Everyone gets their inspiration from somewhere - if a designer tells you otherwise they’re lying. And the more secure they are about themselves and their work, the more honest a designer can be about the sources of their inspiration. Perhaps they’ll even mention one or two other creatives that influence them. Often, it’s Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons. She’s a ‘designers’ designer’ - no one will ever bat an eyelid if you cite her as someone you look up to.
But when it comes to inspiration for collections or individual garments, designers tend to be vague - either it was the latest blockbuster exhibition at Tate Modern, or the films of an obscure Italian film director that shaped the silhouettes and the colour palette. Rarely do they go into much detail as the idea of literal inspiration is, arguably, something the fashion industry considers unattractive.
Well, if that’s the case, no-one told Kentaro Nakagomi. His Tokyo-based outerwear brand, Cohérence, produces items based on actual garments, worn by real people. He even names these coats and jackets after said people. Though it’s not just anyone that Nakagomi-san deems worthy of being immortalised in one of his designs. Thankfully, he steers clear of more well worn style icons like Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, and Frank Sinatra, and instead looks to titans of 20th century art and culture. Academic heavyweights such as Albert Camus, Le Corbusier, Marcel Duchamp, Léonard Foujita, Tristan Tzara and Jean Cocteau are Nakagomi-san’s sartorial heroes. Instead of bubblegum pop and R&B, the Cohérence universe is populated by Dada and Surrealism, jazz music, Lost Generation-writers, and new wave cinema. It’s a certainly a cultural mish-mash, but one with a strong narrative through-line – it all feels of a piece.
There’s something romantic about this way of informing a brand. Most designers look back, in one way or another, allowing archives and past designs to colour the future, but Nakagomi-san isn’t afraid to tie his products directly to these specific figures. Each Cohérence piece draws literal inspiration from a photo of, say, architect Le Corbusier or artist Marcel Duchamp. The coat or jacket worn in the photo then becomes the starting point for the design process. But even though it’s a very specific brief, Nakagomi gives himself a poetic license to develop the garment and make it suitable for 21st century wardrobe demands. The best of both worlds, a collaboration between the past and the future, I suppose you could call it.
Take the Le Corbusier coat for example. Called the ‘Corb,’ it features the same fundamental details – a generous lapel and raglan sleeves – as the one worn in an old photo of the French/Swiss architect. For his updated version, Nakagomi-san changed the fabrication and future-proofed the coat by using a high-density cotton gabardine, which adds lightness and considerable weather-resistant properties. Inside, the lining bears a striped pattern inspired by one of Jean Cocteau’s shirts. When wearing this coat, you can’t help but be surrounded by the cultural heroes of the past.
There’s no denying the connection between architecture and fashion; the shapes and angles of beautiful buildings have long been a classic starting point for designers, but now it seems Le Corbusier is also a style icon in his own right. Initially, one might first be drawn to his eyewear: Le Corbusier wore thick black plastic frames that helped define his face and added an intellectual touch to his features - not that he needed any help with that. But his signature dressy look - normally a suit and bow tie - is given a carefree feel with the addition of that relaxed outer layer. It is clearly these qualities that drew Nakagomi-san to him: his effortless cool combined with an undeniable talent and a never-ending impact on architecture, something that the Cohérence ‘Corb’ perfectly sums up.