Why Japanese Designer Megumi Ikeda Loves Denim

There are many ways to enter the field of fashion. Some choose to study for years, others are lucky enough to work under skillful mentorship. Japanese fashion designer Megumi Ikeda is a prime example of what happens to fashion designers who dedicate themselves to a niche of work. Megumi’s tailoring and denim fashion journey has spanned London and Japan, and now, she’s looking to take on other major fashion capitals of the world, with her jacket and denim focused brand called PARAKEET.

Read on for our full interview with Megumi to discover how she began working in fashion, who she receives mentorship from, and why she loves denim.

How did you find yourself beginning your own fashion brand?

From a young age, I loved drawing princesses in dresses, so it felt natural for me to enter the fashion industry once I grew older. Combining both my experience with tailoring in Savile Row, and working with denim pants in Japan, I created PARAKEET, a brand focused on jackets and denim. It was difficult to find skilled tailors with techniques as great as the artisans in Savile Row. But with the recommendation of Mr. Mark Cho from The Armoury and Mr. Jake Grantham from Anglo-Italian, I finally discovered Ring Jacket. Ring Jacket is the most prestigious tailoring company in Japan, providing the finest quality tailoring. Having the chance to meet a Japanese tailor through the Savile Row community, I was able to work with Ring Jacket as the first independent tailor in their 60 years of history. This became a successful start for my brand.

Megumi Ikeda working on PARAKEET

What are some of the biggest differences you’ve found between working in Japan and London in the fashion industry? Please elaborate.

In Japan, it’s not only about your talent or skill. Your personality, like your work attitude and ability to work with a team also accounts for how you are evaluated. In London, your skill is the main focus of evaluation. That’s what I found most different. I felt, in London, the more effort you put in, the more results you’re like to see.

Megumi at work, Ozwald Boateng

What was a memorable moment (or moments) during the beginning of your career? Why was it memorable?

When I was a fashion student in Japan, I started a not so big brand. But because the brand was covered in a fashion magazine that I modeled for at that time, it sold more than I had imagined. I was thrilled and deeply moved to see someone other than myself wearing clothing I had designed.

Megumi at work with Ozwald Boateng

Is there anyone you look up to in your field? Why do you look up to them?

Ozwald Boateng. Anyone who has had the pleasure of working for him very much respects him.

He is the first man of colour at the French Fashion house to earn the position of Creative Director. Not only is he a genius/gifted/talented designer, but he is also born with the makings of a leader. I already studied tailoring prior to arriving in England from Japan. Ozwald had recommended and offered to pay my tuition to enter Savile Row Academy. There, I had the opportunity to study British tailoring.

The other person I look up to is my mother. My mother, having worked in the same industry, piqued my interests for fashion. Even at over 60 years of age, she is still offered jobs from Japanese fashion brands. Like her, I would like to be someone who can work for a long time in the industry.

Ozwald Boateng

Knowing that the tailoring industry is predominantly male, what has your experience as a woman been like in the field? Do you face certain challenges, or has it been relatively easy?

I adore the tailoring styles of Ozwald Boateng’s New Bespoke and Mark Powell.  There is some talk about the limitations of female artisans at traditional tailors.  But, blessed to have worked for Ozwald, I encountered no such discrimination. Surrounded by gifted and capable people with much emotional leeway, I was quickly embraced and recognized.    

Ben Cottrell, Sam Lambert

Working with Oswald’s design team is not only about designing — every season we came up with the new theme/concept/story, sampled garment ideas, made material and accessory selections, colour stories, did visual merchandising, made patterns, styling. We were there to create and visualize the total brand value. During fashion week, we casted models for the fashion show,  became dressers backstage, fitted the models and covered a wide range of operations. A high level of skill and ability is required in every affair.

Mr. Sam Lambert and Mr. Ben Cottrell, both whom I’ve worked with, created their brands, Art Comes First and Cottweiler. Helping with the launch of each of their brands was also a valuable experience.

Ozwald Boateng

What kinds of women do you imagine wearing your clothes?

Women with the mixture of flexibility (softness) and strength of iron.

What makes you feel empowered in your professional and personal life? Why?

I acquire new energy from eating a lot, sleeping a lot, and imaginary training by having lots of discussions about my dreams and goals with friends I respect.

What do you love about denim ? Is there a material you prefer working with? If so, why?

When my dream of working at Savile Row came true, I thought about how I would set my next goal.

In England, tailoring is one of the top skills that the UK can offer in the fashion industry. I thought about what would be an equivalent world class field in Japan, and arrived at the answer of denim.

Fashion sketch by Megumi Ikeda

After working abroad at the inspiring Savile Row, I wanted to achieve acquiring the strength of my mother’s country – JAPAN. Thus, I returned home to work as a Creative Director for a denim brand. What I like about denim is that you can enjoy the color fade and it’s ability to change over time.

What do you think makes Japanese denim famous around the world? What appeals to you about working with this material?

Denim traveled from Europe to America, and became sprung into fame thanks to the US brand Levi’s. Despite that history, denim is sought after in Japan because traditional, old-fashioned power looms are able to weave selvedge denim that still exists in Japan. You can say, Japanese denim IS selvedge denim. During the period of global economic growth, modern looms that could weave denim in wide widths became mainstream. Weaving wider denim was better for mass production, and traditional looms with slower production rates were replaced.  Mr. Yoshiyuki Hayashi, who is also my “shishou” (mentor in Japanese), is someone who went against the tides of time and started making selvedge denim once again. He is the designer of denim brand, Resolute, and has been called the “God of Denim.”

PARAKEET campaign

Denim woven from old-fashioned looms are different from easy-made sanforized denim that is most commonly worn  today. You must calculate the shrinkage rate and pay more attention to pattern making and sewing. That requires  experience and knowledge. To have learned these things will be my strength going forward.

Where do you see yourself in your professional and personal life, in the next 5 years? Do you have any big plans or collaborations coming up?

I see myself in London, or in Paris or New York, leaving my mother’s country and placing myself in a new environment to give me self a new challenge.

PARAKEET campaign

As for my career, my dream is to work on my brand PARAKEET alongside working for Chanel as a designer.  Ms. Julie Favre, who was a colleague from when I worked under Ozwald, works in PR at Chanel. It would be really nice if I could work with her again. I would like to be in charge of the womenswear tailoring section at Ozwald Boateng.  

In my personal life, I’d like to get married, have kids and raise a loving family. Hope my dreams come true☆☆☆

The dreams I’ve had for the last 5 years have nearly all come true. PARAKEET’s debut collection will begin selling at ISETAN Department Store in August. *PRIME GARDEN, Isetan’s buyer on the 4th floor, has selected PARAKEET along side long established brands such as John Smelly and MACKINTOSHAquascutum London at its Select Corner. I am very honored.

I hope to nurture a long lasting brand.

Photo Credits
Photo: Takashi Kamei (W)
Art direction & Design: Shinichi Hirata
Make: Yuka Hirata (D-CORD)
Font Design: Ayami Yamamoto
Direction: Megumi Ikeda

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