An interview with Tetsu Nishiyama

17.11.2012 |
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Tokyo, NBHD BUILDING, 24.04.2012, 13:00

I wonder how you came to name brand WTAPS and what does it mean?

Before WTAPS there was FPAR (FORTY PERCENTS AGAINST RIGHTS), my original product. FPAR was not only focused on apparel though, but on other creativities as well. At some point I felt like I want to concentrate more on apparel and fashion. So, I called the 2nd brand WTAPS. This is a military term, as you may know, and it means “the second shot always finishes it”. “W” means “twice”. So, WTAPS was my 2nd challenge.


“Placing things where they should be”. But where things should be? Is it only the visual senses and intuition? Or do you use some kind of “archives” where you can verify this?

It really is from my intuition. To me, “placing things where they should be” is the basis and the foundation of design. That’s why I use it as a slogan. As I did fashion, I got a bit exhausted with the repetition every season. Things could be the same, the same and the same … I needed quite some motivation to keep going. And … whenever I think of the motivation I return back to the origin, to the foundation … “placing things where they should be”. This is my starting point when it concerns fashion. And I adhere to the 2 principles.

Miya-Daiku – historically, this was a group of professional carpenters in Japan famous for being able to use every single piece of wood.

It is like … trees can be imperfect. It can be curved, but the way it is curved does have the power, the origin, the beauty and the esthetics to it too. Even if a tree is bent, it has certain esthetics in it. I do not see it as a defect, but rather understand and make the full use of its potential and reflect it in my design.

The 2nd principle is Taoism. 


FPAR is permeated with an anarchism energy. Where this energy can be found even today? It is interesting to all - from design to music and movies. What are main sources of FPAR inspiration for you?

It is not that I support the word “anarchy” or anarchy as such. It is anarchism, not anarchy – there is a difference. Anarchism is a principle. It is how people in the past were “political against”, how they were reflected in the media, how they communicated to the mass media – that’s what I was interested in. Of course, anarchism was reflected in design, music, fashion, movies. More so, in 1990’s there was an example of a “public enemy”, the method they used to fight for human rights, against discrimination. A lot of people, including those in fashion, reacted. Although they were outrage, they were successful in communicating to the public. To me it is the effect, the influence, the impact of being political against that I synchronize with anarchism. There are artists including Japanese artists as well - Kiyoshiro Imawano, Blue Hearts, Rage against the Machine, good few others who represent this. I pay them the respect, but it is not necessarily that I was particularly influenced by them. FPAR is my own idea, my vision, my own expression of the design.

Very precise answer. What is also interesting is communication regarding FPAR. Many things have changed even since the 1990s’, more things have become possible on-line. But it is only that issue of the off-line magazine that we have found out about FPAR. There is very little - if anything - available on-line. Do you consciously ignore on-line communication opportunities and try and limit people’s knowledge about FPAR?

I expose myself to the public both offline and online, but for FPAR is believe is something tangible, e.g. an offline magazine, a free paper distrusted in a store. It has more warmth in it. It’s the best way to translate my direct feelings, the warmth. Online lacks that – it is more instantaneous, but it is more facade? Especially for FPAR, it is important to translate the warmth energy to people.

I do realize advantages of offline and online communications. It is not that I’m negative about the online communication. For example, there was the earthquake last year and it is amazing how quickly people were getting support and feedback online. It is that quickness, instantaneousness and directness. There are simply different platforms. One should distinguish which way the message goes better to people depending on the situation.

One marketing question. All WTAPS and FPAR fans will be very interested. I’m almost sure of the answer, but … do you have plans to sell FPAR internationally?

Previously FPAR was in Hong Kong, but now it is only Japan and …like you expected, no plans to sell FPAR internationally.

I share this idea, it should remain something unique.

I think Hong Kong was a very special location. In 1992-93 they had a store “NOWHERE” and then “UNDRCOVER” together. They only did a pop-up store and it was a very special occasion. Other than that, to be official, in was only Japan.

What is the idea behind Ursus Bape?  Is just the “budget” product line? As I gather Ursus Bape is cheaper than say WTAPS. Is it like a special line for young people?

It goes way back to history. I have always been working for A BATHING APE (BAPE).  A lot of people know my story of working for BAPE. However, it is only recently that media picked up Ursus Bape and one may think it is a new band. But it is not. I have always been designing for A Bathing Ape, but now I’m more of a director of Ursus Bape and hence expose myself more publicly as Ursus Bape person. Ursus is just a bigger range now.

In terms of Ursus being cheaper it is just the business side of it in which I am not involved at all. It is the hassle of business development people at Bathing Ape.

Let’s talk your favorite brands. Those which no longer exist - Japanese or not - does not matter. If you were to commit to re-launching a forgotten company or brand, what would it be?

I can’t think of one, sorry (laughing).

You are also known as a graphic designer and not many people know about it. You designed RATS brand's logo for example. I collect various of your graphic designs – on stickers, etc. Do you collect such “inspiring” things and what are these?

I am not a graphic designer. Let’s be clear on that. The reason is that I do not necessarily draw or do illustrations. I take it more as a collage. E.g., in 1990s’ when sampling was really big in Hip Hop what they did was taking different tracks, beats, mix them together and your selection and picking determines the new format. My work in this area is similar to that. It is no graphic design, but more of a sampling, picking from what is already there. In 1990s’ it influenced fashion a lot and they way I designed T-shirts, for example. I still collect the print materials. Don’t know why though. There is no some thought through reasons for that – these are just my personal attraction.

What was that SPIT? I saw a magazine with some pictures of your “philosophy” office and there were pictures of a Spit with a bird, an eagle. What is it?

It comes from a friend of mine. It is actually a name of a bike garage. When you ride a bike it is kind of spitting like oil. So the name comes from that.

And who made that logo and wrote “Spit”? This is definitely graphic design (laughing).

It’s me, but this really is sampling (laughing).

There are lots of examples – “Philly”, “RATS” logo. All graphic design. You don’t want to be viewed as a graphical designer, but – remarkably - the world knows you as such. I know you have already partly answered this question … who inspires you the most? No detailed answer is needed – just give few names from the top of your head - philosophers, thinkers, writers, activists, etc.

There are three. Tao or Taoism. Then Taro Okamoto, a big artist in Japan in 1970s’. A “vanguardist”, very colorful and an activist at the same time. And lastly, Avram Noam Chomsky, an activist.

What are your favorite means of transportation? I know you drive both cars and motorbikes, but what is you favorite one?

Anything that speeds me up, buys me time. Even if it is a 10 minutes walk, if there is anything that would take me there in 2 minutes, I would go for it. I prefer shortening transportation time as much as I can and use it for other things. Maybe later as I grow older and life slows down a bit I will choose develop some preferences. Now as far as it concerns getting from one place to another, it is anything that shortens the travel time the most.

You are known for your passion for motorbikes. Could you name a few favorite models?

1952 TRIUMPH TL5 500cc. This is my favorite one for now. Also 1979 Harley Davidson given by Shin, Black “201-205”. I rode it when I was 24-25. I still have it.

Do you travel a lot? Where have you been over the last few years?

I like travelling a lot and I wish I could travel more. Honestly though, my travel plans are driven by business trips. The recent trips I enjoyed was when I went to Paris, London and Belgium. My wife lived in Belgium before my son was born and I went there a lot. Earlier I was focused on the US – I thought it was a center of everything, everything was born there. Later my interest in Europe has grown. For example, Belgium, where you can find the history, the traces of socialism and communism – in furniture, fashion, industrial design. I find esthetics in it too. Obviously, Russia – I would really-really like to go there. This is a destination I have promised I will go to before the end of my life.

This is very good to hear. Russians are very receptive for the things you do and this would be very interesting for them to meet you and know more of what you do.

Nice. It has not taken even an hour (laughing).


Photo: Riei Nakagawara
Interview and text: Arsen Markaryan


Brands: WTAPS | Tags: Heroes, Influences, Inspirations, Interview, Media, Travel
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