Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on September 2010
Asao Iwahashi’s recommendations from his fall collection include tweed pants with silken neckties for suspenders, pink motorcycle boots decorated with skulls and studs, and a cheetah-print, rabbit-shaped furry backpack. He probably wouldn’t even flinch if his customers wanted to wear them all at the same time. Depending on your feelings about fashion in Tokyo, this may or may not come as a surprise: Iwahashi is actually a children’s clothing designer.
“Kids clothing includes a dream, whereas adult wear does not,” says the eccentric hand behind popular brand BooFooWoo, explaining why he prefers to create looks specifically for the tiny set.
Iwahashi is something of a fashion industry anomaly. The 52-year-old sports dreadlocks and tribal jewelry, greets journalists with hugs, and lives in Kanagawa to be closer to the ocean. He also eschews color forecasting, market research, and other such trappings—or hindrances—of the contemporary fashion world.
“The fashion industry is always making some trend,” he says, speaking English. “We don’t need trends.”
Iwahashi, who got his start in the industry importing used children’s wear (think mini-sized vintage Levis), taught himself how to design. That was 25 years ago; now BooFooWoo retails at department stores and free-standing boutiques all over Japan. Though his new items roll in each season, they can all generally be characterized by bold colors, loud prints, contrasting fabrics and heaps of charm. A liberal helping of trailing ribbons, crocheting and embroidery adds a Bohemian flavor.
“Every line has its own story,” Iwahashi says. “When I create, I start with the story.” Thus each brand is personified by a band of characters, whose imagined musings about their environment, their travels, and their future act as a source of inspiration for the designer.
“Stories are important,” Iwahashi says. “Kids need more messages. When kids wear our clothes, they feel something positive from us. When they grow up, that will stick with them. It’s a positive cycle.”
Each season, the story, which appears in BooFooWoo’s book-like catalogs, picks up where the previous season left off. This fall, for example, the characters from the Boo Homes line find themselves in ’50s America (having picked up a funny-looking book in the back of the library, naturally). The collection features Pop Art primary colors, full skirts, greaser jumpsuits and a “poodle vest”—a sleeveless hoodie with fluffy ears and paw-shaped pockets. The stories and styles don’t always make sense, but the kids in the catalog look like they’re having a lot of fun.
Other BooFooWoo lines include Back Alley, an irreverent psychedelic-ethnic mash-up, and Natural Boo, which incorporates silhouettes, textures and colors from Japan’s traditional fashion legacy, and employs natural dyes and adhesives. Two years ago, Iwahashi also started a remake line to make use of dead stock and donated items.
As if all this weren’t enough, the BooFooWoo flagship shop, One La Boo, offers further opportunities for embellishment. At this two-year-old Jiyugaoka store, customers can usually find Kaori Rio, an Okinawan artist who adds colorful paintings to tote bags, T-shirts and even denim jackets. For those who can’t make the trip, Rio also customizes goods via mail, though she requires a photo and maybe even a phone chat—each design, you see, is uniquely created with the customer in mind.
BooFooWoo’s own customers star in the brand’s fashion shows and catalog spreads. These aspiring young models—or, more likely, just playful kids—apply by sending in photos of themselves wearing their own personally styled Boo outfits. There are other ways to get involved, too, like the tie-dying workshops that Iwahashi has recently initiated and attends himself.
Staff note that BooFooWoo stores are some of the only places in the country where you’re likely to see kids picking out their own ensembles. And if they’re not already in the habit of doing so, Iwahashi would certainly encourage them to start.
One La Boo: 1-5-1 Jiyugaoka, Meguro-ku. Tel: 03-5701-4029. Open daily 11am-7pm. Nearest stn: Jiyugaoka. www.boofoowoo.com