With 20 years in fashion, Naoto has made a name for himself in Japan and abroad in the punk, gothic, visual-kei, and lolita scene. His clothing has been featured in magazines, music videos, and fashion shows around the world. He’s attended several anime conventions and has quite a few anime collaborations under his belt. We asked Naoto about future anime endeavors, his thoughts on fashion, and where he gets his inspiration.
Interview with Hirooka Naoto
There’s a common sentiment that alternative fashions like the ones you create are more meant for young people as older people shouldn’t attempt to wear these styles. What are your personal thoughts on that?
Well, it seems like once you’re married, you kinda have to graduate from alternative styles. It seems unavoidable. You have kids and now you need to dress like a parent. It’s nice to be young when you don’t have such expectations. It’s harder to try being fashionable as an older person. I want to challenge this. It’s been that way for a while but I think I can change this thinking. I think it’s at least easier in America because in Japan, older people don’t even tend to dress up for Halloween. I think by using technology and reaching new people I can change this. I’m gonna work hard on it.
Aside from Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, you’ve been using Youtube a lot lately, even calling yourself a Youtube fashion designer. Why the emphasis on Youtube?
Youtube is a great way to reach people who aren’t already invested or knowledgeable about the content of the video. People don’t tend to use Twitter for things like fashion advice or looking up brands but they’ll use Youtube. It has a greater ability to reach people outside your immediate audience. I also find I have better engagement there than on my posts on other sites.
You’ve recently opened up and put big emphasis on custom sizing for your clothing. Has this changed your clientele at all?
In North and South America, not only do the people tend to be bigger than normal Japanese sizes, but there are a lot of different body types. We have bigger customers in Japan too but they tend to be about the same shape. Custom sizing allows for customers with various body types to find clothes that won’t just fit but will be flattering on them. It’s a bit harder to pattern than what I’m used to though.
You’re holding an event with the Dominator from Psycho-Pass at your Shibuya store location, what kind of event is this exactly?
The Dominator is a type of gun from the anime Psycho-Pass, and we have a replica of it here at the shop. Customers can come in and purchase my clothes and then take pictures and video of them with the Dominator dressed in something cool. For anime fans, they want to really experience something. It’s not enough to just buy clothes anymore, you want to feel something special. My clothing becomes part of an experience to bring people the feeling of Psycho-Pass. I guess it’s sort of like cosplay. I want to sell not just things, but the experience.
Speaking of anime, you’ve done several collaborations in the past like D. Gray Man, One Piece, and Shinya! Tensai Bakobon. Do you have any such collaborations coming up?
Nope. My future plans are more like cosplay than collaborations, like I did with Ciel from Kuroshitsuji. It’s not hard to collaborate with someone, you just pay a tax. Like with Psycho-Pass, all the staff checks over every little thing. I don’t have the freedom to really imagine or create, so I don’t find it interesting. There are a lot of anime I want to take inspiration from though. Like Ge Ge Ge no Kitarou or maybe Doraemon. I’ll design something like Nobita’s glasses or a Doraemon parka. It would be difficult… I want to see what I could come up with. Do Americans like ninjas? I’ll try being a ninja fashion designer.
Aside from anime, what inspires your recent clothing?
Nothing. (laughs) For me, it’s more like once I have a deadline, it’s work time. It’s not really about inspiration. I just get an idea and I do it. It just happens suddenly, so I don’t worry about it. Well, I don’t know if it’s good. It’s just an idea and I do it. I don’t really know till the end if it’s good or bad. I guess I like to watch a bunch of youtube videos that aren’t even about fashion and I’ll get an idea that I want to try.
Considering you’ve done anime convention fashion shows in many parts of the world, what would you say is the difference between that and regular fashion shows here in Japan?
I don’t think normal fashion shows are that interesting. It’s the same models, the same stage, same lighting, just a mix of different brands being paraded. Anime conventions feel more like a fashion party. Everyone’s so excited. Then again, h.NAOTO is a darker brand. I want people to shiver at my clothes and appearance, not yelling ‘yaaaaay!’. Gothic image is so different from super excited and happy. It’s a little weird for me.
You’ve worked with some really cool musicans in the past like GACKT, Hyde, Shinya of Dir en Grey, and lead singer Amy of Evanescence. Is there anyone you’d like to work with in the future?
Yeah, the Emperor. I’ve only seen him on TV. I wonder what it would be like to talk to him or see his face when he’s talking normally. What kind of style could I get away with? I want to try something casual, maybe damaged clothes… It would have to be something completely different. I just want to see the Emperor in something other than suits and see what I would come up with. Gotta aim for the top.
The 2020 Tokyo Olympics are coming up! What are your thoughts leading up to this huge event?
Well, I’m a little worried because of the Corona Virus. But I have shops in Kyoto and Osaka too and the Olympics will bring more tourists to those areas, so that’s good. Osaka’s actually known for being the most livable place in Japan right now even more than Tokyo.
To be honest, more than the Olympics, I’m thinking about Osaka Banpaku 2025. It’s a world expo. My home is in Osaka so to me that’s more relevant. I want to create an ‘h.NAOTO village’ for the festival. Like a ghost town, with old witches!
What message do you want to deliver to the world with your brand?
Well… I want to be known as a scarier brand. I think there’s a gap between me and my brand. When people meet me, they don’t expect this. They think it should be a scary person but it’s just me. I want people to be scared to come into my store. I want there to be no map. You have to know the keyword to find it. You look online, try to find, and then you are too afraid to come in. But such an experience would definitely make people interested. Again, I want to give people an experience, not just clothing.