Art deco, Japanese pop culture and our current obsession with selfies — all this and more can be found in the colourful and clever new collection from the fashion designer Yuhei Mukai.
As a Japanese man living in Vienna and studying fashion at the city’s University of Applied Arts, the designer Yuhei Mukai draws inspiration from both Asian and European cultures. For his recent collection he combined elements from the European art deco movement of the 1920s with contemporary Japanese teenage culture, creating a collection that celebrates the spirit of youth. It’s a playful selection of clothes, made even more so by the bright colours used and the childlike drawings that spread out over smooth velvets. Intricate patterns cut into the fabric resemble engravings and woodcuts, as well as designs created by the famous Wiener Werkstätte community of visual artists in early-20th-century Vienna.
The pieces themselves come in sporty shapes and silhouettes – a tracksuit is cut from velvet, a fabric typically used in more elegant garments. This out-of-context choice adds to the fun and stylishness of the collection. It’s easy to feel the joy with which Mukai uses his creativity to mix up elements and references.
Why did you call this collection 3-A MUKAI?
“It means 3rd grade and A class – I was in the 3rd grade in A class of my university in Vienna when I designed this collection. Also, the tracksuit I used to wear as part of my old school gym uniform had a label in it with my name and the class name on.”
What was the main inspiration for the collection?
“The way Japanese high-school girls dress nowadays and the art deco fashion of the 1920s.”
The collection is quite eclectic. Why are you interested in such cultural mixes?
“Living in Vienna, I’m always influenced by European and Japanese cultures, so it was natural for me to mix ideas inspired by both. Art deco artists in the 1920s were also influenced by Asian culture. I referenced both in my collection to create a new aesthetic.”
This collection also reflects the popularity of social-media sites, such as Instagram, and the way in which people produce and use the images. Could you tell us why?
“Selfies and self-produced images are very important elements of youth culture, so I used Instagram as a research tool when I was working on this collection. I developed a print that features my face and I used it throughout as a metaphor of the current mood and obsession of the new generation.”
What kind of connection do you see between this collection and the theme of enjoyment?
“Youth culture nowadays enjoys new trends and uses creativity to follow those trends, as did the artists of the art deco movement. This energy of joy and creation is the core inspiration for my collection.”
Why did you choose to work with such bright, bold colours?
“The first colour I chose for my collection was green – the colour of my school gym tracksuit, which I loved when I was in high school. Then I just picked the colours that would match the green.”
There are images of your collection that feature a smiley – lamps that look like smileys, smileys painted over the walls. Why did you use them? Were they meant to express joy?
“I spotted the smileys on the staircases at my university and I loved the idea of using them as a backdrop for the images of the collection, because of their ambiguous character. The smileys express emotions such as joy and happiness, but some of them actually look like they are crying, so to me they also express the mixed, complicated feelings often associated with adolescence.”
Words by Veronika Dorosheva
Photography by David Payr