Fashion designer Mihara Yasuhiro, with his urban, sneaker-clad aesthetic, looks nothing like a farmer.
However, the 42-year-old Japanese says he grew up in a Nagasaki household with more than 50 chickens running around as his father was a poultry researcher.
Those slices of childhood memories influence his work even today. His fall/winter 2014 collection, available at multi-label retailer Club21 and Club21b, is partly inspired by an Edo period artist called Ito Jakuchu, who is known for his chicken paintings.
"Experiences I've had are like little puzzle pieces in my memory which come together to form a bigger shape," says the Tokyo-based designer in Japanese in an interview with Urban.
He was here two weeks ago to celebrate a showcase of his collection at a pop-up store. His eponymous Miharayasuhiro brand, which has been stocked here by Club 21 since 2009 and offers menswear and womenswear, has prices ranging from $230 for a T-shirt to $2,400 for a coat.
The brand's tailored clothes look simple at first glance, but reveal interesting details, such as a faintly colour-blocked pant leg or a billowing shirt tail, upon closer inspection.
Layering is also a common feature in the collection, which sticks mostly to a subdued colour palette.
The designer, who studied textile design and fine art at Tama Art University in Tokyo, has often been described as intellectual.
He lives up to the label as he speaks in a steady stream of philosophical statements about the motivation behind his work.
"Artists, designers and musicians all move people's hearts in different ways. I like to think about people whose hearts aren't easily moved, to see what can move them," says the designer, who is married to a jazz pianist.
Pointing to his own sneakers, he highlights his approach of finding wonder in the everyday and says: "From the front, it looks like a regular Converse sneaker, but the glittery, leather back portion might make people sit up and ask what this is."
Yasuhiro began creating and designing footwear in 1994 before moving on to clothes. The self-taught designer explains he chose to create shoes because of their accessibility.
"Ever since high school, I wanted to be an artist and find a way to lessen the distance I saw between people and art," he says. "Shoes were like my canvasses."
The designer says the limited square footage of the shoe and the structural considerations challenge his imagination. "It's almost like a bonsai tree - a chosen space and size, but years are spent on it and a universe is created into itself."
Yasuhiro has also had an unusually long-term relationship with sneaker brand Puma, with whom he has collaborated since 2000 on the range called Puma by Miharayasuhiro, under Puma's Black Label.
The designer says while it was still rare at the time for a fashion brand to work with a sports brand, he was drawn to the fact that Puma devotees seemed to love and wear their shoes into the ground.
Compared with the shoes in the Miharayasuhiro line, the popular Puma sneakers - which have been embellished with everything from studs to fur - are more "pop", he says, reflecting a more humorous and lively side of his personality.
The privately owned Miharayasuhiro brand was expanded to include menswear in 1998 and womenswear in 2009. He has been showing his collections since 2004 on the international stage - first in Milan, then in Paris - to critical acclaim.
He explains: "I wanted to expand my reach and was interested in the challenge. Why should shoe designers do only shoes?"
The label has made it to the international stage, but the things which make the designer proudest hit close to home. The brand is produced in Japan and employs older craftsmen.
"One of the craftsmen explained to his grandson the kind of shoes he was making by showing him a magazine tear of my shoes. Apparently, the kid's reaction was 'Oh wow, Mihara's shoes? That's amazing'," says the designer.
"Hearing that story of the grandchild looking up to the old craftsman, made me glad I'm doing this."
This article was first published on Sept 26, 2014.
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