Passion for fashion

Based in Roppongi, the office of Theatre Products is a multipurpose space–it is a showroom, meeting area, atelier and gallery all at the same time. The floor is unfinished wood, which in Tokyo gives it a distinct appeal. There is a white wooden country-inspired table and chair set to make up a small lounge. Racks and an antique country dresser display their samples for the next season. Everything from dresses to backpacks to socks are available for leasing.
This type of space, with an identity that is constantly changing and evolving, is precisely the message Theatre Products want to send out. Fashion does not exist in a vacuum. It is one aspect of the world. “Fashion as a living entity, being promoted, worn, advertised, displayed, talked and written about,” explains Kao Kanamori, one of the fashion brand’s co-founders and now producer.
The concept of Theatre Products is that no matter what the location and circumstances are, as long as fashion exists, it is theatrical. According to the brand’s founding manifesto: “Fashion depends on the delicate balance of material, form and color, when you take into consideration the time and space of which the person is wearing it, it becomes a theater performance.
A company that designs, produces and sells clothing is theatrical as well. Our purpose is to bring ‘expressions of the body as a type of media’ by cutting something out and putting it up for display on stage. This gives the audience time to reflect about the events of their own lives.”
In words, this concept is vague and esoteric. The actual exhibits of Theatre Products illustrate their point better. In their 2001 collaboration, the two designers, Tayuka Nakanishi and Akira Takeuchi, came up with a concept of getting people to literally “seize fashion into their own hands.” The audience was required to rip through paper covering to feel and touch the clothes beneath it. In a show that highlighted works of young artists across various genre, this installation received a great deal of attention. It also caught the eye of Kanamori, who was working for an art publishing company. “I was fascinated by their concept and felt there was more that could be done with Tayuka and Akira. So I approached them to see whether we could do a project together. The project grew and grew until we became a company,” she says.
Theatre Products’ belief of presenting fashion on a continuum of life is still intact. Their 18-day exhibition at the Parco Museum in 2007 is another case in point. For the entire duration of the exhibition, Theatre Products moved their office to the museum and between 10 am to 9 pm allowed audiences full access to view the behind-the-scene workings of the fashion industry.
From watching staff send out media releases by fax to observing how pattern makers do their work, to listening to phone conversations with various stylists, the everyday workings of Theatre Products was put on stage. One interactive workshop got people to design and hand-sew their own t-shirts. Everyday, a different limited edition t-shirt was designed and sold. Of course, the visuals of Theatre Products’ various shows were also on display. The highlights included “observing” the meetings with various collaborators. They included an interior designer to talk about the newest Theatre Products retail shop, a book editor to discuss the brand’s upcoming photo book, the curator of the Parco Museum to discuss how the exhibition is coming along and the musician who does the sound for their shows. The fashion business can be theatre. This exhibit was extremely well received, being featured in various daily newspapers. The range of audience was far wider than the usual young Shibuya artsy crowd.
The trio that makes up the Theatre Products team is surprisingly subdued and low-key. Tayuka Nakanishi is beautiful in a dainty, exquisite way. She wears her long jet black hair partly pinned up in a simple clip. Another clip decorates the hair that flows down almost to her waist. She wears a black turtleneck, short denim skirt, black tights and Felier-looking embroidered short boots. Takeuchi has long layered hair and handsome chiseled features. He wears heather grey tweed pants, a V-neck salmon pink ribbed cardigan and underneath it, a classic Theatre Products t-shirt. Kanamori has her hair in a braid on one side. She wears a multi-colored blouson, black knit leggings and navy blue gumboots. All three have completely different looks, all distinctively unique, yet none would be considered an outrageous fashionista.
Takeuchi and Nakanishi met while they were both attending EsMod Japon, a Tokyo branch of a French fashion design college. Takeuchi needed a model for his graduation show and a friend recommended Nakanishi. They met briefly and she agreed to do it. “It was a school project and people try to help eachBased in Roppongi, the office of Theatre Products is a multipurpose space–it is a showroom, meeting area, atelier and gallery all at the same time. The floor is unfinished wood, which in Tokyo gives it a distinct appeal. There is a white wooden country-inspired table and chair set to make up a small lounge. Racks and an antique country dresser display their samples for the next season. Everything from dresses to backpacks to socks are available for leasing.
This type of space, with an identity that is constantly changing and evolving, is precisely the message Theatre Products want to send out. Fashion does not exist in a vacuum. It is one aspect of the world. “Fashion as a living entity, being promoted, worn, advertised, displayed, talked and written about,” explains Kao Kanamori, one of the fashion brand’s co-founders and now producer.
The concept of Theatre Products is that no matter what the location and circumstances are, as long as fashion exists, it is theatrical. According to the brand’s founding manifesto: “Fashion depends on the delicate balance of material, form and color, when you take into consideration the time and space of which the person is wearing it, it becomes a theater performance.
A company that designs, produces and sells clothing is theatrical as well. Our purpose is to bring ‘expressions of the body as a type of media’ by cutting something out and putting it up for display on stage. This gives the audience time to reflect about the events of their own lives.”
In words, this concept is vague and esoteric. The actual exhibits of Theatre Products illustrate their point better. In their 2001 collaboration, the two designers, Tayuka Nakanishi and Akira Takeuchi, came up with a concept of getting people to literally “seize fashion into their own hands.” The audience was required to rip through paper covering to feel and touch the clothes beneath it. In a show that highlighted works of young artists across various genre, this installation received a great deal of attention. It also caught the eye of Kanamori, who was working for an art publishing company. “I was fascinated by their concept and felt there was more that could be done with Tayuka and Akira. So I approached them to see whether we could do a project together. The project grew and grew until we became a company,” she says.
Theatre Products’ belief of presenting fashion on a continuum of life is still intact. Their 18-day exhibition at the Parco Museum in 2007 is another case in point. For the entire duration of the exhibition, Theatre Products moved their office to the museum and between 10 am to 9 pm allowed audiences full access to view the behind-the-scene workings of the fashion industry.
From watching staff send out media releases by fax to observing how pattern makers do their work, to listening to phone conversations with various stylists, the everyday workings of Theatre Products was put on stage. One interactive workshop got people to design and hand-sew their own t-shirts. Everyday, a different limited edition t-shirt was designed and sold. Of course, the visuals of Theatre Products’ various shows were also on display. The highlights included “observing” the meetings with various collaborators. They included an interior designer to talk about the newest Theatre Products retail shop, a book editor to discuss the brand’s upcoming photo book, the curator of the Parco Museum to discuss how the exhibition is coming along and the musician who does the sound for their shows. The fashion business can be theatre. This exhibit was extremely well received, being featured in various daily newspapers. The range of audience was far wider than the usual young Shibuya artsy crowd.
The trio that makes up the Theatre Products team is surprisingly subdued and low-key. Tayuka Nakanishi is beautiful in a dainty, exquisite way. She wears her long jet black hair partly pinned up in a simple clip. Another clip decorates the hair that flows down almost to her waist. She wears a black turtleneck, short denim skirt, black tights and Felier-looking embroidered short boots. Takeuchi has long layered hair and handsome chiseled features. He wears heather grey tweed pants, a V-neck salmon pink ribbed cardigan and underneath it, a classic Theatre Products t-shirt. Kanamori has her hair in a braid on one side. She wears a multi-colored blouson, black knit leggings and navy blue gumboots. All three have completely different looks, all distinctively unique, yet none would be considered an outrageous fashionista.
Takeuchi and Nakanishi met while they were both attending EsMod Japon, a Tokyo branch of a French fashion design college. Takeuchi needed a model for his graduation show and a friend recommended Nakanishi. They met briefly and she agreed to do it. “It was a school project and people try to help eachdoing a musical type of a show,” explained Kanamori.
The show, with its flowing flower prints and down home look, evoked life in the simple south, Oklahoma more than Gone with the Wind. The music and the clothes obviously had a country theme. The look was soft but the fast-moving show had punch to it.
The show begins with the Japanese New Orleans style jazz group Black Bottom Brass Band playing while one actor dances wearing Theatre Product garments, revving up the crowd. The models then come out smiling, laughing and prancing about. The notion of the typical fashion show with expressionless models sashaying down a catwalk is thrown out the window.
The live performance by jazz singer Ego-Wrappin’ wearing Theatre Products clothing was a main feature. Her tremendous voice coming from such a tiny body swept up the audience. The models high-five her when she finishes singing. Their fun-loving mood was contagious as the audience smiled and applauded their approval. It was a live concert, a musical and a fashion show all for the price of one.
Kanamori explains that not all of Theatre Products shows will be held in this format. “We will be working on challenging various concepts of what theater is and how to express our company’s fashion in new ways. It’s great that people love our shows and exhibits, but we hope they love it enough to buy our clothes,” she says.
In mid-December, the designers began contemplating their next collection but they were still in the brainstorming, getting inspired stage. “The real designing and production of a show takes place about a month before,” explains Nakanishi. It seems like a surprisingly short time period in which to put together an entire collection. She elaborates, “We start thinking about the next collection about three months before. For example for Country, we had a vague idea what we wanted to do. Then we rented the musical Show Boat!, which really set the tone for us. Then we perused through many country inspired photo books to find various patterns and motifs we liked.”
When asked whether Nakanishi and Takeuchi find it difficult designing a collection as a team, they look at each other and start giggling. “Oh we clash all the time,” says Nakanishi. But it is of course not the dramatic “throw all the sketches into the air,” “screaming in loud voices” type of scenarios depicted in Hollywood dramas. “It’s more like ‘Oh really, is that your interpretation?’” she says with a smile. Takeuchi says they actually find it more helpful getting input from each other to refine designs. “I prefer designing as a team. I would find it too intimidating to do it on my own,” he admits. Neither have any ambition to do a solo show.
Theatre Products has its own shops in Shibuya and Harajuku, their basic line can be ordered through the Internet or at select shops around Japan. There are also buyers from Hong Kong and Taiwan who like their sensibility, though they have never done a show outside Japan. When asked whether they have global ambitions, Kanamori is pensive. “Of course, we would like to have more international exposure, though going global is not a main priority for us,” she says. “Europe is still the center of the fashion world and it would be nice to do something there,” she says.
For Theatre Products, with every innovative show and exhibit they put on, there is increased pressure to outdo the last show. At the moment, they are concentrating on making their next collection yet another grand event that will live on in the annals of Tokyo high fashion history.

Story by Carol Hui
From J SELECT Magazine, Feburary 2009

Expat EXPO 2022