Inside Jun Takahashi’s World — and Studio



Slide Show

Behind the Scenes at Undercover

CreditGaby Wood


After scouting numerous locations around Tokyo — Kabuki theaters, sumo wrestling pits, even Shibuya crossing — the T team eventually chose two historical Japanese teahouses inside the Tokyo National Museum for the site of its shoot on Jun Takahashi of Undercover. The teahouses, which are both closed to the public, and the surrounding Ueno Park, provided an ideal backdrop for the sculptural, fantastical pieces from the designer’s fall 2017 collection. As Patrick Li, T’s creative director, put it, the structures provided a contrast — of a traditional Japanese setting for “Jun’s directional, futuristic viewpoint.”

Takahashi styled all of the models himself in the brightly colored honeycomb skirts, rubber-soled platform shoes and architectural headpieces from his collection — exactly the way they had appeared in the show, which had been organized around 10 tribes of a utopian society, including “aristocracy,” “young rebels” and “monarchy.”

To photograph the story, T enlisted Philip-Lorca diCorcia, known for his carefully constructed, and often eerie, pictures. The resulting images featured “figures that are isolated in their stillness in the middle of a kind of implied narrative,” as Li put it — a kind of perfect complement to the story line behind Takahashi’s collection. The bustling, neon-lit Akihabara district, in central Tokyo, was chosen as a second location — a sharp contrast against the teahouses’ traditional interiors.

For the story that accompanied the shoot, the London-based writer Gaby Wood (who is also the literary director of the Booker Prize Foundation) traveled to Tokyo for three days in June. Wood is also the author of “Edison’s Eve,” a book about mechanical dolls and the history of robots. (Takahashi also has a fascination with dolls: For his spring 2009 collection, he made a photo-book about a colony of furry cyclops dolls, some of which now inhabit his Tokyo atelier.)

Wood had first traveled to Tokyo 15 years before, when she visited a robotics lab as research for the book. “This time around, here I was visiting a fashion designer,” she says. But he seemed to her to be “much closer in his imagination to the kinds of people” at the robotics lab than she expected. “He was really much more like a crazy inventor — in a great way.”

During her visit, Wood observed Takahashi and his team at work — and interviewed many of his collaborators. In addition to her notebook, Wood brought along a Rolleiflex camera. For years, she has photographed many of her subjects, as a way of recording the encounters. Taking her own pictures “makes sure you’re actually properly looking at something,” she says. In Takahashi’s case, Wood said she was struck by the “calm with which he operates, which I might not have found unless I was trying to follow the rhythm of it by being quiet — and a little bit invisible — myself.”

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