How many of the sneakers in your collection are general releases? If you're a committed collector, the count likely fits on one hand. This isn’t a sign of pretentious collectorism, but a reflection of today’s sneaker culture. Limited releases. Exclusives. Collaborations. For the hype obsessed, these words are sacred. The rest of us, tired of hearing them though we may be, recognize their significance.
With limitless information at our fingertips and same-day delivery a click away, our technologically enhanced globalized economy has made obtainability a given. It has also created new problems. In the case of sneakers: the deterioration of creativity and experimentation, the domination of cold metrics.
With the continued push for collaborations and exclusive releases, meaningfulness has become a word from yesteryear. Sneakers are a tool to drive hype, marketing devices with artificial scarcity. Metrics and resale value are in, stories and symbols out. A once democratic hobby has become an expensive and status-oriented endeavor.
But there are detractors, creatives reacting against the grain. Yasuhiro Mihara is one of these rebels.
For the uninitiated: Yasuhiro Mihara is a shoe designer turned fashion designer, frequenter of Milan and Paris Fashion Week, collaborator with sneaker brands such as PUMA, DC, and FILA, and advocate for environmental consciousness in fashion.
Recent iterations of Maison Mihara Yasuhiro (MMY) footwear are playful, symbolic of an inversive evolution of sneakers. With familiar silhouettes oddly deformed, as if hand-molded, MMY’s instant recognizability and structural irreverence has earned fandoms in niche communities.
Although a prolific fashion designer, Mihara still identifies as a shoe designer first. His sneaker-related projects are driven by passion for creativity and his unrelenting quest for “play.”
Below, I catch up with Yasuhiro Mihara. We discuss his recent SS2022 footwear collection, inspirations, sneaker memories, and thoughts on the evolution of sneaker culture.
Welcome: Congratulations on your SS2022 showcase. I’m obsessed with the new sneaker silhouette that’s reminiscent of the Reebok Workout Plus. What was the focus of this footwear collection?
Yasuhiro Mihara: Recently, I’ve been playing around with Sportswear brand motifs. In Homo Ludens by Johan Huizinga, it says to put “play before culture.” This is what I mean by “play.”
Of course, I’m not a sportswear brand. But I love sneakers that were borne out of necessity for sports functionality as much as I love leather shoes. I’ll explain since a lot of people may have forgotten: “PUMA by Mihara Yasuhiro” was a chemical reaction that was borne out of my “play” with PUMA, which is what we know as a “collaboration” today. Originally speaking, as a designer who made leather shoes with no business playing with technology, I was inspired to create sneakers because my vulcanized style sneakers made completely out of leather had influenced many other designers. I think it was the “sense of violation/unease” that the combination of sneakers and leather shoes brought out that was so appealing at the time.
However, this [project] was neither here nor there. So I got tired of it rather quickly. As ambitious as I was back then, I sought more and created playgrounds for “the shoe designer” and “PUMA’s sneakers.” And so [I believe] this became the trigger for the “fashion X sports” war today. At the time, big sportswear brands had rejected my offer to collaborate, telling me that “[they] were only interested in creating sneakers for athletes, and not for fashion.” However, the same sportswear brands that had rejected my offer have now pivoted to control the market dominated by “collaborations.”
To be quite honest, I got tired of it. Although I understand that what was once a culture of “play” can’t be helped from becoming a market as part of the industry, I got tired of it. Of course, I find some collaborations to be excellent. However, the reality is I’ve lost interest in the intensifying [collaboration] market.
By 2015, I parted ways with Puma and started to play around with “sports shoes as a motif.” As it spells out, like how kids play with clay; playing with the “fixed perception of sneakers” as understood by most people. This is the “focus” of this collection.
I don’t know how this will influence the culture, but I’m having fun.
I discovered that you were an avid collector of monster action figures from an old interview. Do you still collect? Did you have other interests when you were growing up?
Yes, I still do buy soft vinyl figures of monsters. Apparently I took good care of my things as a child, I still have some of them even today. I’ve especially taken good care of my toy monsters. I was no different from every other kid. I enjoyed making plastic models of Gundams and tanks. I also enjoyed customizing the same plastic models and competed against my friends for originality.
Sneakers are bigger than ever before - exclusive sneakers also come in toddler sizes nowadays. I understand that you discovered sneaker designing when you were a student at Tama Art College, but do you have any particular sneaker memories as a child that you can recall?
When I was 11 years old, I discovered disco and went to a disco dance floor that played black music exclusively called Super Studio in Fukuoka. There I was instantly mesmerized by the people break dancing there. In 1983, Afrika Bambaataa’s electric hip-hop and break beats were more than stimulating for us kids. I was instantly hooked to the cool sneakers the dancers were wearing and learned about them from the performers.
From fabricated aging to the wave of demand for old sneaker silhouettes, vintage fashion seems like a trend nowadays. What are your thoughts on the vintage fashion trend? Why do you think nostalgia is so powerful in sneakers/fashion?
I don’t add vintage fabrication to my creations as nostalgic imagery. Conversely, I’d like to know why people feel the way they do when they see aged things.
I believe “vintage fabrication,” as understood by most people, is a technique that visualizes the concept of “time.” Obviously, we are told that we live in a 3 dimensional world. However, the question remains, what is the 4th dimension? I personally feel that the 4th dimension is a 3 dimensional spatial concept that houses different layers of different time axes. So it’s not that something is perceived as “old” but is rather the “appearance of [our] future” selves. I understand it as the appearance of the layer of a time axis that pertains to the decay that would happen in the future. Isn’t this interesting?
Here exists the maze of what we believe is the “concept of time.” In conclusion, it means that neither the past nor the future exists.
As an advocate for sustainability in fashion, you've mentioned that there is a need to systemize sustainability. What are your thoughts on sustainable fashion and the rise of upcycle designers? (e.g. @nicole mclaughlin @tegaakinola @readymade_official)
The word “sustainable” is a favorite among the people in the fashion industry. Foolishly, they use “sustainable” as a trend word, but this is a huge mistake. This is not a “fad” nor a “trend” nor “sales talk.” Beyond just fashion this is a “responsibility” for all industries. This cannot be mistaken. As a characteristic of fashion, trends become obsolete is a law of nature. Hence, especially people in fashion have to act carefully and passionately. But we cannot think this way.
Thinking altruistically, we have to change the way we think and integrate “environmental responsibilities,” “social responsibilities,” and “economic responsibilities,” into systems of the fashion industry or this becomes a mere “illusion.”
The brands you have given me as an example are “messages.” They are not problem solutions, but rather problem definitions.
We designers provide problem definitions to people, and essentially act as a trigger that influences their way of thinking.
What’s important is we create a system where all [involved] industries are sustainable, and have the consumer decide only on the basis of whether they “like it or not.” The fashion industry has done so much to lose people’s trust.
Conversely, I believe that [the word sustainable] will inevitably disappear if we can realize a complete sustainable system.
I was quite surprised to learn you were originally inspired by ambient music and seeking a career in music. Is the influence of music still alive in your work? Particularly, does it in any way affect your design process in sneakers?
I’ve never really thought about this. However, music does influence my intentions. There are many styles of ambient music. Among them, the world of experimental music may be what influences my originality most. As someone who was obsessed with music, creating music from the sound source was my “play.” So there may not be much difference between the person I was back then and the person I am today.
What kind of music do you listen to nowadays?
What am I listening to these days? Not much experimental music that’s for sure.
Concerning your respect for establishments such as Kototoidango, and your anti-hype culture sentiment, I'm curious when exactly these sentiments developed? Is it possibly contradictory to be showcasing in major fashion shows as you do now?
*Chuckles. But who really watches these fashion shows? Do you know anyone who follows fashion week in all major cities? If you do that’s either a hardcore fashion fan which is rare, or someone who works in the fashion industry.
I don’t want my “play” to be disturbed. In a sneaker culture where information is overflowing, I don’t want people to “hype” it up.
I also only want to moderately communicate. “Moderately,” I say.
First and foremost I’m a “shoe designer,” but also just a “shoe designer that does unique fashion expressions.” Recently, I’ve been called a fashion designer more often. So even in the Paris Men’s Collection I’m a maverick.
Don’t you worry. I will never be mainstream. I’m underground.
I understand that the Original Sole series is a result of you wanting to create something that is inversive to modern technology. In the current climate where technology and design aesthetic is constantly pushed to its boundaries, why do you think your simple and understated sneakers are popular?
There’s no reason for me to answer this question. I’ve given a lot of clues to why. Talking technically, it’s definitely not the work of algorithms.
As a pioneer of the athleisure trend, what is Maison Mihara Yasuhiro most passionate about these days?
Sportswear brands’ venture into fashion, and Fashion brands’ venture into sports. The contour seems still blurred, but it is actually very clear.
In essence, sneakers are a democratic product, or at least it should be. You've designed and released countless classics - what are the core beliefs that you stand in your designing?
Footwear is “Bonsai” for me. It’s not about the mental area, but rather the spiritual expanse of the infinite universe. It makes me free. I don’t like spirituality so that doesn’t exist. To put it simply, the potential of footwear may seem limited to many, but it’s actually unlimited.
Finally, what kind of sneakers are you wearing these days?
Lately I’ve been wearing my samples to test them, as well.
This conversation was edited and condensed.