© superfuture - masako kaufman looking all preppy
masako kaufman is the founder of polkadots international, inc., a prominent u.s.-based fashion consultancy. for over fifteen years, she has marketed designers and brands to key japanese retailers, fashion houses and press. brands include united arrows, alexander wang, proenza schouler, 3.1 phillip lim, thom browne, muji, jason wu and others. in addition, she is a regular contributor to senken shimbun, japan's widely circulated daily fashion newspaper, a cfda committee member and an avid sailor! superfuture's simon kristoph harvey caught up with kaufman for a little chat.
what brought you to being such a catalyst between the american-japanese retail world? well, it happened quite by coincidence actually. after i moved to new york, a friend who owned an apparel store in harajuku, asked me to find clothes from the u.s. and i was helping her choose what to buy. after a while, word-of-mouth of my work with her spread. later on, after i helped to open the cynthia rowley flagship store in tokyo, i was recruited to start working at one of the biggest japanese buying firms and built their u.s.a. designer business from zero to a multi-million dollar business. now, i am working with united arrows which has been my platform to debut great designers such as thom browne, michael bastian and many others in the japanese market and i'm now dealing with the best american designers for united arrows. after 20 years of doing this, i have now become a go-to person for japanese retailers of all kinds, trying to find out what's hot, what's not and what will be hot, and i have developed a great deal of influence over their buying decisions, which in turn, steers the japanese market.
japan has always been inspired by western culture, fashion and trends. where does this fascination come from? frankly, i think it initially stems from the burgeoning post-world war II japan trying to fit in with the modern world. however, i would definitely have to say that the book take ivy set a standard for japanese men's fashion. japan has learned a lot from the good parts of american and european culture and they studied hard to catch up with it. when i was young, my parents dressed me to always be neat and proper, but in a conservative way so that i could shake hands with 50 people without embarrassment. the clothes had to be good quality. many japanese parents and children were like that in past, though i am not sure nowadays how many children would listen to their parents about how to dress.
what are the japanese consumer's general sensibilities when it comes to fashion? are those of the united arrows customer any different? japan has certain trends that may not exist outside of japan. and the people influence each other to make the trend better and stronger. they are also good at forming their own trends and always with a keen sense of quality. japanese men's fashion is more sophisticated than japanese women's fashion, which was mostly driven by big fashion houses or magazine advertisements. sadly, on the other hand, i think japanese women are getting used to foreign fast-fashion nowadays and i am worrying about japanese women's fashion quality because as cheap fashion gets more pervasive, japanese women seem to be more accepting of this. i see this tendency more each time i go back to japan. but the united arrows customer is different in that they are usually looking for a more up-scale, fashion-forward look than the general population.
how does united arrows distinguish itself from other retailers in japan? united arrows distinguishes itself from other retailers in three important ways: first and foremost is their uncompromising commitment to detail and quality in all of the merchandise that they carry. another major factor is their successful mix of fashion-forward, along with the classic, elegant styles that are offered and that their customers have come to expect. and finally, their prestige because during their 21 years in existence, they have consistently been recognized as a top outstanding retailer.
japanese fashion and fashion brands have become increasingly popular abroad in recent years. why has united arrows never expanded its retail operations outside japan? they have an uncompromising attitude when it comes to quality and this translates to the retail experience as well. i think they have not had the infrastructure in place previously to open up international locations and 'do it right'. that being said, i know they definitely have an interest in doing so, though they may start slowly getting their name out there in the form of collaborations or as in the up-coming debut of its creative director's line at barneys' flagship store in new york this fall, called camoshita united arrows.
what's hot right now in japan? there are so many japanese ways that can be called trends in japan. for example, beautiful women dressing up as men like lady gaga, retro-modern [vintage look + modern], new wave techno look [1980s punk + pop art or music], but also a céline tote bag or chanel shoulder bag as seen with most of japanese buyers, and which are quite boring to me personally...
what's inspiring you right now and what's next for you? what's inspiring to me is very important to my life. i'm usually easily impressed when i see great creativity, whether it's people, architecture, art, cinema, food or landscapes. i have grown up with grandparents and parents who were land developers, historians and teachers. i have seen them influencing people around them. when i see something amazing, i feel i want to share it with someone. this has always been my nature and that’s why i have started matchmaking with designers and stores. so, i am always looking for something that impresses me first and then, i'll take action. what's next for me? i'm not sure, but i have a couple of ongoing projects with my clients and look forward to accomplishing them first. when it's time to relax, i love to travel outside of manhattan. and in the summertime, i enjoy sailing with my family and friends.