Interview by Jim Jurica
Hailing from Tokyo, Japanese shoe designer Noritaka Tatehana and his unique works seem to be one step ahead of popular trends, while keeping one foot firmly planted in past and tradition. He began designing dresses and shoes while in his early teens, later moving on to study Fine Arts, dyeing and weaving at Tokyo National University of the Arts. While still in college, Noritaka began promoting his new brand and heel-less, skyscraper shoes. The unique designs were quickly adopted by pop icon Lady GaGa and the rest is, as they say, history.
Noritaka’s works are hand-crafted by the master himself, with shoe heights ranging up to 18 inches and boasting equally tall prices averaging $2,500 to $4,000 (or more). His work has taken a turn in a very different direction with his latest line, Atom. We were fortunate to have a chance to interview this designer about the past, present and future of Noritaka Tatehana.
Tell us about your transition from more traditional Geta or Okobo Japanese styles to the elaborate designs we see today. Was this a gradual process, or a single spark of inspiration?
I’m trying to cover a loss of Japanese history and reinvent it back into modern life. Japan was holding up upon past glorious. Clinging on your past honor means you’re not evolving. When you resuscitate your culture and tradition, you will have to produce newer things and that creates chronicles of culture and tradition. I have studied Japanese traditional weaving and dyeing, much about Oiran to make kimonos and wooden clogs. My purpose is to resuscitate traditional into the right-on-time modern age we live in, so simply collaborating past and future. It’s like an inspiration, but it’s very logical at the same time. I have chosen my way to transmit those kinds of brilliance.
How are balance and comfort factored into your taller designs?
It is important to make shoes you desperately want to walk in. I don’t do math or figures to make it walkable, but I do design to balance them without heels. I like to send positiveness for someone who wants to have more confidence and individuality, and for someone who wants to stand out.
Your website currently states a wait time of up to five months for delivery. How long on average does it take to create a single pair of Noritaka Tatehana originals?
First of all we, have to discuss the details. The delivery date depends on customers’ preferences. Earliest delivery would be in 2 months, or much longer for some. But I guarantee that you will have what you really wanted.
We’ve seen stingray leather used – what other exotic materials have been incorporated into your shoes?
I think stingray is the only exotic material from my original line so far. That was my graduation project. I will have them searched and found if my customer requests rare or exotic materials. I’ll be delighted to fill the request.
Will we ever see a budget-priced line of shoes in the future, with the Noritaka Tatehana name on them?
Hopefully in the near future you will see this. I’ve been learning with trial and error. If it is desirably requested, I’ll be glad to realize it.
Much has been said and written of your contributions to the fashion icon that is Lady GaGa. How closely has her team worked with you to develop her items, or are you completely in control of the creative process?
As for the process of creating: I’m in charge of every detail. They let me handle everything except for small points they request, per theme. She and her team check my drawing designs and that’s where it starts. You’ll need to have a lot of nerve to be in this part of it, because I’m responsible for all this!
Your newest line, Atom, takes a very different approach from the crystal-encrusted designs of the Nightmaker or Okobo style Raven. Tell us a little about the philosophy and inspiration behind the design of Atom.
The biggest difference was that I reduced many parts of overflowing elements, and came up with a conclusive figure. You’ll be surprised when you find you were in too much abundance. It’s easier to settle with plus activities, but not elaborating with minus activities. It’s harder.
I reviewed my lifestyle after our Great East Japan Earthquake. For me, I could find so much wastefulness in my daily life. Since the disaster hit, runways especially were amid calls for brownout or closing of businesses to save electricity, which I thought wouldn’t be better than a placebo. Of course it saves some energy to pause the show. It is now very normal to turn down electricity in Japan, but not so many calls as before.
‘ATOM’ contains the meaning of indivisible, the smallest unit. My latest collection contains the same aesthetic and my designs are to access basic human beings.
I see things much clearer after one year has passed. I got over myself. I now can extract my time for creations after a year of having to struggle doing it. I’m here to share more mind and expression in depth as a Japanese creator. I thought about the same thing for my creation and found out what is needed, what is strong and essential. The answer that was left inside me was basic human beauty and strength. As a result, I had converted entirely back to the basics.
Success can come with a certain price. Has playing the roles of entrepreneur and fashion celebrity influenced or affected your role as designer and creator?
Maybe, I could say. Almost every minute my head is forced to think about business. I work in a fashion industry, meet tons of people everyday, exchanging business cards with smiles on your faces… this may look distant or lack creativity. When I think back to my student days, I used to worry about this, and for my creations. But now I’ve actually started enjoying it. I decided to run my own brand and drive for it. There are no investors. I guess I got to know how to balance myself as being an entrepreneur and a designer at the same time. Now I feel a lot of ambition and most creative about setting up business strategies. Those kinds of moments keep outputting a whole new product.