SHIRO SAKAI – The Fabric Whisperer

Meeting Shiro Sakai is a rare gift. The designer is reluctant to discuss his work which, to say the least, tends to speak for itself. Still, we could not resist the chance to initiate a conversation with someone of his caliber. Shiro Sakai knows fabric like few do. Every single piece he brings out into the world unfolds into many dimensions. Though, quite possibly, even, the Japanese designer is privy to a mysterious language he alone understands, Leclaireur was lucky enough to spend some quality time with him, and delve into a portion of his universe.

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Leclaireur: Your story goes back a long way.

Shiro Sakai: I worked for another company, for 19 years. Those days were important to me. Those years were essential. Whether we worked on Men’s clothing or Women’s clothing, we approached both in the same way. I also spent a lot of time studying clothes made by people in ancient times. During my tenure in that company, there was great excitement in the air any time we had to create new pieces for fashion shows, because of the challenges we were offered. But during those 19 years, I also was able to explore technique itself, and to study in depth the relationship between clothes and the body.
I tried to tread lightly around those questions. I chose my path, doing my best to create something new, every day that went by. But over the course of those 19 years, my desire to create at a deeper level kept growing too, every day that went by.
When the time was right, I started my own company. I was interested in the process of destroying something to recreate it, so I did just that, creating from dismantled and reconstructed garments. I would buy or find nicely stitched clothes from various parts of the world, mostly in France, and dive inside the material, so to speak, discovering and studying the ways they were built. I could reconstruct similar approaches, make garments adapted for contemporary use, that people could wear today. Some people are so in love with vintage items, the way they are cut, beyond the history of the garments, that they stop at that. My work is to recreate, by hand, highly sophisticated items.

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You create clothes that look both extremely modern and incredibly vintage, with materials that take your designs to entirely other levels.

When I start a prototype, I always create it first using canvas. Choosing the material comes later in the process. You know, if your prototype is perfect, you can adapt any material to its style. The choice of materials, whether meant for the inside or outside of a garment, creates different effects.leclaireur-shiro-sakai-05 copie

Now that you have your own company, when you think your clothes for women, do you think them differently than for men? This is your first Womenswear collection…

Men’s clothes have changed a lot throughout history. Before the first World War, maybe 120 years ago, men’s clothes were all made the way I make them now. It goes back to la Belle Époque. After World War, the style evolved and these techniques lived on, mostly for military officers’s clothes.
The construction itself is not what differs profoundly between the silhouettes. That said, men don’t like change, usually, and prefer traditional, straight silhouettes. Men’s clothes also require a very special type of construction inside the very clothes. You’ll see male clients touching the fabric, rubbing it between their fingers and saying « ok, this is good… » They connect with the lining material as well as the outside material. If the interlining is good, you can feel the structure. Ladies rarely care about the sound a garment makes. They focus on the lines. It is very interesting to observe. Creating beautiful lines for women is always exciting. Finding a way to remove any trace of stress on the body. I’m always having an inner conversation with the bones and muscles of a body in mind, rather than the body itself.

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Like a sculptor!

People in my former company were always telling me “don’t use your brain, think with your hands ». It has to do with cutting the silhouette without breaking it. This only applies to women’s clothes. Cut here, cut here, cut… But at the same time these are just clothes, not art. The human body, the construction of a tailored jacket resides essentially in the shoulders and the neck. It’s closer to the work of an architect. To create a piece of perfect art, you can do anything you want. Like Gaudi. But well-designed clothes are about construction, which is the essence of design, I believe. I really care about this. The outline in a construction is what I look at, always. Drawing on textile is easy, it’s just decoration, so is the choice of color. That’s the last thing I do. Once the shape is definitive.

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How did your collaboration with Leclaireur begin?

We had met and talked a little bit, when I was working for my previous company. And they’ve always come since, to see my work in the showrooms. During one of their visits, Leclaireur’s team suggested I make a special creation for Leclaireur’s Shigoto Project. Armand told me that I could design anything I wanted, without any limitation. He wanted a well-made, nicely constructed, beautiful suit. Which is why I agreed. At the same time, I can say that the Shigoto jacket I made for him is one for which I used both my old techniques at 200%, and my evolving skills, because I always look for progress, year after year.

Discover the Shiro Sakai collection at Leclaireur Hérold.