Born: Tokyo, 1934. Education: Graduated from Waseda University, 1958; graduated with degree in fashion design from Bunka College of Fashion, 1961. Career: Ready-to-wear designer, Sanai Company, Japan, 1961-67; traveled to Paris and the U.S., 1965; freelance designer, then formed own company, Nicole, Ltd., Tokyo, 1971; introduced divisions Monsieur Nicole, 1974, Madame Nicole, 1976, Chambre de Nicole, 1978, formed Matsuda, USA, and opened New York City store, 1981; opened boutique in Hong Kong, 1982; launched Nicole Club, 1982, and Nicole Club for Men, 1984; Séduction de Nicole, 1986; cosmetics line introduced and Paris store opened, 1987; closed original New York showroom and reopened on Fifth Avneue, 1989; hired Yukio Kobayashi as menswear designer; Kobayashi took over womenswear, 1995; hoped to open U.S. boutiques, including a flagship in New York, 1997. Awards: So-en prize. Address: 3-13-11 Higashi, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 150, Japan.
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Mitsuhiro Matsuda's designs are picturesque, evoking historical passages and a profound sense of connection with the past and place—but at the same time are transformed through Matsuda's personal style. In a November 1989 article, Women's Wear Daily commented, "Few can tread the fine line between sophistication and adventure the way Mitsuhiro Matsuda does." The designer who probably comes the closest, Romeo Gigli, brings a similar transfigu-ration to his clothing.
Matsuda, of course, precedes Gigli and also differs from him in an essential way: despite the whimsical romance of his clothing which could seem to suit a Brontë heroine, Matsuda observes a stern rule of practicality borrowed from menswear. His basic canon of separate elements—the signature Matsuda silk blouse, jackets (generally elongated), trousers of various kinds, vests, and sweaters often elaborated with embroidery or other textural play—affords a versatile set of components in the sportswear tradition. He is eminently pragmatic but irrepressibly romantic and sensuous, even in appropriations of menswear to womenswear. Matsuda defined a kind of practical aesthetic dress of the late 20th century, and continued to make unique fashion inroads in the early 2000s.
In the mid-1960s, Matsuda and Kenzo sailed from Japan to Europe to make their way to Paris, the great beacon of fashion. After some six months, Matsuda returned to Japan with no money, while Kenzo stayed. Matsuda's aesthetic and cultural allegiance outside of Japan is not to Paris, but to England and America. His first company outside of Nicole Company in Japan was Matsuda USA which opened a Madison Avenue boutique in 1982. Matsuda has delved into the Anglo-American sportswear traditions as ardently as any designer, even as much as Ralph Lauren. What differentiates Matsuda from Lauren, though, is his critical, slightly adverse edge on examining traditions.
Matsuda's famous fall 1982 collections showed the impeccable tailoring of the English jackets, heavy trousers, layering, and indulgent textiles of the English countryside for men adapted for women, but with the almost impish heterogeneity of canvas aprons serving as a sign of the working class and as a reminder of the transference from male to female, female to male. As an apron customarily signified the female, Matsuda both broke and then reemployed the image of the apron from female to male and back again.
In fall-winter 1984 Matsuda's collections were seemingly inspired by Edwardian England; in fall-winter 1985, the collections seemed to step out of Burne-Jones paintings; the Moroccan embroideries of 1989 could seemingly have costumed a Paul Bowles novel. There is a further literary aspect to Matsuda's work in his preoccupation with words and letters. His clothing has been favored by artists, writers, and other creatives who have recognized a kinship with this most literary image-making style and who enjoy the practicality of clothing that mixes so easily, even improvisationally, with other separates.
There seemed to be a continuous synthesis about Matsuda's work; in fall-winter 1992, he created a homage to jazz saxophonist Miles Davis. His collections have often been presented as performance and were even affiliated with dance or visual arts. His advertising and photography have been collaborative art, presenting the clothing in secondary status to the picture. Matsuda boutiques, too, projected the absolute austerity of the design and yet showcased the lasciviousness of the designer's details. In the mid-1990s Matsuda sought to expand its brand throughout the U.S. and Europe, which included moving menswear designer Yukio Kobayashi, who had begun designing some womenswear, to the head all of the women's labels (Madame Nicole, Nicole Club, Nicole Sport and Zelda) in 1995. Matsuda himself also continued to design for women, but for the Asian markets.
In 1996 the Daily News Records (6 March 1996) praised the latest Matsuda collection by Kobayshi, stating, "Synthetics rule, and there is an unabashed modern edge. But rather than being simply a techno-driven line, Matsuda offers a sensualist's version of classic silhouettes rendered in fabrics that are light years beyond most other designer lines." There were, as well, classic or "vintage" Matsuda separates which were also warmly received. The following year, on a trip to New York, Matsuda scouted locations for possible stores. Though the Nicole brands (Madame Nicole, Nicole Sport, Boutique Nicole and others) were available in Saks Fifth Avenue and Barneys, as well as 500 stores in Asia and Europe, Matsuda hoped to bring his unique designs and growing licensed products to the U.S. in company-owned boutiques. Matsuda clients are ardently loyal, and his creations are profoundly progressive—the perfect combination for New York fashion and beyond.
updated by Nelly Rhodes