Japan-born stylist brings influence to bear back home

by Martin Webb

W ith his big brown eyes and permanent pout, Nicola Formichetti doesn’t look like the kind of guy to battle his way to the top of the bitchy world of fashion. But that is exactly where this super-stylist is — flick through the phonebook-size fashion mags on the shelves on any given month and you’re sure to come across his name before too long.

Born in Japan to Italian and Japanese parents, he grew up between the two countries before moving to London at age 19. After working at an avant-garde boutique, he began styling fashion shoots for Dazed & Confused magazine and now, at 29, he is the cult magazine’s Senior Fashion Editor, as well as a regular contributor to such style bibles as V, Another, i-D and Teen Vogue.

Then there are those lucrative corporate clients like Prada, Missoni, D&G, Nike and H&M, for whom Formichetti styles ad campaigns or works as a creative consultant. This week he is in Tokyo for the launch of British retail giant Topshop, and its menswear counterpart Topman, in Harajuku’s youth-style mecca, Laforet, where he works for Side by Side, a store that champions cutting-edge designers from London.

And now he has yet another lucrative deal he is proud to reveal: “I’ve just started working with Uniqlo,” he says coolly. “This season I’m working on the New York launch, which is going to be their biggest store ever. I do all the advertising campaigns, and have started consulting on the clothes. From next season I’m going to be working on the designer collaboration collection, too. As a brand, Uniqlo is a bit intellectual, a bit nerdy, so we’re going to be going more in that direction.”

Although he is based in London, with big clients in Milan, Tokyo and now New York, Formichetti is constantly on the move. He visits Japan every two months, primarily because his family is here, and although he says Tokyo influences him, he wouldn’t want to live here.

“Because everything changes so quickly in Tokyo, it’s very inspirational. I think you can see that in my work. But there’s a lot of conformity — if I lived here I would probably become assimilated and lose the ability to see things from that outsider perspective.”

Being an outsider is one of this style authority’s secret weapons. He has no formal fashion training, but is still invited to judge international fashion designer talent contests and participate in the deliberations of the U.K. government-funded London Fashion Week. His status as a champion of upcoming creators who has the ear of the establishment has made him the go-to guy for firms looking to enhance their image by producing forward-looking lines designed by new talents.

“I’m like a middle man, because I have connections to the big guns of the industry and to young designers,” he says. “Both sides need each other and I’m like a producer in a way — hooking people up.”

Formichetti’s most crucial industry contact is with Topshop, the principal sponsor of London Fashion Week and the main source of funds to dozens of upcoming designers.

“Topshop supported almost all the young designers on the London runways; and they never asked them for anything in return. People say that big companies like H&M, Zara and Topshop are destroying the fashion industry because they make in-trend gear so cheap, but with Topshop they are doing a lot to keep the creative side alive.”

Now, thanks to the efforts of Formichetti, Topshop is bringing the clothes designed by upcoming creators to the Japanese market.

“Laforet liked what I was doing with Side by Side and wanted to bring more of the same stuff here. Topshop was the first name that came up and we just went to them direct. Both parties have a similar concept: very fashionable design but with a super-reasonable price. The price is very competitive here, too — it’s going to sell out in days.”

So with Japan Fashion Week having started Monday, what is it that prevents Tokyo from claiming its place on the international fashion circuit?

“There are very few designers who you can look at and think ‘Wow, that’s really individual,’ ” he says. “I think it’s a lot to do with the education system. Here, they teach you how to become a designer, but not how to tap into your inner creativity. When you’re studying you can’t think about the system because you become very limited.”

Wise words from a man who has molded the fashion system to the advantage of a host of bright-eyed creators whose creations might otherwise never have made it onto the catwalk.