Last month Doublet from Japan won the 2018 LVMH Prize, the prestigious and most coveted award for small fashion brands across the planet.

Over two days in February in Paris, designer Masayuki Ino presented his clothes to various luminaries serving as judges, including Karl Lagerfeld, Marc Jacobs, LVMH owner Bernard Arnault and Hollywood stars Emma Stone and Jaden Smith.

“I’m just a lucky boy!” exclaims Ino, when asked what he thinks won over the judges. “Actually, I think my clothes were maybe just the most fun.”

A quick scan of his creations for the spring/summer 2019 season proves Ino could be right. At his Tokyo exhibition for press and buyers, there’s ’80s throwback streetwear in copious neon colors, mixed patterns galore and billboard-sized message tees. A curious thing on display was a hot water dispenser accompanied by parody packages of instant noodles.

“You put water inside and it expands into a T-shirt,” explains Ino. Apparently, this was Lagerfeld’s favorite piece.

He pulls an empty hanger off the rack and points to its marbled coloring. “This is another shirt,” he says. “You can see it has been printed and then shrunk into the shape of the hanger. Just add water to wear.”

Ino has been subverting fashion since the very beginning of his brand in 2012. His signature flourish is to leave embroidered letter patches unfinished on the outside, so that exposed strands of threads cascade from half-formed words. His playful twists have gotten him the attention of some major street-style stars who have been snapped by the paparazzi in his designs, such as Kendall Jenner, rapper Travis Scott and Jaden Smith, who told Ino that he was already a fan before the LVMH Prize.

The win, however, still came as a shock to Ino.

“My first thought was, ‘Oh crap,'” he recalls. “Then, ‘Is this OK? Are you sure you guys picked me?'”

The Strangest Comfort

Doublet’s brand subtitle is “Strangest Comfort” — wearable clothing that still comes with surprises. “I don’t think I make fashion,” Ino says. “I make interesting items that happen to fall into a fashion-like category. This definitely isn’t ‘fashion’ in the classical sense of the word.”

Perhaps he’s right, but the fashion tides have been changing the past few years and streetwear has arguably not only found itself a seat at the table, it has started hosting the party.

In June, we saw the debut Louis Vuitton collection by Virgil Abloh, who exploded onto the scene with his streetwear brand Off-White. Meanwhile, fashion enfant terrible Demna Gvasalia of Vetements is now designing for Balenciaga. Doublet itself looks in part a mash-up of Vetements and Off-White, but that could be explained by the fact that, like Abloh and Gvasalia, Ino is in his late 30s and inspired by off-color culture from his childhood of the ’80s.

He says he’s a big fan of turning “ugly things” into clothes. To illustrate, he reaches for a jacket that is covered entirely in lenticular tiger images that change when you move your position. In his fall/winter collection, he also has a pair of balloon pants made out of foil and printed with the word “hamburger” on it.

And in creating his unisex brand, he also plays with size and proportion as part of each design. On the runway women were seen swimming in large sizes and the men bursting at the buttons. His clothes, however, run from size small to extra large. “I want everyone to be able to wear my clothes,” he says, “and however they want.”

Lessons from Mihara Yasuhiro

Ino studied fashion at Tokyo Mode Gakuen, a vocational fashion school in Shinjuku Ward. Upon graduation he worked on design teams for various labels before settling in at veteran Japanese runway brand Miharayasuhiro for seven years. There, he was put in charge of shoes and accessories, and he recalls that it was his interactions with Yasuhiro that paved the way for his own brand.

“I remember the disappointment whenever my ideas for designs were rejected,” he says.

And now that he has his own brand; does he ever revisit those rejected designs and create them?

“No way, I realized how terrible the designs were,” Ino says, laughing. “Mihara was right to toss them!”

When it came to starting his own brand, Ino was set on stepping away from accessories and wanted to try his hand at designing clothes. His first few collections were reminiscent of traditional menswear — wool jackets, preppy sweaters and tailored pants. A few seasons later he flipped the switch and ditched the classic styles for 100 percent streetwear.

“I believe timing is a big part of my success. The growth of my brand, the styles I design, even winning LVMH,” he says. “If I applied next year instead, I would not be here speaking with you.”

The LVMH award comes not only with a substantial sum of prize money — €300,000 — but also a year of special mentorship from the institution. When asked about future plans, Ino says, “I don’t have the money yet, and I have not thought about what to do with it. I didn’t apply just for a check, anyway.”

Perhaps he will use it to experiment on new packaging techniques, which can be a huge cost to small brands without big budgets. For his special hangers, Ino explains that he was fortunate to get it right from the get go.

“I tie the shirts up like tye dye and then print them. Then it gets pressed into the hanger shape. The factory (I use) had never done such a thing before, but we got it right on the first try,” he says. “I really am a lucky boy.”

For more information on Doublet, visit doublet-jp.com.

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