Stylist Interview: Minako Yoshihara [日本語あり]


by Maya Kawaguchi, posted May 25, 2013


Having worked with some of visual kei’s biggest names from early-days bands such as PIERROT and La’cryma Christi to recent hits like MERRY, lynch., 9GOATS BLACK OUT, defspiral, DOG in the Parallel World Orchestra, ando, and even HEATH from X JAPAN, stylist Minako Yoshihara (Milly) is a veritable font of wisdom on visual kei styling. She shared some of her insight and memories with ROKKYUU in this rather unique exclusive interview.

69: First of all can you introduce yourself and tell us what a stylist does?
Minako Yoshihara: My name is Minako Yoshihara (Milly.) and I am a freelance stylist/costume designer. I mainly style costumes for lives and photo shoots for visual-kei bands. My job is designing costumes, producing, collecting accessories for costumes during photo shoots, and arranging off-the-rack clothes.

69: What made you decide to become a stylist?
Minako Yoshihara: I used to be an office worker and was thinking of changing jobs, but didn’t exactly know what I wanted to do. I liked to make things and draw pictures. When I drew girls, instead of copying them, I designed their outfits.
Also, I liked to listen to music and when I saw the credits for stylists in magazines, that was when I learned that “stylist” was an actual job. Fashion, music, and crafts… when those three of my favorite things came together, I thought it would lead me to what I really want to do. At the time I didn’t know anything about how to become a stylist so, I quit my job and went to college. Afterward, I came to Tokyo and worked as an assistant for a stylist and a little over a year later, I became a freelance stylist.

69: You have been mainly styling for visual kei artists, when did you start doing so?
Minako Yoshihara: I think the word “visual kei” started to be used around the early ‘90s. At the time, visual kei was new and original and photos of this new and original visual kei was all over the music magazines. I was fascinated with the visuals and at that time, the one who was styling hide of X JAPAN was Ms. Emi Takahashi. My road to being a stylist started when I became an assistant to Ms.Takahashi. I was her assistant from around 1996 to 1997 when she was styling hide and GLAY. Since then, I have been able to work with many artists.

69: What bands have you worked with so far and which was the most impressive?
Minako Yoshihara: The bands I have worked with are, PIERROT, La’cryma Christi, MERRY and lynch., and recent ones would be 9GOATS BLACK OUT, defspiral, ando, DOG in the Parallel World Orchestra, Blu-BiLLioN, and with solo artist HEATH from X JAPAN. The most impressive… honestly, I can’t pick since they are all special in different ways.

69: When you design the outfit for the band, how does it work?
Minako Yoshihara: First of all, I have a meeting with the band and management staff. The process depends on what the band wants. Many bands change their costumes regularly and if they have a particular song in mind, some suggest the image they want. Also, there is a difference between costumes for lives and photo shoots as well. If it is for a photo shoot, the band suggests the theme of the photo shoot and if there is a release, they give the concept of the release. So the band gives some kind of concept and with it, I then suggest what kind of styling I can do with the concept that was given. When making a costume from scrap, I draw it out and give them my ideas. With the styling off-the-rack clothes, I often bring some costumes they can try out to help them decide—which is mostly the way it goes. Basically, handmade and off-the-rack styling is different.

69: Then can you tell us the difference between handmade and ready-made costumes?
Minako Yoshihara: With the handmade, it all starts from scratch. I sketch out a couple of designs and have the band choose from them. As the design comes to shape, we decide the fabrics. The three important things in designing are color, shape (silhouette), and fabric. Keeping those three points in mind, after the design is decided, we actually find a few ideas that suit the image and let the band look at and feel the texture of the fabrics.
If it is a photo shoot, the type of fabric is not much of a problem but if it is for lives where the band wears it many times, I usually use lighter fabrics. Even if the fabric looks good, if it affects the performance it can’t be used. If the costume is for one time only, the fabric can be a non-washable material but recently bands go on tour often with the costumes and request a washable type. In that sense, choosing the fabric is an important part of making a costume. The image changes depending on the fabric, so it is crucial to choose carefully. Finally, I make the costume. First I make a mock-up with a different fabric so the bands can check the shape of the costume.
For band members, I may make adjustments based on how they use their arms or legs, depending on what instruments they play. Guitarists and bassists have a strap hung on their shoulder so they can’t have any accessories that would be in the way of the strap. After checking those points, the final production with the actual fabric begins. The final check is done by performing with the completed costume and confirming such things as if the strap belt is comfortable or if the pant legs get in the way of drumming, etc.

69: It pretty much depends on actually trying it on, then.
Minako Yoshihara: Yes. At this point, adjustments are made as well. A common example would be shortening of the sleeves so the sleeve doesn’t get in the way of the performance. Then there’s off-the-rack costumes. The difference with the handmade is that the costumes are arranged from ready-to-wear clothes. After getting the idea of the image from the band, I find clothes that match their image. During the search, sometimes there are clothes that suit the band better than the ones suggested  so I bring those ideas to the band as well.
On the other hand, there are clothes in hand that sometimes match the image of a member and I would suggest that too, by sending the photo of the clothes. Sometimes, when I think the clothes would be much better with a retouch, I often bring up the idea to the band. For example, when a leather jacket is too ordinary, I suggest changing parts of it and decorating it with accessories and show the band the actual things so they get the idea.

69: Many bands basically have a concept but what do you do when a band has no concept and leaves the idea up to you?
Minako Yoshihara: If the band has no concept, I ask them how they want to show themselves. For example, how they want the band itself to be seen and what sort of music they play. When I am not familiar with the band’s music, I listen to their music and let my imagination work. Then, I suggest my idea and if they agree with it, we go to the next stage. I’m careful not to put too much of my own preference in, though I still express my own style while taking in the ideas of the band and management.

69: Thank you very much. Have you ever had any hard, troubles while working on the costumes?
Minako Yoshihara: The ones with the short deadlines are tough. There were times I had to work all night and I finished it just in time for the photo shoot. Also, sewing a bunch of studs is time consuming and a pain! [Laughs]

69: Must be! [Laughs] On the other hand, what makes you happy doing this work?
Minako Yoshihara: It makes me happy when, I see the finished work—on CDs and in magazines—and when I see the members wearing the costumes on stage. Most of all, I am happy when I hear the band or the management are satisfied with the costumes and receive gratitude from them. Also, when I hear that fans like the costumes.

69: What do you keep in mind when you do styling?
Minako Yoshihara: Not answering solely to the band and management’s needs. I do always keep in mind to give my own ideas in the styling and try to bring out something that is beyond expectations.

Minako Yoshihara: I recommend trying out the fashions you want to try while you can. Don’t be afraid of mistakes; you never know until you wear them. When you try things on, that is when you know what is right for you. Also, when you are young and can’t afford to buy clothes, go to stores where you can see and feel the clothes and try them on. Trying it on is free. These days, you can purchase clothes online but it is hard to imagine the actual color—the material and comfort—until you actually see and feel it.
Most of all, if you have a fashion you are aiming for, you can try purchasing affordable clothes and add decorations which will make it more fashionable and maybe give the feel of the fun of handmade clothes. Check out the real thing and enjoy making your own style.

VK Exclusive

There are 16 photos in this visual kei exclusive.

Maya Kawaguchi is a Japanese native who grew up in California. She was introduced to VK in college and soon became fascinated by the genre and nagoya-oriented bands in particular. Since then, she has been surprised by the number of foreigners who are interested in VK and hopes to introduce this world to as many potential fans as possible.

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  1. Umi

    Super interesting to read about the ins and outs of styling the musicians. Great article!