Origami and deadly thorns

Unpicking the anarchic beauty of Noir Kei Ninomiya
By Naoki Kotaka | Fashion | 3 February 2020
Photography Thomas Cooksey
Fashion Steve Morriss.

Models at Noir Kei Ninomiya FW19 stepped onto the runway like royalty from a supernatural underworld. Their crowns crafted by Azuma Makoto using blood-red roses, their regalia a dramatic blend of romance and kink: tightly-coiled organza flowers alongside origami-craft; leather corsetry mixed with Victorian ruffle. Sculptural, honeycomb shapes thrust through abstraction via zips, spikes and deadly thorns.

Anarchic beauty: what may seem oxymoronic becomes reality by the unconventional hand of Ninomiya. Eschewing traditional forms of sewing, Ninomiya’s unique aesthetic takes root in his own unique way of creating form. Resembling knitted armour, he gathers textures like chiffon, faux leather, tulle and vinyl, cuts out polygons and builds a formation of modules that become pieces of clothing once connected via ring chains, studs, and eyelets. Operating under the Comme des Garçons umbrella and the mentorship of its legendary founder Rei Kawakubo, Ninomiya’s sliding-doors moment happened during his teens in his hometown of Oita, Japan, when he came across a Comme des Garçons piece that blew him away and set Ninomiya on his path.


Naoki Kotaka: Has your perspective of Comme des Garçons changed from being a consumer to becoming part of the team?
Kei Ninomiya: What most surprised me was the amount of trial and error that is repeated in order to deliver the highest quality clothes and explore the fine line between fashion and art at all times. By actually experiencing it myself, I was surprised how it was pursued to such a degree.

NK: Have you always wanted to launch your own brand within Comme des Garçons since you joined the company?
KN: I wasn’t thinking about it at all. My motive in joining the company was to engage in Rei Kawakubo’s creative activity and I was satisfied with my role at the time. Within that frame, I wanted to suggest ideas beyond her imagination and create new clothes. I was delighted to engage in the production together.

“Since I had deepened my understanding of Comme des Garçons style from working with Kawakubo, my instinct was to do something different with Noir Kei Ninomiya.”

NK: How would you explain the atmosphere inside the Comme des Garçons atelier?
KN: Our production team is made up of people from various backgrounds and everyone’s approach is different, even when using the same tool, like the sewing machine. Also there are no detailed directions from Kawakubo in the creation. Pursuing our own ‘newness’ is how we naturally inspire each other. In the atelier, the common language for design is completely sensuous, like the impression from a first glance, it is something each of us pick up as we continue to be involved in the work.

NK: Once the idea of launching Noir Kei Ninomiya was on the table, did you shift from pursuing a Comme des Garçons-style to a Kei Ninomiya-style?
KN: I wasn’t conscious of anything special at the time because, regardless of having my brand, each of us needed to have our own individual identity and personality to be involved in the production as a member of Comme des Garçons’ team. In order to produce something new, you need to turn against what you have been doing yourself. Since I had deepened my understanding of Comme des Garçons style from working with Kawakubo, my instinct was to do something different with Noir Kei Ninomiya.

NK: Is it true you couldn’t sew at the time you joined the company?
KN: Once you join, they teach you the basics from scratch so I can sew now [laughs]. Although, as I considered my approach for making clothes within the family tree of Comme des Garçons, it seemed the creativity of sewing had been exhausted, so I built Noir Kei Ninomiya on the decision to not actually use sewing. I started to tackle it from the second season of my own brand. Even though I said no sewing, I still started with a form of knitting, which evolved into the approach I use now, using fine metal parts for connecting fabrics. In terms of the formative design, I can always bring it into form – no matter how complicated – by using polygons as the fundamental shape. Another way would be intentionally leaving it odd-looking. What kind of module to use to fit it to a body, or whether to not make it fit – those are the things I’m constantly thinking about.

“In the atelier, the common language for design is completely sensuous, like the impression from a first glance, it is something each of us pick up as we continue to be involved in the work.”

NK: Since you started your brand, you’ve chosen to present your work as an exhibition, within a Paris showroom and as a show. Does this signify a stronger interest in the process of showing clothes beyond the process of creating them?
KN: I don’t consider it a big change as you say, but in terms of the show, I want the audience to feel the powerful energy you can only experience with the runway format. Like the collaboration with Mr Azuma [for the FW19 headpieces], I aim to give a more powerful impact, whether through casting or hair and make-up. Although, I’m not trying to overdo things and there’s no difference in the fact the clothes themselves hold the highest value and they are what’s needed to stand out the most in any form of presentation.

NK: The clothes ultimately hold the spotlight.
KN: Comme des Garçons is an organisation whose business is the production and sale of clothing. So even though shows and media are certainly important, its ultimate goal is the customers’ experience with our clothes. The show in Paris certainly is the highlight of the string of activities for a brand and yet the sales at the shopfront are just as important. Our job encompasses them all, from design to presenting to sales, and there are challenges and rewards as well as effort and joy in each of those activities. That is the nature of it, and that is the creative activity for me.

NK: You worked with Rei Kawakubo at Comme des Garçons, did you share a lot in common or find differences in each other’s work?
KN: What we had in common was that in Paris, we both presented our collections on the same day [laughs]. We never communicate in regards to our creativity so if there happens to be similar clothes in both of our shows, that’s a complete coincidence. Kawakubo doesn’t see my clothes until the rehearsal, an hour before the show, and I do not get to see her clothes until the show. Our production studios are in the same building so it is possible that her mood or aura could inspire me subliminally.

NK: Your designs are often spoken about in relation to punk culture, is that something that inspires you?
KN: I do have a longing for the punk era as I never experienced it in real-time. But my Mohawk doesn’t have much meaning – it’s not that I chose the hairstyle because I like punk or anything [laughs].

all clothing by NOIR KEI NINOMIYA FW19; shoes by GRENSON

Read Next