In the third installment in the 8am Coffee series we talk with fashion designer Gon Nakayama.
Oomori isn’t the first choice when thinking of destinations for a fashion wonderland. Five minutes from Shinagawa Station on the Keihin-Tohoku Line, Oomori in Ota-ku is an old school Showa town with a variety of shotengai with decades-old stores selling local produce including seaweed which has been harvested here for centuries.
About 20 minutes from Oomori Station and tucked down a side street is Dorothy Vacance, a brand store and sewing and knitting school run by the super charismatic and energetic Ayano “Gon” Nakayama.
I first met Nakayama at Tokyo Fashion Week about 11 years ago. We sat next to each other in the front row, struck up some conversation and became firm friends and have been in touch ever since. Stylish, elegant and funny, Gon is so much fun to be around with her motivation and enthusiasm rubbing off on everyone she comes into contact with.
A real Francophile, she spends time in France, has learned the language and as we sat down for some tea (not coffee this time) we chatted about films (our mutual love of God Help the Girl and The Goldfinch), Paris, food, fashion and her aim of mentoring youngsters about the environment, animals and understanding and thinking more about where garments come from and how we can use fashion as an agency for change.
Hi Gon. We haven’t met in person since the Comme des Garçons Dover Street Market opening reception in 2012. How has your life and Dorothy Vacance changed since then?
We opened this shop in 2011, right after the Tohoku earthquake. At that time people were talking more about sustainability and about remake clothing. Taking care of garments and a move away from fast fashion was happening. Many of my friends have had children since then and I started my order made brand for kids. One of my best friends had a daughter and asked me to make some cute clothes for her daughter because there wasn’t anything really available in Japan. My friend has a blog and posted some photos of the designs and her followers asked to make and buy my designs and clothes. We made a tiny pattern book and started selling online. That was the beginning. After that it spread through word of mouth and we went on to officially open our kids brand called Toudoux comme un agneau in 2016.
You went to France to study French. What was that like?
I love Paris and when I was there, I thought more about fashion and I went to museums and walked about the city. In 2016, I went to Rambouillet which is about 30 minutes from Paris by bullet train, so I could study French. It was such a beautiful and peaceful place. I got so much inspiration while I was there including inspiration for Toudoux comme un agneau. Really, it’s inspired by rural French life. There was so much nature, forests and woods and I learned French while I was horse riding too.
I made a clear concept for my brand while I was in Rambouillet. I asked my French teacher some questions about French words and then came up with the name Toudoux comme un agneau. “Toudoux” means soft and fluffy in French. And “comme un agneau” means like a baby sheep. My French friends loved it. Essentially, we’re a made-to-order brand that thinks about children and how we protect them.
How do you present your collections?
We have two exhibitions a year, Spring-Summer and Autumn-Winter here in our store and in a space in Omotesando. For Toudoux comme un agneau I decided three important concepts and principles. The first is nature. I’d like to protect nature for kids in the future. My brand is slow fashion and for their future we need to give them a cleaner earth. That is why everything is order made. The second is quality. I want to raise the five senses of the kids. I want to choose a nice feeling and comfortable clothes like 100 percent cotton and so on. And number three is love and friendship. This is really important for kids. Love for their family and friends and also for animals and nature. Every season we donate some money to an animal protection group in Okinawa.
I remember that you love cats and other animals.
Ha ha. Yes, almost once a week I go to Kamakura to do cat-sitting for my friends. They often travel for their jobs so I look after their cats. They are so gentle and calm. I love them so much. In the future I’d love to be a cat counselor. I’m only joking but I have talent with cats.
Have you ever thought about relocating to a more “fashion” area like Shibuya or Harajuku?
No. Never. It’s so comfortable here for me. There are no fashion people here. I really enjoy communicating with local people. And the local kids are interested in the shop and want to study sewing or painting. And I learn from their sense and thinking too.
What was it like during the height of the pandemic?
We were so busy here. Crazy busy. The reason was because we make masks. So many people came here and we had a line outside every day. Can you imagine? Of course, it was a terrible time for many but I could help the local people and get to know them more. We also taught them how to make their own masks. The patterns and designs were really vivid and colorful.
What do you do for fun and to relax?
I like thinking about my fantasies while walking in nature. I love looking at animals. Usually in and around Kamakura. And I love Yokohama too. I can see the ocean there which is nice. And I like going to museums and watching movies. I feel like I can travel within movies.
Do you still go to Fashion Week and what brands do you like right now?
I don’t really go to fashion week anymore unless I receive an invitation from my friends. For brands, I’ve become more interested in Stella McCartney because she’s very interested in preserving the environment. And she has been doing this for many years now.