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Person to Know: A Rei Kawakubo Protégé, and His Own ‘Non-Sex’ Label

By Bianca Husodo

Lorenzo Dalbosco

Until two years ago, Ganryu was a Comme des Garçons sub-label not many knew existed. Not many knew of its under-reported closure either.

Designer Fumito Ganryu, discovered by Rei Kawakubo through Junya Watanabe, cut his teeth as a pattern maker for Watanabe’s namesake in 2004. A fascinated Kawakubo then offered Ganryu the opportunity to start an eponymous line under the Comme des Garçons umbrella, leading to the birth of the Ganryu menswear label in 2007.

In the same vein as Comme’s other subsidiary lines — which count talented studio designers and pattern makers Kawakubo entrusts with namesake diffusions the likes of Junya Watanabe (launched in 1992), Tao Kurihara (the Tao line launched in 2005, shuttered in 2011) and Kei Ninomiya (Noir by Kei Ninomiya launched in 2012) — Ganryu’s sensibility, too, stemmed from the main line’s complex ethos. His, however, starkly stood out in its contemporariness; an uncustomary concept to the Comme universe.

Ganryu toyed with casual menswear, bringing together traces of modern streetwear with an off-kilter clashing of details and fabrication. In his hands, staples like denim jackets and sweatpants were dissected and reinvented. Jackets were structured from organised chunks of varying denim types; trousers inhabit exaggerated drop-crotch silhouettes. Challenging, yet wearable nonetheless. Ganryu’s pieces were rarely sold beyond Japan’s borders. But despite remaining under the radar throughout the decade of its existence, the Ganryu label gathered a pool of staunch acolytes, furtively churning bold dailywear for those in-the-know.

As elusive as its entrance, the Ganryu line made its silent departure in 2017. No official statement was given by Comme. News of its closure was, in fact, delivered by Canadian retailer Haven, which announced that Ganryu’s Spring/Summer ’17 pieces they carried would be the label’s “final releases”.

“Working with her [Kawakubo], it was an important period in my career,” divulged Ganryu in an email correspondence. “After entering my forties, I began to investigate how I can express fine quality and intelligence, while considering what is necessary for the 21st century.”

In Paris, Fumito Ganryu (center) showcased his Fall/Winter ’19 collection.
In Paris, Fumito Ganryu (center) showcased his Fall/Winter ’19 collection.

Less than a year after his abrupt exit from the Comme family, Ganryu returned with an independent namesake. His inaugural collection for Spring/Summer ’19 — a wardrobe permeated with neoprene jumpsuits and intentionally misplaced extra sleeves — debuted last year in the outskirts of Florence at Pitti Uomo 94. And last week, his sophomore outing joined Paris’s menswear lineup.

Both collections were presented as part of menswear’s fashion calendar. Albeit so, the Tokyo-based designer firmly posits what he self-coins the “non-sex” approach, describing them as clothes for those dissatisfied with the current trends of fashion.

“It’s very important for me to differ “non-sex" with “genderless”,” he stated. To Ganryu, the core difference between the two terms lies in their viewpoint towards traditional garment-making technicalities that are generally bisected to cater to specific genders, male or female. Trained in womenswear and menswear patternmaking, Ganryu is well-versed in the rules and limitations of both. He decided to free himself of these gendered shackles.

“In my opinion, the approach to ‘’genderless’’ is to let the pieces carry the elements of both genders. I’m familiar with the elements to both, so I’m able to eliminate [them altogether] to create something neutral,” Ganryu explained.

For Fall/Winter ’19, his technically-charged offering juxtaposed workwear tailoring with proportions magnified in its fluid transcendence. Preconceived notions of masculinity and femininity were bluntly removed by way of super volumised sarouel pants and kimono-reminiscent slouchy suiting — most with adjustable drawstring waistbands — on models who were ostensibly picked for their androgynous gait. 

“They are both art and functional,” Ganryu said of his sartorial creations.
“They are both art and functional,” Ganryu said of his sartorial creations.

Not unlike his previous collection, Ganryu explored the relationship between nature and the city. A nature-inspired colour balance — “black and white, sand and sea,” states the show notes — infiltrated his urban-tilted garments. Perhaps a subliminal allusion to his upbringing in Fukuoka, where his adolescent curiosity for fashion was first piqued, noticing the seaside town’s surfers dressing differently.

“That was when I first thought about what I wanted to wear,” Ganryu recalled. The budding creative then discovered the works of the Antwerp Six, a renowned Belgium fashion collective of which members include Dries Van Noten and Walter Van Beirendonck, before decamping to Tokyo’s fast-paced megalopolis and enrolling to Bunka Fashion College.

His streak for the unorthodox has remained intact since his salad days. Though many are sceptical. Reviews for his collections were brutally critical, often rooted in the reviewers’ distaste in the “wearability”, or lack thereof, of Ganryu’s “non-sex” vision. An unjustified opinion, considering Ganryu’s intention for his clothes to be multi-interpretational in the hands of his loyal niche clientele.

“I believe part of the responsibility lies with the wearer,” declared Ganryu. “This is my approach to ‘“non-sex”, a new frontier of fashion.”