The fashion label ANREALAGE is the talk of the town, offering technology-enhanced shows for each new collection. The brand was started by designer Kunihiko Morinaga in 2003 and combines the terms “A REAL,” “UNREAL,” and “AGE” . Since its inception, the brand has gained recognition around the world as a cutting-edge fashion-tech brand.
At the launch of its 2022 Spring / Summer Collection, which was held in October last year, the brand collaborated with the movie “BELLE“, directed by Mamoru Hosoda to give viewers the fun experience that only a digital show can provide. As the metaverse has recently become the next big thing in the tech world, designers and consumers are wondering how fashion will exist in the virtual world and how the industry will be shaped by technology. Furthermore, could designers release fashion NFTs in the future? We spoke with the innovator Morinaga about his vision of the future of fashion.
——When did you decide to participate digitally in the 2022 Spring / Summer Paris Fashion Week, which was held in October this year?
Kunihiko Morinaga (Morinaga): Up until about half a year ago, I thought that I might be able to do a physical show. However, after Japan declared a state of emergency in June due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I thought that it would be difficult to attend physically and decided to put on a completely digital show.
——Due to this prolonged pandemic, you have presented three collections since Spring / Summer 2021 digitally. How do you feel?
Morinaga: With in-person fashion shows, I can immediately take the temperature of the audience, so I can immediately tell if it is a good show or not. But with digital shows, you don’t get that feeling, and in that sense, I feel a little sad.
On the other hand, anyone can see a digital show, even people who are not usually interested in fashion, whereas, with physical shows, the audience is limited to a small number of people. And I can feel another form of enthusiastic atmosphere from SNS and comments by the viewers. For the 2022 Spring / Summer Collection, the main show and backstage footage got about one million views. I don’t think we would have been able to reach that level with a regular physical show.
——As you said, your collaboration with “BELLE” has attracted a wide range of people from outside the fashion industry, including anime and art lovers.
Morinaga: Thankfully, we received many positive responses from within not only the fashion industry but also the art industry. We even received an inquiry from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
——While some brands just show runway images at their digital shows, this collaboration with “BELLE” was a truly unique way to digitally present a collection. When did you start planning this collaboration?
Morinaga: I originally got involved in the production of “BELLE” in March 2020, when I designed a dress for the main character, Belle. Then, after Paris Fashion Week went digital due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I thought it would be great to do something with animation. The release of the film was also postponed by the virus. It was scheduled to be released in July last year, so we talked about doing something together at that time.
——Was director Hosoda also happy to collaborate?
Morinaga: That’s right. In “BELLE“, we made good use of ANREALAGE, so Hosoda asked us to make full use of the film in the world of ANREALAGE. It was the right time for his film to be released overseas, so we were able to collaborate.
——There may be some restrictions when you collaborate with such a major piece of content. How was the experience for you?
Morinaga: We had a limited production period and budget constraints. Making 10 minutes of animated content takes a lot of people, so the time and budget required were higher than I expected. It was my first attempt, so I had a lot to learn.
——By the way, did you specify the texture of the clothes in the film?
Morinaga: I had a lot of opinions on how to express the texture and weight of the fabric since there is no gravity in the digital world, but I made almost no changes to the finished product. I thought that was very impressive.
Technology allows for more freedom in making clothes.
——The sale of NFTs of the digital looks that you presented was also fascinating. I couldn’t imagine how much they would fetch, but a total of 11 pieces were purchased by the NFT Naruto Museum for 50 million yen. When did you start thinking about selling the pieces as NFTs?
Morinaga: Right from the start of this collection. I realized that the original digital looks of the animation, which were created through this collaboration, would have global value, so I thought of making them into NFTs if I could. I thought they would be worth a certain amount of money, but, to be honest, they turned out to be worth more than I had imagined.
——Recently, NFTs have started to gain momentum in the fashion industry. Do you see the potential of these types of products?
Morinaga: I have just started creating NFTs, but I feel that they have a lot of potential. That applies not only to NFTs but also to digital technology in general. Naturally, physical clothes will remain, but I think the key to business will be digital technology. To put it bluntly, in the fashion business, as the value of a brand increases, the price often exceeds the value of the thing, particularly in the case of long-established brands. For example, I think that was the case with the perfume business. I feel that this approach to fashion can be very effective, and I think that the focus of the fashion industry will shift to NFTs and digital works in the future.
——When Animal Crossing: New Horizons became popular during the COVID19 pandemic, the fashion in the game became a hot topic. Recently, Facebook announced that it will focus on the metaverse (i.e., a virtual space) and people have begun to talk more about fashion in the virtual world. Do you see further potential in this area?
Morinaga: The virtual world will continue to expand, and I believe that people will become more conscious of how they dress and present themselves virtually. There are still many things that fashion brands can do in response to this. That’s why I intend to actively take on this challenge at ANREALAGE as well.
——Do you play video games such as Animal Crossing?
Morinaga: I don’t play them at all. <laughs> I don’t even have a personal social media account. I think there are two extremes to my personality: the analog side and the digital side. My fashion expression is digital, but, perhaps as a reaction to that, my private life is very analog, and I like physical communication. I often write letters to people.
—— I heard that you were originally influenced by Keisuke Kanda before you started your fashion career and that you liked the rock band Ging Nang Boyz. Both place a strong emphasis on physicality, which made me wonder about your transition from analog to digital.
Morinaga: Looking back now, I pushed myself to go digital. I entered the world of fashion because I admired Mr. Kanda and was guided by him, so I have always been aware of his existence. I think that our relationship is like the two sides of a coin. Mr. Kanda sewed his work by hand, and I thought it would not be interesting or meaningful for me to go the same way as him. So, I decided to go the other way and started to consciously use digital technology. We both have our own ways of doing things, but since we started making clothes, we have always been conscious of being friends fighting together.
——At ANREALAGE, you have made a big splash with your use of technology, such as glowing clothes and clothes that change color depending on the wearer’s body temperature. How do you think technology will impact the evolution of fashion?
Morinaga: Of course, there is the evolution of materials, but now technology is also impacting the way clothes are made. Instead of the conventional physical way of making clothes, we first design them using 3D imaging software, then send that image to the factory to have the actual clothes made. Thanks to this method of production, the data exchange with Studio Chizu for this collaboration with “The Dragon and the Freckled Princess” went smoothly. I feel that by going digital, we can reduce the waste of materials.
The evolution of technology has also expanded the range of fashion that I can express. Brands are not generally valued for their great technology, but since we are working on the theme of “unreal = extraordinary,” technology is a good match for us. I feel that the freedom of making clothes digitally has expanded the range of expression more than ever before.
Various connections make ANREALAGE more attractive.
——Beyond your collaboration with Hosoda, ANREALAGE has produced several fascinating collaborations with cutting-edge creators. You’ve been working with filmmaker/photographer Yoshiyuki Okuyama for a long time, haven’t you?
Morinaga: I think I first met Okuyama in around 2010. He was 19 years old at the time, and he came to my studio unexpectedly, without an appointment. But at that time, I refused all unannounced visitors, so I asked him to leave. Later, I received a very enthusiastic e-mail telling me why I should work with him to take pictures for ANREALAGE. So, I asked him to come and show me his work one more time. That’s when I started having him take photos of my collections and shows.
——Many of those photos were used in the book ANREALAGE: A&Z. When you first met Okuyama, did you imagine that he would achieve such high recognition?
Morinaga: When I was first shown Okuyama’s photos, they were so good that I couldn’t believe they were taken by a 19-year-old photographer. I remember it was really shocking.
——When did you first meet Ichiro Yamaguchi from Sakanaction, who is in charge of the music for the show?
Morinaga: The first time we worked together was in 2013. We created glow-in-the-dark costumes for Sakanaction’s national tour. Then, I asked them to be in charge of the music for my show from the 2016 Spring/Summer Collection held in Paris in September 2015. Since then, they have provided the music for all our shows.
——So, the creation of their costumes led to your current collaboration, right? And how did you start working with Yurina Hirate?
Morinaga: Looking back, my first contact with Hiraide was also designing a costume for her. I was asked to make costumes for a music program, so I talked to Ms. Hirate and made the costumes. In the end, Ms. Hirate was injured and couldn’t perform, so we couldn’t do what we wanted to do and we both felt frustrated. So, I decided to give shape to what hadn’t come to fruition, and this time I offered her the chance to be a model for “ANREALAGE”. And that’s how she ended up as a model for the brand.
——You’ve also featured Hirate in campaigns for the ANEVER brand that you run with Onward. Another collaborator for your work on ANEVER is Travis Japan. Did you make their costumes as well?
Morinaga: Yes, Travis Japan first asked me to make their costumes, and then I asked them to model for ANEVER.
——I see. So, it wasn’t a deliberate decision, but rather a series of connections. By the way, how would you describe the division between ANREALAGE and ANEVER?
Morinaga: ANREALAGE offers something extraordinary, so, through the collections, I hope to create a world that loosens up people’s everyday lives. On the other hand, the motif of ANEVER is flowers, and with that brand, I am seeking to add something special while still being conscious of everyday life. In the future, I would like to work with various companies to create brands other than ANEVER, while maintaining the current size of ANREALAGE.
——Don’t you want to make ANREALAGE even bigger?
Morinaga: We are not trying to make it very big. Although the brand is small, it would be great if we could have an unprecedented impact on the world through our work. I want ANREALAGE to be a brand that lives on for a long time. Even if not many people wear our clothes, I hope that one person will be wearing them in 100 years.
“There are opportunities in what everyone else doesn’t do.”
——As for the fashion industry overall, the current mood is pessimistic due to the pandemic. How do you feel about this?
Morinaga: The coronavirus has had a huge impact on everyone. We have fewer opportunities to meet people and go out. As a result, people’s awareness of fashion has gone down. But we are slowly going back to our ordinary lives, so I think our interest in fashion will return quickly.
——Since we are all spending more time at home due to the pandemic, comfortable clothes and loungewear are selling well. Do you have any plans to release such items?
Morinaga: I’m not thinking about that because, as I said, the theme of the brand is “unusual”.
——I think it’s important to have both items that sell well and items that function as art pieces or as a statement of the brand. What do you think about finding a balance between these extremes?
Morinaga: I don’t think it makes sense for ANREALAGE to make what other brands are making just because it sells. On the contrary, people are still not doing much digital work, so I feel there is an opportunity in that direction. The beauty of fashion is that you can shine even if your business is not that big.
——Do you have any thoughts on the future of ANREALAGE?
Morinaga: Now that collections are being presented digitally due to the pandemic, I think the way of competing has changed. So, I hope we can continue to do interesting things using digital technology in the way that ANREALAGE has. I would like to do a physical show next, though.