Designer Naoto Hirooka of h.NAOTO was in San Francisco for the grand opening of his first boutique outside Japan and although he was quite busy assisting and socializing with customers and fans, he managed to carve out some time for us to ask him a few questions. All photos were taken by Noel Holmes.
CRN: For starters, can you just give a brief description of the brand concept?
Naoto Hirooka: The h.NAOTO brand is basically broken down into 3 big categories: gothic, Lolita, punk. I'm mixing those three different images making Tokyo style, so...sort of a complex brand.
This is the 10th anniversary, I understand, so I'm wondering how you feel the brand has evolved over the past ten years.
First, well in these ten years I started from Visual Kei—Japan's Visual Kei, also anime, and then reached this grand opening in America. In Japan we were doing Japanese sub-culture and got noticed for that. This time, similar to anime, the brand was thought of as interesting and became popular internationally, so we became much bigger than I anticipated.
You mentioned anime, so what are some of the shows that inspire you the most?
There isn't really one specific one that I would say, "This one!" Just here or there, there was a TV and I was watching. Maybe I've been influenced by various things, no real specific one…
There's no certain atmospheric quality? I can think of magical girl shows or giant robot shows, or I can think of darker things like Serial Experiments Lain, or…
Well, it's not an anime, but...a game, Dragon Quest? There are various heroes and mages, lots of characters. Then each type has its own characteristics and you make a team out of party members to make the world of Dragon Quest more interesting. My brand, too, we have punks, gothic, Lolita, cosplay, etc.—a bunch of party members. When you mix those, there are lots of ways you can look at it, so it has kind of a game-like sense, similar to Dragon Quest.
So I read an interview you did last year where you said one thing you'd like to do is create a Disneyland with your brand as the stylistic feature. Can you explain more about that?
The brand image has some pretty strong characteristics, so even here today you can see these vampire or ghost styles. If we did an h.NAOTO amusement park, it would be that kind of image. For example, the theme park restaurants could have all Lolita waitresses, and all the gift store shopkeepers could be dressed in that vampire-esque way. There are lots of Disney character personalities—a ton, really—and out of that they make one Disney World. Within h.NAOTO we have Sixh, Hangry & Angry—about 35 or so different categories, so if we made various attractions, restaurants, rides out of this, it would be pretty fun, don't you think?
Can I ask you about the concept for the San Francisco opening t-shirt? I saw it downstairs.
Of course there is the h.NAOTO logo; it's not the official one, but done in super gothic, kind of decorative letters. Then in the same style, we put S and F for San Francisco done in black laminate so you can't see it quite clearly—you can just see it a little when the light hits.
For the front, I was going to do a skull at first, but for this I wanted it to be a more representative t-shirt of all of h.NAOTO, so rather than skull, which was maybe too strong, I thought after all to do the the image of a sexy and beautiful girl, since it's kind of like cosplay clothes. So that girl, and then h.NAOTO is kind of hardcore, so I mixed in some prohibited-type graphics, and also, of course, the logo. I tried to think how to express h.NAOTO, from all these categories, in one graphic.
Can you explain briefly the different breakdown of sub-brands that you brought to San Francisco? I know there are the cute characters and h.NAOTO Frill…
h.Anarchy is the Japanese street punk image brand. h.NAOTO Blood is Japanese gothic style. It's elegant gothic that especially Visual Kei girls like. h.NAOTO Frill is gothic Lolita, sweet Lolita. It's the cutest brand in h.NAOTO. NAOTO SEVEN...this is mostly focused on t-shirts right now. The SF opening t-shirt is basically mixed of NAOTO SEVEN graphics. It's the latest design from h.NAOTO―not gothic, not punk, but we're coming up with a new kind of image. Sixh has two designers, Ibi and Mint. Ibi is Visual Kei and kind of…cosplay—clothes that have an animation, Final Fantasy, or Dragon Quest-type image. Mint is Japanese "mode" fashion and the cat t-shirt series. And then we have Hangry & Angry, the cat characters included in h.NAOTO called Hangry and Angry. I think that's it…
[Note: There are actually more, including Gramm (fairy tale-inspired styles), Honey (elegent, gorgeous, sexy), and a USA line with additional size options.]
So when you're not designing clothes, what's your favorite thing to do?
My hobbies are eating out and cooking. Also, if you're cooking you have to go shopping, which I also like—buying spices, etc.
What kind of food do you like to cook?
It seems like you've worked with lots of musical artists, so I'm wondering some of your favorite bands are.
Did you listen to anything this morning?
Today? Nothing! But I love X Japan, L'Arc-En-Ciel, Gackt...
Any closing remarks?
Making my own store in the US is a dream come true. This is really just the first step. We're working hard to expand throughout the world, so everybody in America, please support us!