Photos by Dylan Griffin
When E.F. Hutton talks, people listen. When Hiroshi Fujiwara talks, people listen, stare and gawk. When we were shooting him in SoHo for this interview, passing Japanese tourists froze, gawked, whispered, and generally behaved as people do in the presence of hip royalty.
Fujiwara, with his team of designers and marketers at Fragment Design, is the absolute arbiter of all things hip in Japan, on a level probably difficult for most Americans to comprehend. Entire markets will rise and fall on his say-so. Burton, Nike, and Levi’s are just three of the brands who know they need this man to tell them what’s up.
With twenty years of experience under his belt, Fujiwara’s not the type to rest on his laurels. As Theme caught up with him, he was still deep in the quest for the next interesting thing, the next spark which will inspire and entertain. And then the masses will have it. And then he will be onto something completely new. Of course.
Theme: How do you describe what you do?
Hiroshi Fujiwara: I don’t describe. I just keep myself...not mysterious, but…
You do seem mysterious! We had a tough time digging up research on you. For a guy whose name is on so many people’s lips....
I don’t think anyone knows 100% what I do. I don’t even know. [Laughter.] But I kind of like it this way.
What are you working on right now?
I’m producing a DVD for Eric Clapton, I just finished the artwork. I do [consulting for] Nike…
What kind of consulting?
Product or Marketing, I think. I don’t really do anything. [Laughs.] And I’m signed to Levi’s now, doing my own line, called Fenom. The president of Levi’s (Japan) is a very interesting Filipino lady. And this year I think I’m working on Undercover. [Renowned fashion designer Jun Takahashi’s label.]
What do you do for Head Porter?
I own the company.
How do you manage to do everything?
[Bashful laughter.] I don’t know. But I’m not really busy, busy all the time. I think I’m really available for everything. People say “You must be really busy” but I don’t think I am.
Is it because you have a good team?
Yeah, I have a good team, and I think I’m really good at making time, and doing stuff in a short period of time.
It’s been said that you may have been the man who brought hip hop to Japan. How did that happen, and how did you get into music producing?
I think it started from DJing—actually no, it was after the “fashion victim” thing. The Japanese “dress-up” phenomena. I came to Tokyo when I was eighteen years old. I dressed in Vivienne Westwood, and nobody did that at that time. Some designer picked me out and some magazines featured me.
Then I really wanted to go to London, so I went to London and met Malcolm McLaren [Vivienne Westwood’s partner from 1970-1983], and he said “London is boring, go to New York.” So I came to New York and saw a lot of hip hop DJs, and I bought a lot of records and came back to Japan. And started playing hip hop records. So I may have been one of the first hip hop DJs in Japan.
The next thing—the remix thing happened. The word was “remixer.” I started doing that for the major record companies. Like we did Yellow Magic Orchestra. Then I became more of a music producer. I think it’s kind of the same as a DJ here—you know, people start as a DJ, and then become producers.
Eventually you started your own brand, or several— what was your first?
Good Enough—I think that was ’88 or ’89. I [eventually] quit the company, but Good Enough still exists.
That’s quite a career arc, and we’ve barely scratched the surface. Where is all of this leading?
That’s a tough question, I don’t have a plan. [Laughs.] I don’t plan anything. I always think about the aim, you know? What am I working for? What am I making money for? I’m doing this, I’m doing the clothing line but, what is the aim of this? I always end up thinking about this. And I often get into a little depression with what I’m doing, what I’m working for. I think a lot of creatives have the same kind of thoughts.
In the beginning you did more independent ventures like DJing and Good Enough, whereas recently you’ve been collaborating with larger companies.What’s behind the recent “partnering” thing?
When I finished Good Enough, I realized that I didn’t really want to have my own team. I didn’t really want lots of people working for me, whom I have to take care of. So I just decided that my company would be me and Kojiro, my assistant, the two of us can maybe work with partners. This is the kind of strategy I’m working with. To get percentages from the projects with the big major companies, or even the smaller companies.
So it’s just less responsibility for you.
Yeah, no risk. Maybe if I did it by myself I can make more money, but I don’t want to take the risk. It’s much easier for me to work this way. I’ve always wanted to have more time for myself, and shrink the work a little bit. That was another reason I quit doing Good Enough and Electric Cottage [another ex-Hiroshi brand]. But [shrinking the work] never worked.
Do you ever take on projects even though you know they’ll be stressful?
I’m trying not to. Sometimes it happens, but I try not to. More interesting work is coming to me, and I’m enjoying doing this.
I always get depressed if it’s getting really popular, you know what I mean? I wanted to stop, but on the other hand, you know you can make money, so what should you do?
As a trendsetter or tastemaker or whatever you want to call it, do you find yourself getting tired of things?
When I started DJing, hip hop was getting really popular, and I was kind of depressed. I always get depressed if it’s getting really popular, you know what I mean? I wanted to stop, but on the other hand, you can make money, so what should you do?
I’m always faced with this decision...and I always stop. Like with hip hop, I kind of stopped and forgot about hip hop.
Because it got too popular?
I don’t know—it got too popular, and I felt that it wasn’t mine anymore. And then I started to play house music or whatever. always do that. I [worked on] Good Enough for ten years, then I kind of stopped doing it. And I had a store called Ready Made for three years, then stopped doing it before the Harajuku phenomena began getting popular. I don’t really like to be too in the minority, and I don’t really like to be in the majority.
Sounds like a fine line to walk. How do you retain your credibility?
I’ve been doing this for twenty years, and I don’t promote anything which I don’t like. Even when I was really young and didn’t have that much money to survive. There were companies that asked me to promote ugly shoes, or an ugly clothing line, and I never did. I’ve turned down lots of companies that have asked me to do that. So that’s why kids trust me, because of my identity and integrity. If Nike asked me to promote ugly shoes, I wouldn’t do it.
What’s the next step for you?
Hmm. I don’t know. I think...nothing really excites me now. I’m always looking for something I can really get into, but recently I can’t find it.
Is there anyone today that you’d like to work with, but haven’t gotten the chance?
Not really, no. I’m looking for someone.
Do you consider all the things you do, work, or pleasure?
I think so.
Have you ever in your life written a business plan?
So none of this happened by planning?
Can you plan this? [Laughter.]