Hiroshi Fujiwara Interview
"The Godfather of Harajuku"
To describe Hiroshi Fujiwara as an influence is a huge understatement. Often referred to as the 'Godfather of Harajuku', Fujiwara has been the backbone to a movement that goes much further than a small suburb in Tokyo. Having experienced culture in London and New York most notably, as a teenager Fujiwara got introduced to the some of the most powerful names around that have inspired the new generation. I sat down with Fujiwara recently to talk about how it all began and how he has seen the Harajuku movement evolve over the years.
James Oliver: You visited London when you were younger. What was that experience like?
Hiroshi Fujiwara: That was when I was 18 years old and it was when the punk era had just finished and the pirate era was finishing, so it was when culture flag debuted so everyone was dressing really crazy.
JO: You met Malcolm Maclaren back then. How did that come about and how did it open the doors for you?
HF: I actually first met him here in Tokyo, I always liked him and someone introduced us. We used to go out for dinner or to the night clubs in London so he introduced me to a lot of what was happening in London.
The best thing he told me was London has finished, and I should go to New York. He was really into Hip-Hop, it was around the time he release Buffalo Gals. He actually called his assistant and gave me the phone number of his assistant, Terry Doktor, who was living in New York and asked him to take care of me while I was there. This gave me a greater insight into the Hip-Hop scene in New York which was obviously inspiring.
JO: How did you get introduced to the hip-hop scene? What was the DJ scene in Tokyo like when you first began?
HF: I was already DJing before I met Malcolm and before I was really deep into Hip-Hop but I always wanted to go to New York. The most popular thing was the London Night by Kensho Onuki, he is a famous DJ and he was playing English music like punk. Before I went to London I thought that was the music scene in London but when I went there and went to the clubs in London they weren't playing punk, it was just disco or dance music. After that I was more interested in Hip-Hop and House, so I didn't really notice what was happening with music in England. All my friends in England liked Wild Bunch or Soul 2 Soul, not real dance but more underground.
JO: What was different about traveling back then compared to now?
HF: Information back then was much slower so traveling was more essential to get information. You had to go deep into the scene to get what you wanted out of it, so I was really into going out and hanging out with everyone.
JO: Can you tell me what Tokyo was like in the 80's and 90's compared to places like London and NYC?
HF: I think in the 80's many people had already noticed Japan and that something was happening in Tokyo. Many DJ's from London were coming to Tokyo to play, and we were already DJing and playing records and they were asking about what we were playing, looking for the real break beats and and we were doing the same so we made friends with people like. I think both the London and Tokyo people were looking deep into the New York Hip-Hop scene. Then in New York, the Hip-Hop scene wasn't fashionable or trendy at all. There was some kind of gap between us, who thought there was a trend involved in Hip-Hop and real Hip-hop, which was more street.
JO: Can you tell me about Tinnie Punx?
HF: That started in the early 80's, maybe 1984. We made two records, but we and Kan were also editors of magazines under the same philosophy. Of course I still see him now, and we never really said Tinnie Punx was over, in fact we are both really into Hip-Hop but I began to get more into House music and maybe after Public Enemy broke onto the scene I thought this was really good and then I thought it was more of a African-American thing so I couldn't really go much further. Before Public Enemy it was more like a hey party but it was beginning to get more political so we became more House orientated. Kan was more into Hip-Hop and Dance, and I wasn't really into Dance at all.
JO: Now you are known for playing the guitar. How did you first get interested in the guitar and how would you explain your style?
HF: I have always played the guitar, since I was a teenager. Hiroki Nakamura from Visvim asked me to play at his store opening, I was often playing the guitar when I was travelling and going snowboarding with Hiroki so it was his suggestion for me to play live that started it all.
JO: A couple of younger Japanese musicians that come to mind are Ino Hidefumi and Naoki Ei from Audio Arts, what do you think about them?
HF: Ino is a great musician, I heard about him from Jean Touitou because Ino used to work for A.P.C. and it was then that he played the keyboard and got noticed. So through this connection we were able to get to know each other and work together. While Naoki used to work for Visvim, so that is how I knew him.
JO: You are often referred to as the godfather of Harajuku. In your own words how would you explain your involvement in culture over the years?
HF: If "godfather" means 'mastermind' then maybe I would agree. I was never really said I was a designer or anything like that. I would help stores like Nowhere open up and get exposure. All of my friends like Shin at Neighborhood or Jun at Undercover where focused on their own projects and I would help promote these brands and do something for these people. At the time I never did anything for myself, so maybe I was the man behind. Then I started the store called Ready Made, at the time I thought it was a good time to open a store.
JO: When was that?
HF: It was 1996. Where the Head Porter store in Harajuku is now. I think that was a crazy time, there was so much hype and the amount of people that came to the stores was quite amazing. It was really surprising, a good surprise, but people lining up, so it was a big success. But when I did Ready Made, there was already A Bathing Ape, Undercover, WTAPS and SOPH, so everyone was already successful so there was already a culture there which helped. It was kind of like Junya Watanabe or Comme des Garcons, everything they do is a collaboration. Everything I did was with someone else, so making tee's with NIGO or Undercover, so everything in the store was double branded.
JO: Why did you change the name from Electric Cottage to fragment design?
HF: I was kind of tired, so thought changing the name would make it fresh. Electric Cottage was actually named by Shawn Stussy, he came to my house and I had a lot of organic furniture, pieces made from bamboo, but also all the technology around and he said it was like an "Electric Cottage" and I really liked it so that's why I used it for the brand.
JO: How did the labels from overseas influence you?
HF: Stussy was the reason I started, everyone in the Harajuku scene. Stussy connected street culture to the fashion world.
JO: You must have seen a lot of change in the area over the years. What do you think of Harajuku at present?
HF: When the scene started in Harajuku it was obviously more quiet, I think it was because rent was really cheap. This was when the bubble finished so property was more accessible so it was easier to start something.
JO: What do you think when you see more commercial brands opening in Harajuku?
HF: I kind of like it actually, I think they should exist and they should be successful to make the more underground brands shine as well. If they are big and we are underground, this allows the smaller labels to be more creative. I like the idea of being underground and I like the mixture of high and low fashion anyway so having stores like Comme des Garcons and Loius Vuitton in the same neighborhood is good I think.
JO: What is impressing you at the moment?
HF: I still like what I see from my friends. Personally I don't really see what is happening from the younger generation but maybe Phenomenon and those kind of labels are standing out. I like the idea of Sasquatch Fabrix, when they first came out they made a big impression. I never wear loud clothing, but I really like to see other people wearing it so I think it is good that these labels are doing their own thing, people like Verbal is influential there.
JO: How has your personal taste grown over the years?
HF: I think it hasn't changed much, but maybe I am getting more simple. I'm still looking for something interesting to buy. I want to stay interesting, but more basic.
JO: Can you tell me a bit about the concept of fragment design?
HF: I think fragment design is "low risk, low return". I decided to never make my own company or label, I don't want to work with many people or take a risk to make a big label, I always wanted to stay more personal.
JO: How do you decide to work with the people you do?
HF: Usually I work with my friends but there are times when people ask me to do something and I may think the timing is not so good, not only for me but maybe for the other person involved. It always depends on the timing. Also, I like a balance so sometimes I work with bigger companies like Nike but also do things with smaller, independent companies that no one knows.
JO: You often move on from project to project. Whether it be fashion, music, whatever. When do you know when the time is right?
HF: I don't really know, its just a natural feeling. At the moment I feel like doing more with Nike. I haven't done so much recently but I have seen some good innovative ideas to come from Nike.
JO: Is there someone out there that you would really like to collaborate with?
HF: Maybe I would like to do something related to cars or even a hotel. I don't know what I could do but I think it could be interesting but something to do with lifestyle interests me.
JO: How does travel inspire you now compared to when you were younger?
HF: When I was younger, everything was new and it surprised me but even now I still find something new. I think no matter if you see something in a photo you should still go and see the real thing, because it is more inspiring.
JO: Where is the best place you have been?
HF: I have always liked Eastern Europe. I really like the darker feel it has. London was like that when I first went there, especially in the winter. Eastern Europe still has that feel and I think it is quite inspiring.
JO: Where is one place you would like to visit?
HF: I haven't been to South America, but maybe somewhere like Bosnia or Belarus could be interesting.
Photographer - Keita Suzuki