Japanese designer working in Paris
Born: Osaka, Japan, 23 December 1946. Education: Graduated from Osaka Sogo Fukoso Gakium, 1970. Career: Assistant to Hiroko Koshino, 1968; moved to Paris, 1970; assistant designer, Kenzo, 1970-79; presented first collection as designer for Studio V, 1980; set up own shop, 1983. Exhibitions: Technology and Design, Victoria & Albert Museum, London; Mode et Japonisme, Paris. Address: 8 rue du Pre-aux-Clercs, 75008 Paris, France.
The Tokyo Collection, Tokyo, 1986.
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I wish to continue creating, inspired by the air of the present.
Sueo Irié is the name of a Japanese-born designer who first traveled to Europe in the 1970s. Over the last 30 years, he has built a life and career in fashion based in St. Germain des Prés, Paris. With his clothes available from boutiques across France and outlets in Munich and Milan, Irié is a craftsman-artist of contemporary fashion.
Arriving in Paris on the Trans-Siberian Express with little money and no firm plans, Irié worked for Japanese designer Kenzo before opening his own shop and launching his own collection in 1983. Irié claims the opening of his first outlet would never have happened except that on the spur of the moment, he bought a Corinthian column from a Paris flea market and decided he needed a boutique in which to house it. The company has remained small, with Irié overseeing everything himself: stock, manufacturing, sales, and customer satisfaction. And for three weeks every August, the store shuts down so the designer can enjoy a vacation.
The style of Irié's collections has been simplicity paired with casual chic. Irié likes to design for women, all women, across the spectrum of age and profession. He keeps his clothes simple and believes they form a base upon which women can build; his are the raw components of a wardrobe from which a woman can add personal touches as required. The clothes adapt to let the wearer's identity shine through. Irié's early innovations included the use of Lycra to increase comfort of short skirts. He also designed colorful leotards as underclothes long before they became an established and popular fashion.
Irié excludes no colors from his designs. He also makes extensive use of patterned fabrics, some of which he designs himself. Patterns range from romantic florals to wild fantasy, and here we find the one recurring theme of his collections: animal skin prints. The materials and fabrics he uses are dictated by his professed preference for comfort and convenience: natural cotton, wool, silk, synthetics, polyester, vinyl, and fake fur. He uses stretch fabrics everywhere. His later collections paired the usual jeans, suits, and dresses with unusual details like sequins, hologram prints, and plastic coatings.
Irié's essential idea is cheap chic. His ideal woman would wear a Chanel jacket with cheap trainers. He defines elegance as an expensive shirt worn with old jeans and Tiffany earrings to a black-tie dinner. He has said he is motivated to create clothes that allow a woman to share lunch with her banker in Paris 16e, then drink a café noisette with some friends on the Rive Gauche.
Irié's influences are all French: café lifestyles and black-and-white French films. There is nothing of the Far East in his clothes, no hint of Asian heritage; champagne or Coca Cola, Irié is Westernized through and through. His originality is his presentation. For a small design company, he has big designer pretensions. His Paris boutique, all chrome and mirrors, houses a stuffed zebra, a grand piano, and the enduring Corinthian column. Another stuffed lion is kept in his flat. Though he may head a small-scale company, he does not act like a small player. The clothes he sells are the best quality at affordable prices.
The Irié collection is really too small to influence a larger fashion world, apart from one essential way: his influence is his choice to live in a small flat, two minutes from his shop, to keep his business small, and to enjoy a full life in Paris. He has neither the great fame nor the associated wealth and power problems of the large designers. During the day, he creates fabrics, designs, and sells clothes to pay his bills and fuel his moped. At night, he loses himself in a Parisian nightlife that might be a concert by Vanessa Paradis or a long night of philosophical conversation over pastis.
—Sally Ann Melia;
updated by Carrie Snyder