What is fashion? I wanted to ask this simple question with many many answers to those who have been in touch with fashion and still are.

This time, designer Masaya Kushino answers to my questions. He was born in Innoshima, Hiroshima in 1982. After graduating from Kyoto Institute of Design, he studied at Istituto Marangoni in Milan. Winning the Japanese Leather Award 2007 from JLIA led Kushino to launch his own namesake brand focusing on leather items such as shoes and bags. His works in collaboration with longstanding Nishijin weave manufacturer HOSOO is being showcased at the “Future Beauty: The Tradition of Reinvention in Japanese Fashion” open at The National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto. He plans to participate in the “Killer Heels” exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum in September. Mr. Kushino’s creations are characterized by their timeless universal beauty.

- When was the first time you became fashion conscious?

When I was in elementary school. The place where I grew up was full of kids that were into sports who wore jerseys and windbreakers all the time. I detested this. I wondered why everyone wore such unhip clothes. When I was in fifth grade, I decided that I would only wear jeans. This is around the time I began to love clothes.

In Innoshima, there weren’t any places to go buy fashionable clothes. I began to read fashion magazines in junior high and started to frequent shops in Fukuyama city in high school. I discovered the world of the Paris collections at these shops. I also fell in love with Martin Margiela. At the time, I didn’t understand the brand concept, but I was drawn to its interesting visuals. I found joy in worshiping things that others didn’t know of. Living in a place like Innoshima made my quest for fashion even stronger. I always wanted to dress differently from others. I eventually enrolled in Kyoto Institute of Design.

- What changed after you began to study fashion?

From when I was a child, I had an admiration for fashion designers. But there were times when I became discouraged. There were also times when I felt stressed out in creating my own collections. Margiela creates collections based on clear concepts. Suddenly I began to question the designer that I had worshipped for so long. I realized that I preferred decorative and showy designs by the likes of Alexander McQueen and John Galliano. When I realized this, I was in the midst of designing collections based on concepts.

Becoming a shoes designer, I realized that I was much better when I focused on one item rather than an entire outfit. When it comes to fashion though, collections are the complete picture. It can’t be based on one item or one outfit. This is my weakness, I guess.

- How did you become a shoes designer?

After returning to Japan from Italy, I applied to many fashion competitions, but nothing came out from them. Since what I thought was great was not being acknowledged by others, I thought that there was something wrong with me. I thought it would be unwise for me to continue to be so fixated on fashion. For a moment, I thought of giving everything up, but that seemed silly as I had studied fashion and enjoyed it. During this time, I discovered a leather design contest. There was a category where applicants could send in design sketches and not actually make the design. So I submitted a sketch of a pair of shoes imaged after sheep. And my first design sketch for shoes allowed me to win the grand prize of the Japanese Leather Award 2007.

Designer Yasuhiro Mihara was a judge of this contest. I found out later that there were no sketches that Mr. Mihara approved of and so he went and looked at all the sketches from the first screening process. He found my sketch that had not passed this screening and selected it for the grand prize. I was looking forward to meeting him in person at the awards ceremony, but unfortunately he was not present. I was really disappointed as I had planned to ask him to hire me (laugh). On another day, I visited Mr. Mihara’s atelier and tried to win him over, but his answer was no. He did, however, give me information on how hard it is to design shoes.

- It’s actually tougher to say no than yes, isn’t it?

I agree. I thought that in a way, Mr. Mihara had rejected me out of consideration. I still cherish the words he sent to me. He said that my shoes are “fantasies transcending reality.”

To be continued into 2/3.