There’s something refreshing about a brand which eschews the usual braggadocio associated with fashion. Design, and in this case fashion design, should probably focus more on the artisanship involved, the narrative, the bigger picture when it comes to the role fashion plays in society and in our lives.
Fashion brand Biéde (stylized as BIÉDE) made a quiet and unassuming entrance onto the Japanese fashion stage last year with a collection of handbags made by artisans at a factory in Guangzhou, China. Now I know what you’re thinking. The words China and artisanship don’t usually come hand in hand but the country has, unsurprisingly considering its history and size, a legion of craftspeople who take pride in their work and can be considered the antithesis to the fast fashion sweatshop image that many people have when it comes to manufacturing in China.
A Touch of Mystery
Biéde, is a label developed by Tokyo-based design consulting office Kleinstein which drives the creative direction of the brand. The details of the multinational creative design team, however, are undisclosed and Kleinstein wants to keep it that way. A little touch of mystery and enigma goes a long way in fashion seen by the success of labels such as Martin Margiela. Kleinstein is Yusuke and Miki Koishi (both Koishi and Kleinstein mean ‘small stone’) and the pair have valuable experience in the creative world with Yusuke having worked as lead planner for Comme des Garçons and Miki in the art industry. Kleinstein still works on projects for Rei Kawakubo’s seminal fashion brand Comme des Garçons in addition to projects for Mylo Slovakia and hip Slovakian heritage sneaker brand Novesta.
For its inaugural collection last year, Biéde sought the services of emerging and much-in-demand Chinese photographer Quentin Shih. Although Kleinstein and Shih have never met face to face, the collaboration has grown from strength to strength from the brand’s debut collection to this year’s sophomore project with Shih providing and encapsulating the visual identity of the brand.
Collection 02, as it’s titled, began when Yusuke and Miki wrote some text inspired by Haruki Murakami’s novel IQ84 which, incidentally, is partly set in the same area as Kleinstein’s gallery space Steinbox (stylized as STEINBOX). The text was reimagined and reinterpreted into English by Wayne Conti of Mercer Street Books & Records, New York, which was then sent to Shih, who is based in Beijing, for him to imagine the visual branding for the collection.
“It’s a kind of social hacking,” says Yusuke in a recent interview with TW at Steinbox. “Through the project and product we tell a story and they get inspiration from it. The photography, products and their next action will then be changed because of that.”
Entrances to a Parallel World
Kleinstein is a consultancy very much part of internet culture. With the limitations of setting projects in motion in a personal setting due to the pandemic, the collaborative process involved in the creation of Biéde is mostly through texts spread out over a disparate array of countries. Some of Shih’s photographs for Collection 02 will be faintly familiar to fans of Murakami’s 1Q84 which depicts a world where there are layers and entrances to another parallel world, in this case from a ladder found near an expressway in Tokyo. A blonde-haired model with a pink top and Biéde bag draped over her torso sits by the side of a road as if waiting for the next step. The color and hues inherent in Shih’s oeuvre lend themselves to this otherworldliness with a dream-like quality.
Yusuke says of the decision to work with artisans in Guangzhou: “We decided to make the bags in China because we thought China’s duality and the image of the product would be interesting. Brands from all over the world are making things in China, but their image is not always appreciated.” The brand, which is only available online with a minimal and organic approach to marketing, sold out its debut collection last year and Collection 02 is set to do the same.
Kleinstein represents an intellectual approach to fashion. It never deals in the fripperies associated with the creation of apparel or accessories. “We’re a company that deals with non-trivial things,” says Yusuke and Miki. “We always want to find value in places where people don’t want to go, where people don’t pay much attention, where things are under-valued. In this sense, we are like an investor. In the future, we want to increase the number of brands we invest in and manage, not only in Japan, Europe and the US but also in Asia. We want to make something that can be enjoyed by people of all races, religions, nationalities and genders, and we hope that people who watch our projects and use our products will see Kleinstein in this light.”
Kleinstein’s intellectual application to their multifarious projects is unsurprising due to Yusuke’s background in engineering and chemical physics at the University of Tokyo, where he studied the dynamical structure of chemical chaos. In addition to his various roles in the fashion industry, he also works as a writer and critic. Miki worked for an art museum for over ten years as an archivist and prior to that as an editor at a publishing firm and a project researcher at the National Institute of Informatics. The Kleinstein duo is perfectly balanced, cerebral and immersed in the contemporary, utilizing modern methods of communication in addition to paying homage to history, heritage and a world or series of worlds which came before.
Biéde, according to Kleinstein is “a label of genderless uniform which creates all products from dialogues between people across borders and different generations.” The brand embraces a subtle and beautiful harmony balancing craftsmanship and the latest technology. Perhaps this is the future of fashion and perhaps Yusuke and Miki Koishi are the new figureheads of a creative movement which erases national and cultural partitions to establish a new and revolutionary approach to fashion and artistry.
BIÉDE opened its first showroom store, BIÉDE MINAMIAOYAMA, in Minami Aoyama on December 4. The store will be located at STEIN BOX (@steinbox_aoyama), a gallery space operated by KLEINSTEIN (kleinstein.com), which produces and manages BIÉDE.
“BIÉDE MINAMIAOYAMA” will display all the new products from BIÉDE’s COLLECTION 02, which was newly released in October this year, as well as products from COLLECTION 01. The space will be a place where customers can actually try on the products before purchasing them online.
BIÉDE MINAMIAOYAMA also exhibits the photographic works taken by Quentin Shih (a.k.a. Shi Xiaofan) for BIÉDE, the works on display will be changed periodically. While sales will continue to be conducted online, BIÉDE MINAMIAOYAMA is planning to hold events and special offers in the showroom store for visitors to experience the value of coming to a real place. For more information, please visit Instagram @biede_official
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This article was published in Tokyo Weekender’s Nov-Dec 2021 magazine. Flip through the issue by clicking on the image below.