We’re always saying this, but when it comes to old-world Americana, none do it better than the Japanese. Corona Utility, a new name to the Oi Polloi stockade, is another brand in this esteemed lineage. High-quality fabrics… designs from the past, souped up for modern age… unreal attention to detail… that sort of thing.
Since we’re the only place in Blighty you can get your hands on this stuff, I e-pestered design don-dada Nishi with a few questions to give the mysterious brand more context, and like a true gentleman, he answered…
Kicking things off, how’re you? What’s it like in Japan at the moment?
I’m doing well! Japan is finally getting over the pandemic, people are coming back to the cities and getting back to their old lives: travelling, shopping and going out for dinner in the evenings with friends.
Sounds decent. Your stuff is quite hard to get a hold of in England – we’re the only shop in the UK that stocks Corona Utility. How would you describe yourselves?
We are very grateful and happy to have the opportunity to introduce our brand to the British public through Oi Polloi. We are very influenced by American and British objects and culture. Our goal is to express these Western influences through the filter of clothing, but with a uniquely Japanese perspective.
You guys take making clothes pretty seriously, even going so far as to call yourselves a ‘Clothing and Textile Research Unit’. What’s the logic behind this?
It means exactly that – that we are serious about making clothes, or rather, about researching what we like.
There are a lot of clothes being made and sold in the world. There are all kinds of clothes, from traditional basics to those produced by fast fashion. In such a situation, we seriously think about the reason for the existence of the clothes we make and what the value of their existence is.
Because there is already so many clothes being produced, to the point where there is basically nothing that isn’t readily-available, we think that there is no point in doing what we do if we don’t make things that only we can do and is unique to us… but that doesn’t mean that we make clothes that are unusual for the sake of it just to be different from others.
Is it important to take making clothes seriously?
Yes. I think it is very important. A tremendous number of clothes are produced for no reason, meaning loads are wasted and discarded every year. This is a big environmental problem.
It is very difficult, but we are trying to research the history of the items and the materials used to make them, and to make them more contemporary with our own approach, so that people can wear our clothes for as long as possible without throwing them away.
How did Corona Utility start out? And how many people are involved?
We used to buy clothing in the USA and sell them wholesale in Japan until the early 2000s, some of which was vintage. In 2004, our contract with an American brand we had been distributing to ended, so we started Corona, which had been in the works for a while. Currently there are about six people involved.
We seriously think about the reason for the existence of the clothes we make and what the value of their existence is.
My research suggests you’re the lead designer behind the operation. What’s your background? Have you always wanted to design clothes?
I lived in New York City from the late 1980s to the early 2000s. I was originally a clothing buyer in New York and in the early 1990s I started working for a friend’s brand in New York and became a distributor for the Japanese market.
I have been designing clothes since the 1990s, which naturally evolved from collecting vintage clothing. It made sense to utilise my large pool of resources and transform the influence into an original brand.
What does your day-to-day look like?
Basically, I prepare for the seasonal exhibitions, check on our factories and look for second-hand clothes and books to use as a basis for my designs.
Nice. What’s the thought process behind stitching the sizing on the exterior of the garments? Am I right in thinking this is taken from vintage naval gear?
Yes, that’s right. The size stitching on the back was used on US Navy denim work jackets from the 1930s and 1940s.
What are some of your other influences? There’s a definitely a military vibe about this stuff too.
Yes, there is! I like military wear so much that I studied it professionally! Military wear is the starting point for modern casual wear: it would be hard not to be influenced by it.
Our clothing also incorporates the ideas of Art Deco, i.e., reviving traditional materials and techniques to make stuff that's modern. Our designs are based on a combination of new materials and linear, mechanical forms, with a focus on simplicity and functionality, with a minimum of waste.
What else are you into, outside of designing clothes?
Going outdoors mainly. It feels good to regularly go camping and spend time in nature with friends and colleagues. I also like taking photographs, which I prefer to moving video.
I think that should do it. Wrapping things up, what’s your favourite song at the moment?
Brian Auger’s Oblivion Express ‘Straight Ahead’ and Pat Metheny Group ‘Are You Going With Me?’