Interview: Kazuki Kuraishi & Kyle Stewart talk Heather Grey Wall & Goodhood

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Words: Chris Benfield

At the time of it’s initial opening in 2011, Kazuki Kuraishi’s retail space Heather Grey Wall communicated an idea that had only been experimented with by a handful of outlets.

Placed in the Shibuya district in Japan, Heather Grey Wall is a space that displays the various projects and brands that Kuraishi works on, with the addition of specific lifestyle products that represent his enthusiasm and passion for design and craftsmanship.

Continuing to push the envelope of how we perceive the lifestyle store concept here in the UK, amongst many others, are East London based boutique Goodhood. Situated in Shoreditch, this past summer saw the Goodhood team outgrow their Coronet Street premises and relocate onto Curtain Road, with a two-storey shop expansion that definitively represents and displays the blend of clothing, lifestyle products and culture that they’ve become associated with and continue to champion. Not forgetting the addition of the Commune café space in the basement, where you can take a minute to relax with their great coffee and food. Goodhood founders Kyle Stewart and Jo Sindle have orchestrated a store that not only houses all of the aforementioned elements, but also allows space for creative exploration and collaboration projects with other like-minded individuals. The recent FPAR pop-up space initiated that new approach.

Thursday 30th October saw the launch of the Heather Grey Wall pop-up space in Goodhood, which presents the latest collection from A.FOUR; a venture shared between London based artist Lucas Price and Kazuki Kuraishi, who combine their creative perspectives through anarchistic ideals and post-modernist visuals. The pop-up space is housed in foil balloons and walls, taking inspiration from Andy Warhol’s New York Factory Studio. As if that wasn’t enough, we’re also treated to two collaborations. The first comes in the form of a Goodhood x Heather Grey Wall t-shirt, which references the shop’s renowned light-box installation. The second offering sees A.FOUR team up with British artist Ryan Gander, creating a capsule that seeks inspiration from Mahatma Ghandi’s prison uniform.

On the launch day of the Heather Grey Wall pop-up store, we had the pleasure of sitting down with Kazuki Kuraishi for a conversation where we touched on his background in design, creativity and what the collaboration process means to him. Complimenting Kuraishi’s viewpoint on this project, Goodhood co-founder Kyle Stewart kindly took some time out to chat with us, offering his views on the new store, the Heather Grey Wall pop-up and some of the ideas that continue to inspire the Goodhood team.

Thanks to Miko at HGW for translating the conversation with Kazuki Kuraishi.

The Heather Grey Wall pop-up shop in Goodhood will be on display until Thursday 13th November.

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Conversation with Kazuki Kuraishi

I’d like to start by gaining a clearer understanding of the origins of your creativity. You studied graphic design at the university level in New York, right?

Yes, at the New York School Of Visual Arts – SVA.

At that early stage, what kinds of inspirations and ideas were you taking in?

The reason why I took that education was because of the computer. At that time, for graphic design, using a computer was very critical and important. So, one of the main reasons was that I wanted to learn how to create graphics on the computer. At the time, it just so happened that a lot of people were making graphic t-shirts and a lot of people were putting graffiti inspired graphics onto t-shirts. I was actually more into art, fine arts, and spent a lot of time visiting galleries – independent galleries. I wanted to incorporate art into design.

Japan has a rich history of art, design and craftsmanship. When studying in New York, how did that mix of the Japanese creative influences and western art have an effect on your creative practice?

I appreciate Japanese art and art history. But in terms of craftsmanship, I believe that Japan is not the only place or country where craftsmanship is important. Whether it could be an item or thing, when I see craftsmanship behind them it doesn’t have to be from Japan or anywhere else specifically.

Over a period of time now you’ve worked with established brands, such as adidas, Neighborhood, fragment and CASH CA. Your own brand, co-owned with Lucas Price, A.FOUR is also another ongoing project. How did that relationship and connection with Lucas first develop?

Probably two or three years ago. I actually met Lucas through adidas. Lucas at that time was working on an art installation for an adidas campaign and with Gary Aspen from adidas UK. From there we built the relationship and decided to work on A.FOUR.

Did you have a core idea of what the brand should be? One idea that seems prominent and explored in the previous collections so far, is the idea of anarchism.

Every collection we always talk about the theme. For example, this collection, as you noticed we’ve done anarchism as a theme as well, but there’s always a UK punk element. Lucas likes the Situationists and the origins of punk is probably Situationist. So it’s that kind of connection that we’re both interested in.

In terms of how we work in A.FOUR and our roles, Lucas will usually brings creativity or the graphic element and then I will incorporate that into clothing.

Today sees the release of a collaboration project between A.FOUR and British artist Ryan Gander, a collection inspired by Mahatma Ghandi’s prison outfit. Is there a specific message there, or rather more of a visual exploration?

Unfortunately Ryan cannot make it tonight, he’s actually in Japan. I actually involved Ryan in the adidas Originals 84-lab collection. I have worked with Ryan before and Ryan and Lucas are also connected. So that’s how it ties into A.FOUR. With this special collection, we called it ’prison research’, it’s actually more of Ryan’s inspiration and design direction. It’s similar to how I work with Lucas, where I incorporate the artist’s inspirations into the clothing.

From my understanding, as I haven’t been to the store in Shibuya, Heather Grey Wall is a way of presenting your work, the brands you work with and a selection of lifestyle products that you admire. How did the initial idea for the store begin and how has it developed into what it is now?

The first Heather Grey Wall store in Shibuya opened three years ago and at that time there weren’t too many lifestyle shops. It was also called a ‘destination store’ because people would travel from many places to visit it. I think the idea is no longer that fresh. A lot of people are now opening up lifestyle stores like that. So we’ve closed it this year. The reason why is because I want to try a new approach. So before it was maybe a hidden and secluded, now I’m taking it to a completely new and different, almost opposite approach, where it’s going to be open next year in March on more main street Harajuku.

I want to make it more personalised. Obviously a lot of brands I’m involved in will be at the store, but I want it to be more personal. When I say personal, I mean one of a kind items. For example, maybe my personal stuff or maybe vintage clothing pieces. One unique item. I want to make the lifestyle product more personal, because to me that’s a new approach.

And with the pop-up version of the store being here in Goodhood, that’s also a new take on Heather Grey Wall.

Yes. For this pop-up store, I think it kind of synchronises everything because Lucas and Kyle Goodhood have been very good friends for a longtime and now the store is carrying A.FOUR as well. So for us, it’s a really good opportunity, and I’m very thankful to have a corner in the store. So having A.FOUR in the format of Heather Grey Wall, in having it in Goodhood, I think it’s just a perfect scenario at the moment.

You also produced a book back in 2012 through Heather Grey Wall, ‘ODDS and ENDS.’ What do books allow you to communicate that maybe clothing doesn’t?

I think the book itself, kind of reflected the Heather Grey Wall store too. Because it showed lifestyle products. At that time the book and Heather Grey Wall, that was a very fresh idea. If I were to produce another ‘ODDS and ENDS’ book, it would maybe be with different content because my vision also changes.

More in line with the new beginnings of Heather Grey Wall in March.

Yes, yes.

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Today you also have another collaborative project with Lucas releasing in the form of a book. What topics have you explored this time?

Both Lucas and I love photography and polaroid pictures are another interest that we both have, so we always wanted to print or issue a book that has the focus of photography and polaroids. That’s how we wanted to bring the book to Heather Grey Wall, A.FOUR, Goodhood at the same time.

Is presenting ideas through books, along with the clothing, something you’d like to carry on with and explore more of?

I think A.FOUR, when you think about it, is more of an art project that both Lucas and I share. So, clothing is one dimension of A.FOUR. Exhibitions could be another dimension of A.FOUR and the book is another dimension too.

Does this new book display photographs by you and Lucas, or is it by an artist you’re working with?

In terms of the layout of this book, we’ve left that up to the Lucas. I have taken some polaroid pictures and then given them to Lucas and then he put everything together. In terms of clothing, it’s the opposite. Lucas submits the art and then I put it into the clothing. This is how the dynamic works.

And what does that collaboration process mean to you and how does it have an effect on your design process?

The process is very intriguing, because when you work with someone else a new idea that hasn’t been thought before would come out. So that outcome is sometimes very, very interesting and it’s worth working with other people. When you work with other people a different angle is brought out.

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Conversation with Kyle Stewart

I think, before we get into the details about tonight and everything that’s happening with the new A.FOUR AW14 collection launch and the Heather Grey Wall pop-up store, it would be good to touch on the new Goodhood shop. This new space houses everything that the two stores had before. Was this the goal when you first started?

Yeah [pauses]. Yeah, I guess so.

Or was it more of an organic process?

Yeah it’s been organic. Being part of a partnership with Jo, I think it was her intention to always do something like this. It has been organic, completely organic. When we started we could of never opened a shop like this, seven years ago. One, we didn’t have the money to do it and two, we didn’t have the knowledge. It wouldn’t of happened. So it’s been massively organic and that has been of complete benefit to us, starting from nothing and starting super small.

You know, the goal is always just one step. This is like seven steps from where we originally started. So this is the goal from last year, 18 months ago. So perhaps not the goal when we first started.

Goodhood has a great understanding of, and enthusiasm for, quality product. Where did that come from? Both you and Jo are from design backgrounds, right?

Yeah, so we both worked for Levis and actually we both worked for Nike as well. We come from design backgrounds, so we’ve been involved in product and we love product. It’s not necessarily numbers for us, because we’re genuinely into it. We’ve got an aesthetic that we love. When we’re buying, it’s very intuitive and very natural for us.

I think that, in terms of our last experience, I find that I talk about it a bit. I find it quite significant, the fact that I worked at Levis, because that’s a retrospective brand. It’s all about looking at the history of clothing, the DNA of the heritage and jeans. It’s not an innovative brand. During that time I was studying historical clothes like Americana. In contrast to Nike, which is an innovative brand, it’s about product creation, about the future, about what’s coming.

I find the juxtaposition of those two jobs quite interesting. And I think that’s something that we look for in our products. It might be somewhat of a cliché now because I think a lot of people talk about it, but it’s very important to us. The clothes we buy, they’ve got a feeling of the past and an understanding of the development of clothing and style. But then also, it’s about projecting into the future, without being too futuristic.

Goodhood has been a legitimate option for many years now, in London, to get hold of Japanese streetwear. Their take on design has links to that particular formula you’ve mentioned. What aspects of Japanese design and culture inspire you and how have they had an effect on how you envisioned this new shop?

Yeah, that’s a good question. We love Japanese design.

It’s not just the clothes either. It seems to be with everything they do. There’s a certain sensibility about it all.

Yeah, for sure. I love the fact that this is a really hard thing to understand. It’s Heather Grey Wall, it’s A.FOUR, it’s Lucas (Price), it’s Kazuki. You know, it’s not simple and I love that. That to me seems uniquely Japanese because they don’t need things to be simple. Almost sometimes, it’s better if you don’t get it.

Obviously their approach to retail is completely inspiring. The concept of luxury. I love the fact that when you go to Japan, you can vibe on these ridiculous places where they don’t have a front door, like you’ve got to go down a basement to find it. That was massively inspiring in the original Goodhood store, in that we felt that we didn’t have to be on a high street. We could try and create something that asked people to come and find us.

And at the same time, I’ve always got the impression that there’s a sense of humility there. The shop always welcomed and treated the customer with respect.

Massively, yeah. We always felt there was no point in us asking people to make the effort to travel and see us, and then having a bad experience. And that’s definitely Japanese as well, with the care they take packaging stuff and passing you the bag, being polite.

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Tonight sees the launch of the Heather Grey Wall pop-up installation and there’s going to be a collaborative t-shirt between Goodhood and HGW, which references the light box.

Yeah, so we’ve done a t-shirt. It says ‘Get At Me Earthling’ on it and it involves Lucas. The light box, which was quite famous in our store with the philosophical comments, that actually started off as a piece of Lucas’ work. When we were opening the basement of our old store, I knew that I wanted to have a sort of light feature, a light box of some kind. I wasn’t quite sure how to get them made and then I went into Word To Mother’s studio and they had this massive light box in the entrance and I was just like “Where’d you get that?” and he told me about Lucas and gave me his number. I phoned him up, asked where he got the light box and then he told me about his work, sent me pictures of it and actually we decided we’d do this as a collaborative thing. So the first maybe 20 odd messages he was driving them and we took polaroids of all the first light box messages. So there’s a group of photographs, some of which is the content of the new Kazuki and Lucas book.

Is that something that you would personally like to explore more of. I know the website with elements such as the lookbooks provide a digital alternative, but what about the tangible aspect with books?

Of course, but it’s a lot of work though. We would like to for sure, but we don’t have the resources to do it at the minute. You know, we did a newspaper last year.

And that was through the Goodhood Creative studio. Is that something that’s still growing?

Yeah, we work with certain people. But it’s not something I actively seek. It’s still going, just organically.

There’s an A.FOUR collaboration with Ryan Gander being launched tonight here at Goodhood. The project references Ghandi’s prison outfit. That’s political and artistic take on fashion. Do you think that’s important for brands to do? To present an idea to its audience. 

Yeah, I’m interested in that. I like that. Definitely in terms of the philosophy that we try to live by, it’s definitely important. If you think back to Katherine Hamnett, she’s one of the the first persons to do tees in a political way. Whether she does that now or not, I’m not so sure. But for us, that aesthetic is sort of a culture. More like an emotional culture.

You can feel it, even sat here now in the Commune café in the basement of the store, you have all of the printed pieces up on the wall. There’s a lot of visual referencing there. One that I can personally pick up on, is the Society Of The Spectacle book cover image. Guy Debord is renowned for being one of the driving forces behind the Situationist movement, the 1968 protests in Paris. 

I guess that’s a good reference point, because that was much more about this space called Commune. Our business is not a mega brand, we’re not a corporate brand. It’s owned by myself and Jo. I talk to my employees and it’s a flat company structure and that’s important to us. It’s a modern day business and hopefully a new generation of businesses that would offer it more on that level.

And when you look at those kinds of images and the reference material you have here, you don’t need to know directly what it’s about because visually it communicates the core ideas. 

Yeah and it’s us just trying to be honest. The product is honest, I think. Useful and helpful. It’s luxury to us, but it’s not like a £10,000 bag or something ridiculous like that.

These people Kazuki, Lucas, it’s interesting how they all join up. That quote on the floor “Beneath the pavement lies the beach” was a light box.

One of Lucas’ original concepts?

No, we just did it and when we were trying to think of the name of the café I was like “The tag line should be ‘Beneath the pavement lies the beach.’” I’d been looking at the light boxes and it made sense for the café downstairs. Then I started researching about the Situationists and I love the story of how that slogan came about. Funnily, I just couldn’t get the name for the café at all and then one night Lucas believe or not, sent me a whole bunch of scans he had. I was just looking through it all and I just saw ‘Commune’ and was like “Thanks for that, I’ve got the name now.”

And an important part of that Situationist movement was café culture and you have that here. Coffee has always been used as stimulus for conversation, it stokes the social interaction.

Yeah, exactly and the food too. The idea of food, living and sharing.