Avant-garde fashion: ANREALAGE

Japan Fashion and Lifestyle Foundation

'REAL', 'UNREAL', and ' AGE'

What is ANREALAGE?
Designer Kunihiko Morinaga established ANREALAGE in 2003, branding it with a name that combined “A REAL, UNREAL, and AGE.” Based on the garments produced over the subsequent 15 years, Anrealage’s activities can be broadly categorized into three periods. The first seven seasons from the 2005-2006 A/W SUZUME NO NAMIDA to the 2008-2009 A/W MUTYU collection focused on hand work. The second period of five seasons from 2009 S/S ○△□ (ball, pyramid, cube) to 2011 S/S AIR contrasted with the first period by focusing on the shapes of garments. The third period comprises the 12 seasons from 2011-2012 A/W LOW to 2017 S/S SILENCE, a six-year period with a focus on bringing technology into garments.
Kunihiko Morinaga
Designer Kunihiko Morinaga, is a Waseda University and Vantan Design Academy graduate born in Tokyo in 1980. In 2003, he launched ANREALAGE, its name a combination of ''A REAL, UNREAL and AGE.” His designs originate in discoveries of easily-overlooked, subtle twists in the fabric of our everyday life that create touches of unreality. Working with the mantra, "God is in the details," his designs are known for their brightly-colored, finely-detailed patchwork, garments with creative shapes unbeholden to the human body, and garments that actively incorporate technology and innovative techniques. Anrealage won the Design Vision Award For Avant Garde at Gen Art in New York in 2005, and made its first appearance in the Tokyo Collection the same year (2006 S/S). In 2011, Morinaga was awarded the 29th Mainichi Fashion Grand Prix for best new designer and the Shiseido Incentive Award. In 2014, he made his Paris debut with his 2015 S/S collection. He was selected as an ANDAM Fashion Awards finalist in 2015. In 2016, he opened the ANREALAGE AOYAMA store in Minami Aoyama, Tokyo.

"God is in the details"

ANREALAGE may have completely changed the focus of its design style at several-year intervals, but it has consistently kept to its "God is in the details" mantra. In addition to being reflected in the fabrics, patterns, fastenings, and other elements of each of the brand’s looks, this attention to detail can be seen in the way that the season’s theme and concept influence brand tags, compliance labeling, runway show production, and even the interior design of the flagship store, which is renewed every season.

To Anrealage, "God is in the details" represents the brand’s culture and it is this which has driven the painstaking approach seen in the hand work of the first period, together with the efforts to propagate themes and concepts throughout the organization. In Japan, understanding this "God is in the details" approach is considered to be the key to understanding Anrealage.

A bit mysterious

Another key concept for understanding ANREALAGE is “sukoshi fushigi” (a bit mysterious).

S F (Sukoshi Fushigi)

Morinaga is a fan of the manga artist duo Fujio F Fujiko, who used the term “sukoshi fushigi” (a bit mysterious) to describe the characteristics of their own work. Fujiko abbreviated the term to “SF,” identical to the abbreviation for science fiction. However, instead of future dramas playing out in fantastical worlds, the “sukoshi fushigi” in Fujiko’s manga was only a bit mysterious, and the stage was very much ordinary everyday life. “Sukoshi fushigi” (a bit mysterious) is an important concept for understanding what is special about Anrealage.

WIDE SHORT SLIM LONG

Ball-shaped clothing, clothing that would fit perfectly on a mannequin nearly 3 meters tall, clothing consisting of just bare-bones frameworks with no panels between—these sound like bizarre ideas, but when someone walks down the street wearing one of these looks, most people would not immediately realize what was unusual about the clothes. Anrealage garments blend surprisingly well into everyday scenes.

Despite that, at the moment when you pass someone wearing them, you sense that something is different. They seem to induce in viewers the sort of strange reaction that cannot be easily put into words, as if there were some sort of aberration or haze, or perhaps a blur or optical illusion.

Like Fujiko’s manga, the Anrealage creations that are a bit mysterious appear on an ordinary, everyday stage, but unlike the manga, these clothes have found their way into real life. Unlike their manga counterparts, clothing worn in the everyday world has not been set free from the need to comply with norms such as written and unwritten rules, manners, conventional aesthetics and other standards. It is this everyday reality that the Anrealage team faces when creating their collections. For that reason, the clothes that they create are not under any circumstances intended to be purely works of art. The designer’s gaze is firmly set on the real world, and on the people who will wear the clothes from day to day. The output from keeping the gaze firmly on the real world became clearer in the brand’s second and third periods.

First period: Hand work
How far can the potential of sewing be brought out solely by painstaking work? The ideas behind the clothing that Anrealage was creating during the first period were not so different from the sort of ideas that occur to many designers early in their careers. However, even if other designers had similar ideas, no-one else put in the immense effort to actually make garments like these. The members of the Anrealage team had a simple faith in the value of working with their hands. Even if it was work that anyone could do, by repeating the same act over and over again an impossible number of times, they were able to create something that had never been seen before.

Buttons

For 2007 S/S, the theme was INORI (prayer). Making an enormous effort to sew on a vast number of buttons, they presented the process of making clothes as if it were prayer. The invitation said, ”Get up. Eat. Get dressed. … Break. Get lost. Think. Make. Pray. That the same tomorrow will come again.” The actions listed along with praying are all things that everyone does all the time.
This simple text bears witness to Morinaga’s tranquil character, as does his comment that if he had not become a designer, he would probably have been a public servant. It should be emphasized that this peaceful white jacket was created as the “prayer jacket.” It seems to possess an almost mystical force, drawn from the mind-bending repetition of laborious processes that would be tiresome even in small amounts. This is a garment that symbolizes Anrealage’s mantra of "God is in the details."

Patchwork

Patchwork is Anrealage’s best-known technique, and has been a continual part of the brand’s repertoire ever since the early days. In the beginning Morinaga did all the patchwork by himself, and then the task was taken over by his old friend Daisuke Maki, who handled all the patchwork until very recently. Maki now works in a studio dedicated to patchwork, and still sews the detailed pieces for Anrealage shows.

Second period: Shapes, reexamined
Think of height, sleeve lengths, and how long or short they can be. Or of how wide or slim the bust and the waist can be. People tend to consider long, short, wide and slim as measurements based on the human body, but do they actually meet some absolute standard? The body as a measure for clothes must be reexamined; without changing this ruler, new clothes cannot emerge.

『○△□』

Beginning with its 2009 S/S ○△□ collection, Anrealage changed its way of making clothes. Taking the amount of time and effort expended on hand work and applying it instead to thinking, the aim was to create garments in completely new shapes. This is also the season when Anrealage started to create looks without using prototypes.
The first collection to result from that change of approach presented clothes in the shape of balls, cubes, and triangular pyramids. Like the ball shirt shown here, the clothes may look as though they were shaped to fit a ball, rather than being ball-shaped. Nevertheless, when someone wears them, the shapes are strangely lacking in incongruity.

The lack of incongruity stems from the size of the ball, pyramid or cube being derived from shoulder width. For the pyramid garments, the length of each side of the triangular pyramid is the same as shoulder width. The human body and these geometric solids are not generally seen as having similar shapes, but the discovery of commonalities between them was what triggered Anrealage’s exploration into new shapes for clothing.

『WIDESHORTSLIMLONG』

The show notes for 2010-2011 A/W WIDESHORTSLIMLONG clarify what Anrealage had been trying to achieve in the humorous-looking collections from 2009 S/S onwards. For WIDESHORTSLIMLONG, two proto-forms were created, WIDESHORT (equivalent to a 100 cm-tall mannequin) and SLIMLONG (equivalent to a 276 cm-tall mannequin).
This reexamination of how clothes are made by matching them to human shapes was not just a naïve attempt to do something differently. In practice, great care was taken to ensure that the looks were actually wearable. For instance, the shoulders on the WIDESHORT garments are constructed so as to align with the wearer’s elbows.
This collection brings Morinaga’s thought experiment into everyday life. Watching people try on these clothes alongside the two rows of non-standard mannequins is a fascinating experience, a glimpse of Anrealage’s version of something “a bit mysterious.”

Third period: Technology
The availability of new technology dramatically changes people’s lives, but after it has fully diffused into the market and become familiar, no-one thinks of it as technology any more. Anrealage makes an active effort to employ such over-familiar technologies in its creations. And when clothing provides new roles for existing technologies, technology gradually changes the fashion scene.

Photochromic (2013-2014 A/W COLOR, 2015 S/S SHADOW)

From 2011-2012 A/W LOW onwards, Anrealage has brought technology into creating the outfits for its collections. Other brands were already using technologies such as 3D-CAD, laser cutting, and seamless sewing, but Anrealage sought out older technologies that had not been used for fashion, and applied them to garment creation.
One example is the use, in the 2013-2014 A/W COLOR and 2015 S/S SHADOW collections, of photochromism, a phenomenon whereby colors change under ultraviolet light. When exposed to sunlight, the color changes instantly, but it returns to white as soon as it goes into shadow. Clothes using photochromic fabrics like these had never been seen before, but the technology had been invented over 50 years earlier.
“I want to use technologies like fax that became very familiar but then we forgot all about them,” says Morinaga. Anrealage focuses on new uses for technology rather than on the newness of the technology itself. In doing so it has discovered value in adding something new to the everyday situations in which the garments are worn.

REFLECT

Everyone takes photos with a smartphone, and often it is clothes that they photograph. Looking at fashions on a screen is no longer unusual.
Anrealage’s 2016 S/S collection, REFLECT, inverted this ordinary relationship between smartphones and clothes by using retro reflection. Snapping an outfit with a smartphone using flash suddenly revealed colors and patterns that were invisible to the naked eye. In contrast to the diffuse reflections that we are used to, retro-reflection bounces light straight back at its source. That light can only be properly picked up by something like a smartphone where the flash unit and the lens are located very close together.
2017 S/S SILENCE employed augmented reality (AR) technology to modify views of the show by taking extra information that did not exist in real life, and adding it to views that the audience could only see on their screens. Using an app and pointing your device at the garments revealed patterns and text, synchronized with the audio, that could not be seen with the naked eye.
This is an example of combining a technology that everyone knows about with actions that everybody does. The result is to create something that is “a bit mysterious.”

Making clothing new
The repurposing of technology can change more than just the colors and patterns of clothes, and the way that we look at them. It is also capable of changing the way that we make clothes. 

Gray dress and white cardigan

At first sight, these garments look just like knitwear, but they are not knitted. The dress has the complex topology of a knitted fabric, but reproduced by embossing, and the cardigan has a knit-like structure produced by laser cutting. The dress was part of the 2012 S/S SHELL collection, which marked the application to dressmaking of the technology used to make blister packs for packaging products.

When producing fashion, there is no reason to fixate just on cutting, patterns, and ways of knitting. Knitwear doesn’t have to be produced by knitting.
Rather than making new clothes, Anrealage is making clothes in new ways. By using technology, it is renewing the way that clothing is produced.

Lightly touching the realm of sculpture,
Shapes made by hand and shapes made by technology.
Clothes that are stitched together and clothes that are carved away.
Anrealage is carving out its own track.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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