Exclusive: Japanese Designer Tae Ashida on Tokyo Fashion Week and Carrying On a Legacy
Carrying the name Ashida is not easy but Japanese fashion designer, Tae Ashida is forging a name for herself. Her father, Jun Ashida was one of the most respectable fashion designers in Japan. He served as a personal designer for Empress Michiko, designed for royalty, sports teams and notable companies. After his death, Tae took on the reins of his eponymous brand as creative director while helming her own Tae Ashida line.
While continuing her father’s legacy, Tae also reinterpreted the fashion brand in her own image. She continues to find her own path as she celebrates her 30th anniversary as a designer this year. For Tokyo Fashion Week 2021, she presented her 2022 Spring Summer collection in an unprecedented way—combining state-of-the-art technology through volumetric video technology while showcasing the brand’s traditional roots of elegance and practicality.
In this exclusive interview, Tae Ashida chats with Tatler Hong Kong about paying homage to her father’s legacy, creating her own unique style and her new innovative collection from Tokyo Fashion Week that combines modernity and tradition.
You helm both your father’s eponymous brand, Jun Ashida and your brand of the same name, how do you separate the two?
When I create [designs for] my father’s brand, Jun Ashida, I’m the creative director so I'm more objective. When I create [for Jun Ashida], the most important point is passing [tradition] down the line, what to preserve or what to renew. It’s like a balance between tradition and innovation and I’m always concentrated on those issues.
Talking about your father, who was a notable fashion designer, what were some of the things you learned from him? Did he give you any advice?
I’ve learned everything from him, of course, but I kind of refused to take his advice when I create. Design is personal and at the same time, you don’t know exactly where you want to land, in a way, so I was trying to find my way of creation. When I refused his advice, he always complained, “why you don't listen to me,” that kind of thing. But he always offered me advice especially after seeing my fashion shows.
Coming from a family who worked in the fashion industry, did you know that you would eventually work in fashion too?
Actually, I always knew but I don’t remember when I decided on becoming a fashion designer. I was so small but this situation [of having family members working in the fashion industry] eventually made me become a fashion designer. It’s kind of strange that everybody thought that I’ll be a fashion designer in the future—everyone around me, like my friends and teachers, and, of course, my parents including me, knew. I always like creating and drawing pictures, and I liked fashion and everything about it so that’s what brought me into this world.
Your father designed for royalty (even serving as the personal designer for Empress Michiko) sports teams, and companies. How do you differentiate your own style from his?
I get this question quite often, but we’re really very different. I didn’t really think that I needed to be like my father since I’m quite different. We have different philosophies in life and different personalities. And what I do, it’s something I can’t really control in a certain direction so I have to live naturally.
Was there pressure when you took over Jun Ashida? How did you incorporate your own design while still paying homage to the brand your father created?
It was big pressure on me when I debuted for Jun Ashida, the brand my father created. In the beginning, I thought that I should really go his way because there are many fans of the brand and they really expected me to expand the style that was already out there. So I thought that I have to really incorporate my own style in the existing designs that are already elegant and very cute.
But so after a few years, I kind of forgot about it and just I did whatever I believed in so I really changed the style from there. That’s how it led to the Tae Ashida line.
Tell us more about the theme for Jun Ashida’s 2022 SS collection for Tokyo Fashion Week 2021?
We had a chance to collaborate with Canon and IBM so we filmed our collection using this advanced video technology. We are the first ones to use this system in our fashion presentation. Jun Ashida is an idealistic brand, so we wanted to show what we can do with this kind of technology since we have the longest history as a fashion brand in Japan.
We have a long tradition, but at the same time we can mix this innovative technology and tradition into the film, which is a big challenge, but I think it really brings a new style into the collection.
And for the Jun Ashida Spring Summer 2022 Collection, I took inspiration from my father’s archive designs to put into the collection. This is to prove that our traditional values are still important even if there’s a new and innovative technology that takes over. We wanted to show that the quality of our creations still exists in this very high tech world.
What are some of the highlight pieces of the collection?
We quite a lot of parallel jackets but in a casual way, not those that are very strict and tight. Our model is wearing the designs in a very free way by just putting it over the shoulders or over a silk jersey dress or over a simple blouse in a very relaxed way. That’s the icon of the whole collection.
The tailored jacket may be a little niche but at the same time, it’s a kind of a symbol of being in this Covid-19 era where we don't much freedom to relax. But I’m hoping that maybe next summer, we have more freedom. In a way, it’s kind of a symbol that I’m hopeful for what’s to come.
This new collection reflects modern up-to-date pieces while maintaining the legacy of the brand. How do you strike a balance?
Our fashion line has always had this theme of elegance and practicality. And that was the lifetime mission of my father’s creation—and we have to keep that. I think under that kind of mission, we can keep our style but at the same time, things change according to what situation and time we’re all in. But even if the style changes, we always keep that mission.
Besides, our creation has always remained of high quality, very elegant and wearable so our theme has always stayed constant.
In 2019, you finally debuted a menswear collection. Why did you decide to do so?
I have many reasons. First of all, I always invite many people to my shows before Covid-19 and there are many men who come and say, “Why don’t you do menswear? There are many pieces that I could have worn if there are bigger sizes” and things like that. Back then, I thought, I’m always involved in ladieswear and I wasn’t very into making a menswear collection.
But one day, I realised that why don’t I try since nowadays men wear anything, it’s very genderless which is a newly emerging theme in fashion. I realised that I don’t have to make very strict business suits but I can be very carefree when creating a menswear collection, so I eventually said why not.
The second reason is that I wanted to try something that we have never done before. In 2019, it was the 55th year since our company was established. For womenswear, we could do anything we wanted and create anything. My team is confident in their creation and they know all the techniques. But when I said, “let’s learn something new,” all my staff were like, “Oh my god, what to do, how to make, how to make them.”
But I thought that it was something that we needed—learning and breaking our tradition a little bit. It was a big surprise for all my staff when I decided on a menswear collection suddenly. But soon after that, people start enjoying, learning, and encountering a new way to create.
It’s also the 30th anniversary of your debut as a designer this year. Looking back, how much do you think you’ve changed as a designer? In what ways have you changed?
I don’t know exactly how I changed since it’s difficult to tell myself. But I think that I’m more of a challenger now compared to when I debuted. It’s kind of funny because when you’re young, you’re likely to be more daring and up for a challenge because you don’t know exactly what you want.
In terms of my designs, they change as the world changes. I think that’s what most fashion designers are like—changing all the time. Some people say that the Jun Ashida line is not the Jun Ashida they know but I always tell them that my father was very innovative during his time. If he was still alive and designing, he would have changed his style too since he was more innovative. So I change my style according to what’s in the air and I think that’s very important for how fashion designers should be.
Your father left quite a legacy in fashion and for the brand he established, it seems you want to keep the legacy going. But what legacy does Tae Ashida want to forge for herself?
That’s very difficult [to answer]. And I don’t think that’s something that I can decide on. There are still things I need to learn so I don’t know right now. Maybe we’ll see in the next few years.
Compared to fashion week in Europe and the US, Tokyo Fashion Week is relatively still very small. Do you think this will change soon?
I hope so. But I’m not very sure about it. Nowadays, because of the internet, you don’t have to be there to present your show especially after this Covid-19 situation, many designers decide to present their collection at any time, it doesn’t have to be during fashion week only.
Surely before it wasn’t like that because you have to be there otherwise, people won’t exactly know about your collection but nowadays, it’s so different.
Usually, when one thinks of fashion in Japan, images of skater brands and streetwear always pop up. What's your take on that?
You know, I always wonder about that. Of course, Japanese streetwear fashion is very popular all over the world and that’s really nice. But at the same time, I think Japanese people still do like proper dressing, even young people so, I hope the world will catch up with that idea as well.
How do you think Jun Ashida and Tae Ashida will evolve in the coming years?
I don’t know how exactly but it will evolve for sure. Every season I come up with a new way of showing and presenting our collection. It really depends on what’s happening. Regardless of how we evolve, we still keep the signature of our creations which is high quality, great technique and also wearable at the same time.
What can we look forward to from you?
This is the beginning of my 30th anniversary as an independent designer and I am planning something really special. Please look forward to it.