Having started his career as a fashion designer since his late teens, Tetsu Nishiyama is now a creative mind behind three different fashion brands; WTAPS, FORTY PERCENT AGAINST RIGHTS® and DESCENDANT. He is one of Japan’s most talented street fashion designers, presenting style and philosophy through his own creation, which has a military and work ware foundation. Anyone, who has ever encountered the designer’s work, will be able to understand that what Nishiyama has created as well as his brands has got “style”. The reason people endorse him is his philosophy and way of thinking that is more fundamental than just a simple garment design.
When asked about style, Nishiyama suddenly searched the word on the Internet. “I perceive the word: style sensuously but I always wonder what it exactly means. When translating it into Japanese, there is a term such as style, form or type. When referring to myself, I have never experienced an academic procedure by going to a fashion collage where one can learn how to design cloths. So, I started my career without fitting into any category. It started as a part of enjoyment, an extension of pastime. And my approach was difficult to be categorized by the general public. So, I could say that I have been seeking my own style in my own way. I loved skateboard and motorbike even before starting to make clothes and my inspiration is coming from there. But I didn’t like the typical skateboarder or biker fashion. Like, ‘as he is a skateboarder, it should be like this. Or as he is a biker, it should be like that’, I didn’t want to be trapped by a stereotypical image. So even if my expression is unconventional, an idea to have it as an original identity and mix it into other cultures is my point of origin. This uncategorized style is my ‘style’, I would say”.
There are two interesting expressions using “Kata (style)” in Japanese. “Kata yaburi (unconventional)” and “Kata Nashi (non-conventional)”. These are important expressions that represent a view point of style. The former means a pioneer who tries to change Kata after understanding it. The latter is recklessness to assert one’s own vision without knowing Kata.
After having discovered skateboard and hip-hop in his youth, Nishiyama tried to understand the essence of its “style” then tried to break it down by digging even deeper into them. He is a challenger. People who try to break free from style will explore its underlying philosophy and idea and as a result, he/she ends up by changing the “style”.
“When PUBLICENEMY came on the scene in the 80’s, I was inspired by their ideas and thoughts that were not ruled by any existing hip-hop styles at that time. They elevated their message into their own style of hip-hop. In that sense, I think I wanted to become someone who had his own ideas and I went the way PUBLICENEMY had used to express themselves. I think I might have been fascinated by people who were unconventional. Besides PUBLICENEMY, what inspired me personally as well was the encounter with SKATE THING, a graphic designer, and Hiroshi (FUJIWARA HIROSHI). They were the ones, who introduced me to PUBLICENEMY, different cultures, people and places. What they taught me led me to ask myself “why do I love PUBLICENEMY, why do I think they are cool and why do I love skateboarding” and made me try to understand the specifics and philosophy behind it. I was surrounded by people who submerge their thoughts to understand things they ‘LIKEed’. This influenced me great deal”.
Even now, Nishiyama continues to feel their influence from those times. “When creating something I have a habit ‘I will never stop thinking’. That habit is made by the influence from that time. And I also try not to be direct but to give a subtext or consider a structure of layers. With this, I’m sure SKATE THING influenced me a lot. When creating something, I try to be conscious. The message tends to lie in a deeper place, I believe.”
In terms of a message, FORTY PERCENT AGAINST RIGHTS®, a project as well as a brand which Nishiyama started in his teens, has been delivering many messages through the medium of wearing.
“For FORTY PERCENT AGAINST RIGHTS®, sometimes I try to use direct expression, sometimes I make things very complex and other times I use metaphor. There may be many messages that sound cynical. I create a monotone design based on black to deliver my message more strongly. For example, T-shirt with ‘Don’t Follow me I’m lost too’ that I produced some time ago, has the meaning that ‘Don’t believe strange people’. Since I myself am a strange person and also lost, it is kind of a warning that people shouldn’t follow me. When one belongs to a group, the group will make someone a leader then all will follow the person. But once we lost our way, we tend to blame the leader. So, this is a message saying that you should go your own way without following someone irresponsibly. Another message similar to this is ‘MY LIFE IS MY LIFE’. This word may be more specific and more direct.
For ‘MY LIFE IS MY LIFE’, I drew inspiration from the words that Tatjana Patitz, who was a supermodel when I was in high school, said on MTV. I’ve been using it as a slogan of FORTY PERCENT AGAINSTRIGHTS®. It sounds like a lyric, and it can be interpreted in many ways although the sentence is short. I hope this kind of message can reach people and will stay in their thoughts, in day-to-day living or even their whole lives.”
Fashion that will stay in people’s lives. Now I wonder what Nishiyama takes along in his daily life? “Maybe a phone and card case? (laugh) Because everything is in my phone I don’t carry a bag anymore. I think I dress suitable to my daily life. I select my outfits depending on the weather. For warm or for cold, I enjoy picking up outfits that apply to the climate of each season while coordinating style which is suitable for my daily life. If you live with a child, this is more relevant. The reason I started DESCENDANT was actually there. In spring/summer, DESCENDANT has much distinct character but in autumn/winter, WTAPS is more matching to the mood of the season. Depending on an environment or season, I can enjoy this kind of difference.”
Fashion and style which you can enjoy the season have elements of color. When I asked him about a favorite color, he gave me an interesting answer. “I like teal blue. It is similar to turquoise but rather sensitive and delicate. Why I like it is very sensuous. Teal blue and purple shade of pink would remind me of America. Because it was the color that gave me a strong impression about the country when I really liked it and was into American things and culture. I think this image might be imprinted in me. Or maybe I looked at too many catalogues of outdoor brands. (laugh) It may be a color used very often on a skateboard deck at that time. It may be a color full of memories of the time when I had a lot of fun.”
From his youth and the time, he was having a lot of fun, he has been chasing what he liked to reach the point where he stands now. And he continues to chase what he likes. Now, what will Nishiyama try to tell us?
“Since I was young, nothing has changed but it was always important that I keep seeking the reason why I like what I like. For example, even if I didn’t study fashion design in an academic environment, I can show my own expression as a result of pursuing what I like. ‘Pursuing what one likes can bring a future’ means that because my career didn’t fit into an existing style, I can leave something behind that the next generation will be able to appreciate.
I never imagined that I would continue the brand that was born in the street of Harajuku in the early 90’s. But this is real. Of course, there are a lot of designers who graduated from a fashion school and are active in the scene but there is also somebody like me. While I am living, I hope I can tell people that there are always a lot of choices in one’s life. And I hope I can prove the meaning of MY LIFE IS MY LIFE through my actions.”
born in Nanpeidai, Shibuya-ku in 1974. In 1993, together with SKATE THING he founded FORTY PERCENT AGAINST RIGHTS®. He started to work as a designer of WTAPS after stopping FORTY PERCENT AGAINST RIGHTS® in 1996. After a 13-year break, he re-started FORTY PERCENT AGAINST RIGHTS® under the new theme; Media Guerrilla in 2009. In 2014 he started DESCENDANT. Nishiyama is currently working as a creative director for three brands.