A 70-year old Japanese athletic brand gets a bold dose of club fashion, with bright colours and logo play. But Onitsuka Tiger is much more than just another hypebeast brand, as Gracie Stewart discovers in Bangkok.

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A 70-year old Japanese athletic brand gets a bold dose of club fashion, with bright colours and logo play. But Onitsuka Tiger is much more than just another hypebeast brand, as Gracie Stewart discovers in Bangkok.

From top: Jackets in bright colours feature strongly in the Onitsuka Tiger fall/winter 2019 collection. At the event in Bangkok, a model steps out in the Chunky Runner MT in black and yellow

We are at Bangkok’s Warehouse 30—an assorted bunch of local celebrities, influencers, and journalists—assembled for a special preview of the newest collection from Japanese brand Onitsuka Tiger. The once abandoned warehouse, featuring a stage of live mannequins and hypnotic LED visuals, is the backdrop to the brand’s fall/winter 2019 presentation called “Downtown Rave”. Indeed, the design ethos behind the collection showcases a strong, edgy retro-urban vibe. “It incorporates that European club scene with bold colour blocks and logo play, but we’ve kept it minimalist and styled it oversized,” says Creative Director Andrea Pompilio. “I was inspired by the ’90s and the rave parties I used to go to when I was younger. There’s lots of references to that, such as mini skirts for women worn with very chunky sneakers—it’s very psychedelic but in a modern and contemporary way.”

The 45-year-old first started collaborating with Onitsuka Tiger six years ago after a chance meeting with Ryoji Shoda, Executive Officer of Asics and Head of Onitsuka Tiger, in Japan where Pompilio was already selling his own namesake label. Pompilio had decided he wanted to create sneakers for his next collection and as a result was introduced to Shoda. “We went out for breakfast and instantly hit it off, so we did the first lot of shoes together and from there it became a really big collaboration.” 

The partnership between the Italian designer and the Japanese heritage brand proved so successful that Pompilio was named Creative Director last year. Celebrating its 70th anniversary this year, the brand (founded by a former military officer to raise postwar self-esteem through athletics) has certainly benefited from the fresh energy and vision of Pompilio, who previously worked with Prada, Calvin Klein and Saint Laurent.

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Clockwise from top left: Bags, from backpacks to large tote bags (shown here), play a big part in the fall/winter 2019 collection. Model wears Knit Trainers from the collection. Model wears Sneakers from the fall/winter 2019 collection. At the event, of athletic-inspired looks as well as eyewear from the Onitsuka fall/winter 2019 collection were showcased. Big Logo Trainers quilted pants also feature in the collection. Andrea Pompilio launch event in Bangkok

While footwear might be at the core of Onitsuka Tiger, the brand also offers apparel and accessories for both men and women—think quilted outerwear referencing ’90s snowboarder looks paired with chunky sneakers, snow goggle eyewear, side release buckle belts and tone-on-tone tracksuits which make for the ultimate updated, athletic-meets-street look. “For me it’s not about being a man or a woman anymore. It’s also not about being genderless because I don’t like that word, but it’s about being free to do what you want,” says Pompilio talking about the current fluidity in fashion. “For example, if a woman dresses in a menswear jacket, I find that very sexy.” This notion is something more and more brands are also getting on board with as they start to showcase co-ed runways to better reflect the design themes shared by a brand’s men’s and women’s collections each season. 

But that’s where Pompilio would like the similarities to end. When questioned about the trend of luxury brands tapping into the streetwear market, the designer was candid. “In all honesty, I really don’t like it. I say that because I think fashion is very interesting but you cannot change your brand just because fashion is asking for sweatshirts, you know what I mean? If you’re a couture atelier, you must be a couture atelier, if you're a sportwear company, you must continue doing sportswear. I do think sportswear has the ability to transition more towards luxury because I could make a sweatshirt in 100 percent cashmere and it would be luxury, but the idea that a couture atelier could make a silk sweatshirt for me is ridiculous. So I really don’t believe in this; I just don’t see any beauty in it.”

So what’s the must-have piece of the season? “I think our padded jackets are a must-have. They are not so good for your [Singapore] climate but in Europe in winter we love to wear layers, and padded jackets really add that richness to your look.”

For Pompilio, the creative process is all about being in the moment and taking stock of the environment. “I’m like a sponge, I’m soaking everything in. I love people watching, the airport is a great place for that. I like to learn about different cultures and different people—that’s what my life is all about, that’s what’s important.”