Noir by Kei Ninomiya: Sartorial poetry in black

Noir by Kei Ninomiya

Noir by Kei Ninomiya: Sartorial poetry in black

“Noir explores designs themed around black. I like the image of black…” So says Japanese designer Kei Ninomiya, one of the latest names under the Comme des Garçons umbrella debuting at IF Boutique Dubai this Spring.

A quiet entity, the Japanese designer turns out a handful of conceptual pieces each season.

There is nothing surprising in finding the inner workings of Comme des Garçons fascinating, considering that the cult label has managed to establish an independent empire that is both obscure — the much-discussed silence of Rei Kawakubo — and transparent — the zen mantras of creativity of her husband and business partner Adrian Joffe.

But where success stories are often ones of scorched earth and assimilation, what is most impressive about the Japanese brand is its fecundity; the space it has created for other designers to work, both under and next to it.

In the diverse set of alumni and partners, the most discrete is Kei Ninomiya. Since starting his own brand in 2012, after many years as a pattern-maker under Rei Kawakubo, he has established a quiet all-black universe of technical invention and sartorial poetry.

His collections are feats of production, leather bound by chains and studs, woven plastic and micro-assemblages from which garments emerge. But his craft is utterly devoid of look-at-me showmanship, and it is in the quiet details that his talent resonates the most.

“I love black, that’s all. I don’t really care about colors,” Kei Ninomiya says. “To make a silhouette, you never need colors. And I love black, so I don’t see why I would use anything else. Also, if you focus on the black you see more of the differences in fabric; more nuances. You focus on that.”

The Spring/Summer collection includes a smock dress made from hundreds of delicately layered faux-leather flowers, and a biker jacket embroidered with waves of pearls. “The point is to create forms no one has ever seen before,” Ninomiya says.

His modular, stitch-free experiments with form and volume are dark but not necessarily severe. Some of his looks are as close to the conventional notion of eveningwear as anything in the Comme des Garçons ecosystem.

Like Junya Watanabe before him, 31-year-old Ninomiya began his career working for Comme des Garçons, where Rei Kawakubo, the enigmatic force behind the Japanese empire, encouraged him to start his own line.

With most of his designs intricately wrought in Ninomiya’s favorite hue — black, he explains: “Black is a strong color. I use it to create strong forms of expression.”

Being scooped up by Comme des Garçons’ talent incubator and offered the opportunity to design your own collection is not an honor granted to many. In fact, you can count the enigmatic gang on one hand — Junya Watanabe, Tao Kurihara, Fumito Ganryu and now, Kei Ninomiya.

Ninomiya, who graduated from Aoyama Gakuin University with a degree in French Literature, before attending Antwerp’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts, dropped out to join Comme des Garçons in Tokyo as a pattern cutter in 2008. Five years later, in April 2012 he was encouraged to launch his own brand by mentor Rei Kawakubo, presenting his first collection in October 2012 under the label “Noir Kei Ninomiya.”

But what’s in a name? For Ninomiya, the color void created by black’s conclusive nature offers space for perpetual rebirth, which he aspires to fill with techniques and processes — be them his preference for intricate laser cutting, knitting with metal hardware or meticulous fold detailing.

In this avant-garde environment, concept is king, and Ninomiya’s design process is wrapped up in an abiding search for alternative ways to re-address form.

“Working with Rei Kawakubo has taught me to approach creation with directness and integrity. When designing, I always look for an element of surprise, or some detail that I find captivating,” Ninomiya says. “Noir will consistently seek out new forms of expression. The means to do this will change each season — approach, details, and techniques.”

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