Designer Ayumi Sufu is the child of a cultural melting pot


Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on November 2009

Photos by Kevin Mcgue

Photos by Kevin Mcgue

When the so-called “first generation” of Japanese designers—including Yohji Yamamoto, Issey Miyake and Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garcons—unveiled collections in Paris in the early ’80s, they put their country’s fashion on the international map and galvanized the industry in the West. In comparison, the second generation is much more isolated, and largely unknown overseas.

One exception is Ayumi Sufu, 28, the creative force behind the Jazzkatze brand. Since the start of her career, this promising young designer has lived and worked in the fashion capitals of Europe. At just 16, she left Tokyo for London to earn a degree in fashion at the Ravensbourne College of Design and Communication. It turned out to be a wise move. “Because I left at such a young age, I was able to take in all the differences,” she says.

During and after her studies, Sufu worked in London and Paris for eminent designers including Shelley Fox, Vivienne Westwood and Bernhard Wilhelm, all of whom inspired her to absorb a variety of cultures and synthesize them in her own work. Wilhelm was particularly influential, teaching her how to enjoy fashion.

“His designs are full of wit and constructive as a sculpture,” Sufu says in fluent—if occasionally wonky—English. “However, I highly admire the beauty of minimalism as well, and try to make my designs as sophisticated as possible, or they would just end up as a bad jumble.”

Another inspiration—and a major factor behind her latest collection—was the designer’s old neighborhood in London. Entitled “Dearest Old Kent Road,” her Spring/Summer 2010 collection is a tribute to her home away from home, a multicultural society in the heart of London.

“When I was feeling down, I always got on a bus through Old Kent Road to refresh myself,” she says. Sometimes, she would see a stylish girl board that bus, wearing a vivid dress but with her hair done up in a traditional African style. “That is a breathless moment,” she says, “to see such a girl’s identity and attitude ‘married’ with Western culture.”

Sights like this aren’t uncommon on Old Kent Road, one of London’s great melting pots. “Especially on Sunday, it is packed with people,” Sufu recalls. “You can see the Nigerians going to church wearing wonderful costumes, teenage girls in tracksuits with their babies standing in front of the local supermarkets, plumbers that are already drunk by lunchtime. And there are so many Asians, including myself.”

These people served as an inspiration for Sufu’s designs, the results of which were displayed during the most recent Japan Fashion Week. The Jazzkatze show featured multicultural models wearing African-inspired costumes, colorful geometric prints and theatrical accessories that looked like something out of a wildlife safari. Accompanied by a soundtrack of British rock and pop, the models seemed to be dancing rather than strutting down the runway, creating a festive atmosphere. Sufu’s Japan debut was a memorable affair: feminine, creative and eccentric, but most of all international.

“One of the best things about fashion is that you can travel in any direction,” she says. “You just mix your ideas and create a new image.” She researched traditional African culture for the collection, which inspired her to use body and face paint in the show. Such touches come naturally for a designer who is well-versed in a very 21st-century multiculturalism.

“Going abroad was one of the most influential decisions of my life, and it has truly made my designing career, because you take in so many different points of view,” she says today, 12 years after her first trip to London. “Even though Japanese fashion has a strong character, if more designers went overseas, fashion would become more diverse.”

With an attitude like that, Sufu has the potential to become the leading lady of the second generation of Japanese fashion designers, showing the rest of the world what they can do.