Natural Course: Daisuke Hamada of Niuhans
Niuhans is a concept brand. It proposes an idea of simplicity, not in the sense of brevity or lack of sophistication, but rather its mastery of basic shapes and minutiae in garment design. Niuhans or nuance (Aha!) is what independent designer, Daisuke Hamada, concerns himself with most as a clothesmaker. Seasons change, silhouettes remain but Hamada will dial in on things such as precise fabric pigments, measured shirt pleating or the subtleties of pocket stitchwork. There is an exceptional consideration of depth in his garments (the fine crispness of a cotton-wool buttondown or full volumed weight of a tailored blazer) that is seldom justified by words or product description. Daisuke himself is as understated and modest as the brand he's created, though a world-experienced designer who has had tenures at contemporary French label, Maison Kitsune, and the atelier of Ann-Sofie Back. He is also an active, self-studied photographer whose work has graced a number of print publications, gallery exhibitions and even global brand campaigns.
One afternoon in New York City; amidst sales meetings to show his new collection to North American retailers and those visiting from abroad, we corralled Daisuke briefly for a conversation about his Tokyo-born label. With the well-established footing he's created in the Japanese retail-scape, slowly but surely, he hopes the brand's reach can become prevalent for the select stores overseas who understand his vision and appreciate the collection offering. We took some time between appointments to sit and discuss this further, the story of his brainchild, Niuhans.
Why do you choose to design only with natural materials – is this a design restraint you like to have governing the collection?
I think it is simply my concept specific to Niuhans. I like natural materials and I also like natural processing. I use cotton, wool and cashmere; sometimes organic cottons and wools with botanical dyeing methods. At organic farms, everything is organic, no chemicals. This is also an important concept to uphold for the brand.
Is it a conscious decision then to stay away from nylons or technical fabrics?
It really is just my concept for Niuhans.
Do you see there being a start and end to your collection or is it more about an idea of seasonlessness and perennial clothing items? It doesn’t seem that you look to veer to far from classic shapes.
The shapes depend on fabric. For Niuhans, I do like to play with a basic silhouette or style.
What are your favourite fabrics to use and interpret each season?
Organic cottons and wool. Sometimes I use luxury materials such as silk and cashmere.
I know at least on the manufacturing side, Niuhans utilizes some of the most unique construction methods, ie. the Whole Garment machine. Can you tell us more about some of your manufacturing techniques? How did you discover the method of botanical dyeing for clothing? Please take us a bit through what the process is like.
I usually find new techniques and methods of dyeing by simply communicating with people. I work with people who will always give me ideas for new way of producing clothes.
And when I hear about new things, maybe not necessarily "new" but things I have never heard of, I am more the type to take the leap and try it. As a process, "botanical dye" has been one of our signature ways of making clothes. Botanical dye has so many methods, so I experiment in many ways. I have tried garment dye, yarn dye or a multitude of other ways that add a new feeling to the dye. However, since it gets a little expensive than other typical dyes, it always has to make sense with our product price range, which I believe is part of design also.
In using only natural textiles, is it correct to assume that you have a fascination in the aging of garments or the natural disintegration of its life, which may perhaps stem from a fascination with vintage clothing?
I have a very small interest in vintage clothing actually, meaning I like some items but I'm not a vintage freak or a detail doctor at all, a trait that many fashion-centric Japanese people are known for. In fact, I enjoy contemporary things more than vintage items I think. This goes for films, photography; I often choose something new if I do.
For example, naturally dyeing fabric is an old (vintage) method, however the part that fascinates me is how this technology had so many issue back in the day - dyes come off easily or uniformity is lost but now it can be produced perfectly fine as chemical dye, so it is a new technology again. That is also a reason that I like natural dye too, I think.
With the whole garment machine, this is also a new-old technology, I like something new and old that is well blended. Same goes for Niuhans items, I like to make a nice, dressy feeling sweatshirt, more than one meant only as casual wear. On another note, the reason why Niuhans makes archetypal clothing like the sweatshirt, buttondown shirt and denim jeans are not really because I have a deep fascination for those items but because they are people's favourite things. Niuhans is a concept, I usually don't try to make something I am obsessed with, I like to always make what users are into.
However, after mentioning all of this, I’d say that I of course like both old things and new things.
Do you think there is a ceiling to technological advances in natural textiles?
I personally like natural textile a lot, but as a brand Niuhans I'm not purely obsessed with being natural, though that is mainly what we are using at this time. Since many customers may just want something nice and affordable, I would like to produce something they would like, more than just satisfying my ego to try producing only with natural things.
In terms of limitation, yes there are limits, especially in producing some colours that are difficult to achieve from natural dye. Controlling darkness of the dye is tough as well, dark colors are hard to get correct. Therefore, I more like using natural dye on Spring-Summer collections to create nice light colors.
Why do you choose to manufacture solely in Japan?
Because it’s easier to make good product in Japan and I can be involved. Some of my reason is that there is some pride making in Japan, and it is also respected. But more importantly, I can go around Japan to see the factories and to research manufacturing.
Brian Kanagaki for Niuhans, 2015
Colour, more specifically pigment – can you tell us about choosing your palettes for each collection and reason for choosing these distinct pigments?
Colour is one of the more important details of course, because it is the first thing that attracts you. Next is the design details or construction.
I choose the colour palette first and then I think of what I could make, be it jacket, tee, etc. I always choose the colour first. The balance of colour is always on my mind, I don’t want anything to stand out too much from another item. I like to show all items on the same level of appearance for people to choose and I like to see how the whole collection looks as one before the individual piece. Of course after all, once I start to produce, each individual item has to be produced with care but I like to see a colour story that works together.
I've noticed that you rarely use the colour black?
(Laughs) Everyone uses black so that’s why I usually stay away. Sometimes I do for more exclusive collaborations for C'H'C'M', Rectohall or Neighbour. Everyone uses the colour in their wardrobe, and actually it’s necessary for me personally too (pointing to his black puffy nylon jacket).
What were the greatest takeaways from your experience working as an assistant designer at Maison Kitsune and Ann-Sofie Back?
I studied a lot of the business side because it was still a small business at Kitsune when I was there. I also learned how to sell the clothes and process them. At Sofie Ann Back she was more of a creative designer. She had a fashion show at London Fashion Week, so I studied more personal, creative work there.
I was assistant designer at both, but I would do almost everything. Delivery, researching, going to factories, trade shows.
What were you wearing as a teen...what brands?
Raf Simons, Martin Margiela, Cosmic Wonder, Helmut Lang. I liked Muji for basicwear clothing.
Ola Rindal for Niuhans, 2014
Your return to Japan must have given you a newfound perspective on design after being quite removed from it for 4 years.
Actually I had to research the fabric factories in Japan when I started Niuhans. It was more than one year to do that and start to make products, but I had the idea prior to coming back when I was in London. It was just about gathering factories and materials.
Can you talk about your studies in architecture and fashion design in Japan?
I studied architecture for four years. In university I changed my mind to the fashion industry. It was easier for me to make something by myself and it was faster to see the product come to life.
Photography is another facet of Niuhans. You are a photographer yourself and often seek out North American photographers to collaborate with. Why is this important to the brand each season and what is it about photographers overseas that you're drawn to?
I always try to make the best clothes I can make. I like for other photographers to interpret my clothes in their own different way in the best way they can shoot it.
Photography for me was self-taught, self-studied. I have personal work and have done some fashion campaigns for other brands as well.
Can you mention some of the campaigns you have been involved in and how that came about – shooting for magazines and other brands? Stella McCartney was one you mentioned more recently.
I learned about photos while I was learning about fashion at school, the more I see some collections, I realised not only making clothes but also making visuals are part of the work of what designers do. For me, taking photos are more life-work hobby, just when I go on a trip I would take a photo of the landscape or take a portrait of someone. However, I always think as something I could show to someone, rather than as just a memory snap shot. So I usually add bit by bit on my own website and sometimes kindly people ask me to shoot for some projects.
Ada Hamza for Niuhans, 2015
Who's work are you following more recently?
Ada Hamza, I just sent some garment samples for Fall and Winter to photograph in Slovenia.
On one hand, Niuhans is this emerging brand, a smaller team operation that is just beginning to establish its presence in the global market. On the other hand, there is this very focused approach and feels as though the brand is operating at such a high level with the most skilled hands in production.
Right now Niuhans only counts 5 years of existence, and I want to make a very basic strength for the items. Meaning I would rather experiment with basic clothes and see how it would look. I'm now learning how to make something simple and classic so I think it's right for Niuhans to keep on changing slightly and brush up the quality of the items.
Maybe in 10 years I might do something new if I like to do something edgy for example, but this will be based on what I’ve experimented with and learned from making Niuhans now.
More at www.niuhans.com
Personal at www.daisukehamada.com