INTERVIEW WITH DR NOKI
For me, there is only one ‘remake’ artist who can create a one-of-a-kind, special garment from vintage textiles. That is NOKI. There was a shop in Osaka I used to frequent called H100. It was around 15 years ago when I was well into the London’s club scene which was in its prime, and a number of young creators influenced by the trend came out of the UK’s capital. You would find cutting-edge collections created by the up-and-coming designers in this shop but one collection that stood out the most was those items ‘remade’ by NOKI. He called his own unique remake style as ‘Custom Build’, which he also described as a ‘mash-up’, that he’d add slashes and braids or put eyes and logos of various characters on a vintage t-shirt as a collage. It was a street couture. It was a mode. It was art… Looking back, you realize it really was a sustainable approach.
Having had 25 years of a distinctive career, Dr NOKI is now considered the sustainable fashion trailblazer. His style was born during the 90s rave culture and was seen as an antidote to the mainstream fashion at the height of globalization and consumerism. It was iconic and his method was always deemed ironic in order to stress the importance of individuality. He is the representative of the recycle fashion. In recent years, to be sustainable has become the most important aspect in the fashion world. Subsequently, famous brands and designers started picking up on the upcycle movement. But NOKI had looked at this issue long before anyone else did. His method and design have influenced all sorts of companies including many of high-street and fast-fashion commercial brands, some of them even copied his style. But the time has arrived for his creativity and its fundamental mindset hidden in the creation to be finally unearthed. The DIY thinking now needs to be put onto the centre stage for the next generation. Please pay attention and listen to his words as he speaks in a typically soft manner, the same tone as when I first met this mysterious masked man a long time ago.
Hi, NOKI! It’s been really a long time, but how have you been? Where are you and what do you do recently?
Dear Yasu. We are now a year and a half into a brand new world experience, called COVID-19. It’s been very humbling to be stripped of basic freedoms and abilities to even move around in a human community. I’ve been very grateful with my time creating Nokishop.com & @nokiofficial, so I can once again have a place to showcase my pieces on the WWW, bringing folks and the history of the original NOKI custom-built-brand-mash-up. I’ve also been doing a lot of jigsaws to occupy my mind, for eye coordination I need to create my NOKI collage skills.
My first NOKI moment was more than 15 years ago when I bought your piece at a store called H100 in Osaka, which was a kind of narrow scarf made from a mixture of vintage t-shirts and some marble balls inside. When and how did you start working as a remake / DIY artist?
My textile collage art came out of a total physical frustration around 1996, while living the original London Shoreditch rave scene. It was very toxic at times. It was my therapy to stop myself from sinking into a hospital situation with my mind. I just started to cut up my branded 90’s rave wardrobe and then sew it all back together in a totally different way, selling in The Pineal Eye. Everyone was like “WTF, where you get that.” I was like “It’s a NOKI, I custom-built it by myself.” and started a new meme style called NOKI.
You make one-off hand made pieces, made from vintage garments with characters' print like Mickey Mouse and the Star Wars, with the very detailed customization such as slashes and braids. Those have been always very iconic and unique to you – although there are many followers to copy your style and techniques. How did you come to your signature style?
It just came to me instinctively, and I’m pleased to see my NOKI custom-build style is not so unique anymore. It’s been embraced by other custom-builders and the individuals in the styling community that get the important message the NOKI custom-build is all about, and that’s to “Landfill DROP”, not design more to “Landfill UP” again.
As you describe it as “Landfill DROP”, what are the concept and real process of your custom-build?
It always comes from the second hand / second life textile source. Whether I’m creating a canvas piece or art apparel, it must always be from a sustainable source. That’s the deep style NOKI secret and a MODERNIST force field I create my art from. Then I see life in parts and 3D-build those parts into custom-build ideas in my mind, so I’m very secure in where my scissors cut into a garment, before I even start a custom-build. Also, it’s very important so as not to ruin any quality of vintage garments. It is an instinctive skill I’m very proud of. To this date, I’ve not harmed and ruined any brand in creating every single NOKI custom-build piece.
I read that now you work with LMB, a recycling company in East London. How do you work with them and how does it affect your creative process?
They are an East London textile recycling plant. I’ve sourced most of my textiles there since 2008. It’s a family-run business by Ross Barry. He gets my work and supports it 100%. It’s very important all my custom-builds are created from vintage and dead stock textiles. This is what makes this movement powerful, and it’s an instinctive love for Mother Earth and a respect to a commodity she has already given out through industrialization in the 20th century. I’m proud to utilize that already manufactured brand commodity for the 21st century. I work with the brand hand in hand here, unlike the “bootlegger” trend who uses up new virgin commodity textiles to rip it off cheaply. There is a huge difference here, mentally and economically. The way I see it, there is the fashion industry and there is a clothing industry. They are not the same.
From the creative process and ideas, I always see you as an artist and activist, rather than just a designer, because your pieces make me think of anti-fashion, anti-consumer society and anti-globalization like street art.
Thank you Yasu for your kind observation. I don’t see myself also as a fashion designer at all. What I create is textile collage art. I’ve approached every single piece of NOKI for over 25 years now as a unique collage / custom-build, on canvas and installation or art apparel. I’ve always wanted to inspire a new idea in street styling and that was to custom-build your apparel, not just styling or layering it. Take it to a whole new level, and sew opposing brands together and bring a whole new hype beast tracksuit / freedom uniform into the rave I want to confuse and comfort people at the same time. For example, the scarf you mentioned earlier was my way of taking the street billboards we see every day that drive us “consumer mad”, and I made an art piece that reflected it but with marbles inside it so you didn’t quite “lose your marbles”. I’m always trying to inject love and humor back into my work creating a positive protection from global marketing. Because to be unique is ultimately what we seek.
As far as I know it was not yet “DrNOKI’s NHSt” when I bought the scarf in the early 00s, but just labeled as “NOKI”. What was the opportunity to have the name “NHSt” with a clear concept of sustainability?
Yes it was nearly 12 years before, when I entered the Fashion East platform and created the “DrNoki’s NHSt” – NOKI HOUSEpital of Sustainable Textiles – in 2008. I wanted to embrace the fashion industry’s interest in my textile art, so I created it. The simple idea is that the brands have been left broken in the landfill rejected by the hungry consumer, so I would repair and graft that negative energy together, custom-building something new to bring new life, regeneration and reinvention to create a brand new powerful wardrobe for them. Re-weaponizing that hunger.
Through your 25 years’ career with the notion of sustainability, what has been changed and staying same?
Well, the fashion industry has become the second political hot spot of pollution for the world, and I wasn’t expecting that! So I’m very glad I picked my positive eco side by only using sustainable textiles to custom-build new ideas for the past 25 years. There is a huge fashion climate change out there now, just what eco side you are on is up to you. Fashion has been weaponized and we hold the consumerist triggers. It’s like fashion Russian roulette in a way. I just want to build blank bullets!
More and more people are now looking into designers’ archives rather than new collections. What is your perspective on this movement? Also, actually do you have any specific designers you love?
I find this unhelpful when it comes to fashion style. Fashion should always be futuristic, not nostalgic! Always coming from the human mind at that moment, in its perfect time and place just like how the archive was built in the first place. When they play with nostalgia such as someone else’s archives or ripping off vintage clothing, it pulls the energy of melancholy into their collection mix. “Am I getting it right, is this what the original artist intended, or am I just bastardizing a legacy just for my own ego economic gain!” It’s very algorithmic and un-human. So I’d rather mention the artist Lucio Fontana. His cuts and stabs in his art are everything I aspire to project into my own art of assemblage of the custom-build, as I feel like I’m cutting into that negative energy and nostalgia which can bring the subliminal to the brain. And I must say the pop artist Ray Johnston, who challenged so much around this subject in his post card art theories. These two bring me so much closer to understanding the DADA art movement at the turn of the 19th century when the Great War was erupting for their control. Their assemblages and collages are the foundations of all things of NOKI. I aspire to walk around the battle field of “no-man’s-land”.
When it comes to your recent news, the book “NOKI” by Axel Hoedt is really great. Could you let me know the story behind the book?
Big up photographer Axel Hoedt and art director Katie Grand. Katie brought us together over 15 years ago to work together. Axel would say when you were ready just turn up with any new NOKI SOB – Sustainability of Branding / Sexuality of Branding / Suffocation of Branding – masks, and he would photograph them. He would also just turn up at my studio, snap away and leave. It took us over 15 years and there was a long struggle with publishers to understand the visual concept as it’s being beyond some fetish masks. Big up Art Paper Editions for their faith to publish the NOKI book.
Also, you collaborated with LOVE magazine and photographer Willy Vanderperre for an editorial feature with 14 exclusive products 2 year ago. How did it happen?
Again this is a leap of faith by Katie Grand to bring us together via the t-shirts that had been created from a previous LOVE front cover project. I was sent 35 dead stock t-shirts and I custom-built them into a mini NOKI custom-build collection to be photographed by Willy, then to be sold for charity on the LOVE’s website. It was a very clean, very positive and circular economy. I call it a “NOKI UPFusion” idea. I also did this with the queen of fashion sustainability Katharine Hamnett, called the “Perishing Collection”.
I recently feel like the times have been catching up with you, such as inevitable notion of sustainability and also the recent trend of masks due to the COVID-19! How do you see the world now?
I’m glad the life is catching up. It’s been an exciting 25 years being a sustainable textile trailblazer. They say so, but it’s a much bigger picture I wish to inspire, and that’s “Bedroom Ateliers”. Custom-build your own versions of NOKI and impress me! Get trailblazing further into the landfill, and drop it harder than I could ever imagine. Just be a MODERNIST in the 21st century. You are into either “fashion” or just “clothing”, and there is a huge difference. It’s up to you to decide for your own style.
After 20 years of NOKI, what do you see for the future?
My next big idea is “the NX4S”, a custom-built sports slipper collaboration with A Murphy Shoe. Check my Instagram @nokiofficial to find out more about that show case for fashion week 2022. I’m also doing a collaboration with Matty Bovan called “RENT-MATOKI”. I’ve custom-built from his studio leftovers and dead stock textiles, and they are for rent on Nokishop.com and to buy on mattybovan.com in late 2021 or early 2022. It’s a circular economy directive for us both to be inspired by the renters mash up and rock ‘n’ roll rave for us both, to then re-customize the garments for the next client to ‘RENT-MANOK’ again. Then it’s to find an FP – Fashion Philanthropist – to help me properly to open up a NOKI school called the NESTT – NOKI Education in Sustainable Textiles & Technology. Here I want to show students how to build NOKI rules to break those rules, to push even further into fashion space to create an army of custom-built force field energy, where the landfill drops HARD. On the invading “dark side” force of nostalgia, I have my first two NESTT students that I teach when I can, so watch out for Nurse Naoya and Nurse Karthur. Their landfills are dropping HARD!
Interview text_ YASUYUKI ASANO