Noemie Aiko Sebayashi is the 23-year-old designer behind a new women’s street wear brand, Nattofranco. Taking cues from her heritage, her first season took maniacal prints inspired by Japanese artists and illustrators like Tadanori Yokoo and incorporated them onto clothing with a French minimalist sensibility.
It doesn’t take long to realize that Noemie truly is the living ambassador for her brand—over the phone, she was calm, collected, and confident. We talked about that one time she cast her grandparents (who are each more than a hundred years old) to model in her look books, the difficulties of starting a label in Paris, and how social media has impacted the fashion world.
VICE: Starting a new brand must be hard in a city like Paris! How do you keep up?
Noemie Aiko Sebayashi: It’s especially tough here because I feel like Paris is behind when it comes to the street-wear industry. Every time something new and different comes on the market, it takes more time for the French to catch on. Thank God the Internet exists. It’s an open door that exposes brands like mine to an international level. Social media is a crucial part of my work.
What is your background in fashion?
I always had the thought of working in the fashion industry because I loved clothes but didn't know what part of the industry I would be involved with. I studied two years in a fashion school in Paris, and from one internship to another I gained experiences in creative studios and production. The one experience that gave me the most maturity was working with Mongolian designer Tsolo Munkh for two and a half years. She was starting the brand so it was ideal as I got to learn everything from creative to sales and production. After that, I did a six-month internship with Diane Pernet, who was working on six years of fashion film archives of ASVOFF for the Fashion Film Festival in Paris. I owe a lot to Diane, she really understands who I am and what I wanted to do in the future and was the one who convinced me to build my own brand.
Wait! You were Diane Pernet’s assistant? I find her such a lady of mystery, what was that like?
It was really interesting to work with her because I was able to learn about the press side of the fashion industry. I got to see many art openings, fashion shows, showrooms, etc. I had so much fun doing reports for asvof.com and shooting clothes while talking to designers. Since I was working on her archives for ASVOFF, I learned so much watching all the fashion films. She is the sweetest person and such a hard worker; I have the upmost respect for her.
Your fashion label is fairly new. How has the last year changed your life?
I ended my internship with Diane about this time last year. She really encouraged me to look for happiness in my career rather than thinking safety and stability. I started to re-work on older drawings I did in school. I felt like I needed to succeed this project into something real and not just Photoshop designs. That’s when my Ichi [first] collection was born. This year has definitely been very exciting.
You mentioned Walter Van Beirendonck being one of your influences? I'm a huge Walter Van fan, he's one of my all time favorites.
HE'S A GENIUS! He opened my eyes during my fashion studies and I had the biggest crush on him for years. I love his Sado/Maso funky world; he is a monument! I wish he would have an exhibition in Paris one day so I can see all his work. There is MOMAT Museum in Tokyo where they show a small permanent collection of his work and I go every year like a pilgrimage.
Now you’re working on Ni, your second collection?
Yeah, but this time I’m developing a collection inspired by Japanese illustrators from the 80s like Shigeo Okamoto, Peter Sato and Takashi Koizumi—the space universe, sexy women and the whole vibe around it. There are going to be close-ups of body parts on the clothes, but they are going to be mainly subjective. I’m really into the aesthetic and idea around those connect-the-dots drawings and unisex shapes—one-sleeve sweaters, oversized tunics, oversized tees etc. I’m showing the collection in a showroom apartment for Paris Fashion week in September.
So what exactly goes into designing a new collection for you?
I go to exhibitions often and consider that a part of my job in order to cultivate my mind. I live in the everyday search of inspiration and travelling also helps me a lot. Once I moved out of my hometown, I got to develop more concepts and ideas in different ways. I’ve always started the process from a muse, like Rinko Kikuchi, Daniela Sea and different public personalities. From there I start to create a story by mixing in other elements.
The creative process is like an on-going investigation. I gather lots of inspiration on my wall, and from there I just nerd on Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop for weeks. All the prototypes and creative explorations are made here in my studio. I make the patterns and experiment with graphics for the prints. While creating the looks and slowly planning the collection, I do small photo shoots to help set the atmosphere of Nattofranco.
When it comes to your label, Nattofranco—you mentioned you see France as your home and Japan as your muse?
I feel as a person, 90 percent of my personality is French, but as a creative I definitely feel 100 percent Japanese. I feel very connected to Japanese art, illustration and fashion.
How has your ethnic background influenced your designs?
Paris is still very exciting for me as I grew up in the suburbs. The best part about living in Paris is the number of museums, exhibitions, and fashion weeks. Japan still remains a bit of a mystery, especially because my dad never really shared any Japanese culture with me. He’s let me build my own opinion of my Japanese origin. Creating helps me find answers to my own questions I have about my Japanese descent. This is my outlet of connecting two different cultures and expressing through Nattofranco designs, which I really enjoy.
Do you travel to Japan a lot?
I’ve been there many times to visit family. I try to travel to Japan every two years, but my last trip definitely made me want to go more often.
How was your recent trip to Japan?
This time, I visited as a “fashion designer” and I made some really cool connections in Tokyo and Osaka. I went with a very good friend of mine got the seven day rail pass and went all over Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka and Naoshima Island. I met with a few buyers and visited the craziest shops like Gr8 Tokyo, Faline and H100 Bonsai. I wanted to reconnect with my Japanese heritage a bit more and went up north to visit my 100-year-old grandparents. I did a Nattofranco photo shoot of them wearing the spring collection.
If you could see anyone wearing Nattofranco, who would it be?
Cibo Matto, Kiko Mizuhara, and this babe I found on Instagram, Kirsten Kilponen. She is like my ultimate muse.
If you could travel into the future, where do you see yourself and Nattofranco?
As Diane tells me all the time, “You never know what and how the future is going to unfold.” Right now, I love building the label. There's no limit to it.