Teppei Fujita didn’t finish high school. He barely had time to go to university and he doesn’t know how to use a computer to do his job.
But, thanks to seven years of hard work under one of the world’s most respected master tailors, an obsession with scissors and fabric, and nerves of steel, Fujita’s company sulvam has become one of the most talked about Japanese labels on the international stage.
A very Japanese philosophy pervades both Fujita’s language and his clothing. While both are impossibly beautiful, the former is whimsical, introspective and wandering, while the latter is impeccably tailored, agonised over, and fiercely cut.
The avant-garde cutting part he learnt from one of history’s most famous tailors: Yohji Yamomoto. Fujita graduated from Bunka, a fashion school that boasts alumni like Junya Wantanabe (Comme Des Garcons) Kenzo Takada (Kenzo), and Tsumori Chisato, but thanks to his day job as a buyer in a local fashion store, Fujita wasn’t a typical student – instead he completed the course via night classes.
“The positive thing about Bunka is that there are many different age groups atthe night classes, so I made friends with a lot of older people with more life experience,” Fujita says.
Some would argue that Fujita’s rise to fame is all thanks to the position he landed after graduating. And, death knell to the dreams of budding designers around the world, he says it was pure luck that he scored a pattern-making gig with Yamomoto.
“I had no experience at all, but they liked me,” he says. “They gave me this wonderful opportunity even though… I started from nothing.”
While Fujita’s first project was to make toile based on a senior assistant’s pattern, eventually he became a full-fledged pattern maker working directly with Yamamoto and assisting him with bastings and fittings.
“He spent a lot of time with me checking my work: the design part, as well as the pattern making techniques, and also checking how I felt and my emotions in the pieces I made,” says Teppei. “He has a sharp sense of intuition and a lot of insight, but no compromise was accepted.”
“Not one word can express what I feel, but I respect Yamomoto enormously. Towards me he was very kind and strict at the same time, more so than anybody else.”
Yamomoto’s signature oversized silhouettes, drapery and genderless tailoring didn’t just inspire Fujita. These qualities have come to signify the modern Japanese fashion aesthetic, and a host of up-and-coming Japanese designers, either knowingly or not, call on this heritage when they produce their seasonal collections.
The difference with Fujita, according to the jury who selected him as winner of the Tokyo Fashion Award in 2014, is that Fujita’s clothing has the potential to grow into the international market.
“I want to craft clothes that wouldn’t be forced into a particular genre, like street or mode,” Fujita has said in the past. “But at the same time, I emphasize how to reinterpret tailoring because I think this serves as the basis of menswear.”
Sulvam launched in 2013, well before Fujita turned 30, because he wanted to ‘test his abilities.’
“Working for Mr. Yamamoto, who brought his brand to an international level all by himself, became a major inspiration for me.”
The fashion world waited with bated breath when Fujita launched sulvam’s premier collection in Paris in 2014. But as Vogue put it, his collection “justified the hype”, and Fujita has now made his Australian debut with sulvam at the Sorry Thanks I Love You stores.
‘sulvam’ loosely translates from Latin to mean improvisation, and this is exactly how Fujita goes about his design process.
“I don’t use computer software for designing and I don’t know how to,” Fujita says. “I learnt how to do things manually and I continue to do so.” Because his designs are ‘in his head’, he makes them directly into a pattern and applies a garment to the body, amending and changing as he goes.
Ultimately, this means every sulvam garment celebrates the pattern and the body as much as the finished piece. Jacquard down jackets balloon in semi-comic proportions and seersucker overcoats flow and sway like wizard capes thanks to Fujia’s ingenious design, but hems are left unfinished and frayed, silk lining is exposed, seams are visible, and cotton thread is untrimmed and billows around wrists and ankles. Such decisive sartorial treatment gives sulvam garments a new-age sophistication, but also invites us to change the way we think about getting dressed and what it means to look ‘dressed up.’
But underlying the entire sulvam range is a simplicity that the designer himself lives by.
“I wake up in the morning, go to my atelier by bike and I work until I feel I have accomplished something.”
Which, along with a bit of luck, is apparently all it takes.