To call Yuji Takenaka just a ‘stylist’ is an understatement, to say the least. Growing up in Japan and having a grandfather who was a tailor, he was influenced by fashion at a very young age. Since then, it’s Yuji whose influencing others with his vast experience and style sensibilities. With his hands dipped in many different facets of the fashion world, Yuji has an ever-growing empire that includes store owner, buyer, fashion director and, of course, stylist. Yuji talks to Laura Vignale about his flourishing career, from living and working in Japan as a young buyer and stylist, to moving to New York City to work with the likes of Anna Wintour.
When were you born?
In 1972, in Hiroshima.
What other places have you resided in before moving to NYC?
After university I moved to Kobe, then to Italy, and lived in Ferrara. After that I went back to Hiroshima, Tokyo, and then New York.
Were you always interested in fashion?
Since I was a child. My grandfather was a tailor. My career started when I became a buyer with N°44 (pronounced number 44 or yon-ju-yon in Japanese), a boutique in Tokyo. I was there for six years. Then I worked with Vogue Japan as the fashion editor’s assistant. That’s when I realized that I wanted to be a sort of ‘editor’ for fashion. I worked as a stylist in Japan for three years, then moved to New York. I’ve been styling for seven years now.
What does it mean to be a stylist? What does your work entail?
Usually, to be a stylist means to put clothing on models. In my case, it’s a little different. I work very closely with the fashion editor. I am both the stylist and the art director. I start every shoot by creating a concept by myself. Then I choose a photographer, and everything develops little by little.
Besides American publications you contribute regularly to both European and Japanese magazines, such as Vogue Pelle and Commons And Sense. What made you decide to settle in New York rather than another fashion city… Paris, for example?
While working as the fashion editor of Commons And Sense in Japan, I traveled to London, Paris, and New York for shoots. My English was awful so I decided to move somewhere where English was the dominant language, like London or New York, then eventually move on to Paris or Milan. But what I didn’t know was that in New York I could work with magazines from all over the world. New York is the perfect place for me.
Do you find that men’s fashion in the US is still behind compared to Japan?
Yes, I think so. In Japan there are many men’s fashion magazines. Japanese designers are more focused and very serious. Designers from all over the world want to use Japanese fabrics. We have good factories and our denim is amazing. Every Japanese designer wants to make things that are more perfect. Men are more concerned about their looks and appearance there.
How do you translate current trends that are happening in Japan for the US market? Do you have to change them for people in the US to ‘get it’?
I’m not so concerned with trends. Sometimes my ideas come from Japan, but more often they come from my experience. My work as a buyer for the last 16 years has given me a lot of knowledge. It’s like I have a big archive in my head, that I reference.
What kinds of things do you look to for inspiration for photo shoots?
I like to look outside of fashion. When I was in London, I saw a very beautiful sports car. The body was dark navy and the wheels were shiny gold. I love this kind of colouring and contrast. I use this kind of contrast in my styling.
What are the current trends to look for this year in men’s styling?
Blue will be popular for men this season. Usually all men want to wear black, especially in New York. But I think next season everyone will use more blue, purple and even green.
You were (and still are) a buyer in Japan and you have a showroom and store in Tokyo. Tell us about your store in Tokyo.
My store in Tokyo is called Seven. It’s in Daikanyama. I buy men’s casual wear. Some of the labels we represent are Band of Outsiders, Robert Geller, Common Project, as well as special edition collaboration projects with brands like Levis, Lee, and Converse. Recently, I designed a special edition shoe for New Balance.
When looking for brands to represent, what specific criteria are you looking for?
Same as my style. I like simple stuff that I want to wear this year and next. But it needs to have a little bit of trend too. I look for comfortable fabric that’s easy to wear. I don’t like materials like nylon; I like cashmere and organic cotton. Of course, I also check the price. It’s a balance.
Tell me a bit about your work with Robert Geller. How did that relationship come about?
I met Robby through Rio Tanaka. Rio was working with him at Cloak. I came in when he left Cloak and started Robert Geller. I work very closely with him on many things and also help with the art direction and concepts for his runway shows.
What is Studio Newwork? What is Newwork Magazine?
I am not a part of Studio Newwork, which is a group of four graphic designers. Newwork Magazine is created by Studio Newwork, headed up by Rio Tanaka. I am supporting him as the magazine’s Fashion Director. The magazine is released twice a year. Each issue, six or seven contributors are chosen and each contributor can use twelve pages.
You have some of the great photographers collaborating with you on the magazine, like Norman Watson. Were those relationships all cultivated from your editorial work as a stylist in NY?
What other projects are you currently working on?
Two days ago I did a shoot with Coco Rocha for “Fashion Night Out”, a project with Anna Wintour. I’m doing two upcoming shoots with Norman Watson for GQ magazine. I have many projects coming up that I am very excited about! I can’t talk about them yet.
You must be so busy with all these projects, do you find it stressful at times?
I like my job very much. The only stress is associated with collecting clothing from all over the world. Tokyo is thirteen hours ahead, and Paris is six or seven hours difference. I want to see everything myself on my computer. I call each of the stores in Europe or Japan myself to have them send the exact pieces I want. I have several assistants, but I do this part of the work myself, to make sure its done right. In Japan, I can confirm a shoot a month ahead but in Europe and the U.S. sometimes shoots don’t get confirmed until a week ahead. That’s my only big stress.
And lastly, any words of wisdom for people out there that want to walk in your shoes?
You need passion. You need knowledge of fashion and the history of fashion. The person who likes history is likely to be a good stylist.
Second last photo: Yuji Takenaka, doing what he does best.