Sofia Prantera, fashion designer, on her Goro Takahashi feather
GB Tell me why you chose this.
SP I chose this partly because it’s handcrafted. Each one takes a long time to make. At the time I bought it, it was a symbol of belonging to a certain Asian subculture. Goro Takahashi made each one by hand. He studied with Navajo Indians in Utah and was made an Indian Warrior who had special permission to make their silver jewellery. He has never advertised or supplied them to other distributors as far as I know. They’re very difficult to buy. You have to queue up outside the shop in Harajuku because he’s never fulfilled demand. But I got a special pass to skip the queue from a friend in Japan. You can only buy one at a time. Even though he probably doesn’t make all of them himself any more, he’s never made them more accessible. You can only get them from the Harajuku store.
I also chose something related to fashion because I feel that fashion influences our view of beauty more than people are prepared to admit.
GB When did you buy it?
SP It was the first time I’d been to Japan and we were opening our first Silas store in Tokyo in 2001. It was the only thing I wanted to take back with me because it was really the ultimate Japanese souvenir. I never took it off but I lost it one day in the Tate Modern. I was so upset because I knew I wouldn’t be going to Japan any time soon. But a couple of years later my friend Giorgio bought me another as a present.
GB They’re so cool and whatever Goro’s intentions for them being works of art, they’ve become a fashion item. Does it have a timeless beauty for you?
SP Yes, it never feels like a piece of regular jewellery. Each one is hand finished in front of you in the shop so you feel you have more of a personal connection to it. I admire the fact that he’s never sold out in any way and made cheaper versions or T-shirts. It is really interesting and rare. It feels more like buying art than fashion. He doesn’t do collaborations with big brands. I don’t think there will ever be a Nike Goro shoe.
GB So is part of its appeal that it’s so difficult to come by? There are so few things that you can’t just buy on the internet?
SP Lots of people have copied them now but none of the copies have the same appeal. There’s definitely a feeling that you’re getting something magical and special. There are details in the feather that show that it’s hand crafted – which is something I’m interested in in my own work. Manufacturing has become so good that it’s harder now to tell the difference between something hand crafted and something mass produced. For a while now there’s been an awful trend for pre-ageing things, such as sand blasting jeans with techniques that are dangerous – for the workers in the factories as well as the environment. But there’s also a lack of authenticity to wearing something that you haven’t worn in yourself. It feels slightly sick that people are so detached from the manufacturing process now – that they don’t want to buy second hand jeans but they want their jeans to look worn and they have no idea how this process came about. Even the stores that are selling them have no idea. The British horse meat scandal was a good example of this. Suddenly there were all these horrific details in the paper about how we get our meat products that no one in the supply chain had even been aware of.
With my new label, Aries, I design clothes with the manufacturing process in mind rather than just on paper. This means that I can experiment with the processes and have a more realistic idea of how my end product will look and feel. It’s almost like working backwards and re-appropriating the skills of the factories. Each item I make is treated by me personally in some way. Like Goro’s feather, it’s the process that gives an item its life and value. The process is a big part of what makes it desirable.
GB There are so many factors other than beauty that influence our personal style such as belonging to a subculture, our aspirations, our state of mind. How do you see the relationship between fashion and beauty?
SP For me beauty and style both are a balance of many things and there has to be an element of ugliness in both of them, something unexpected. It’s also a balance that’s constantly shifting with fashion and whether we like it or not that influences our view of beauty. Each era has its own ideal, although the markers are now becoming more subtle. There aren’t so many defining trends any more but slightly subverting a traditionally beautiful look, such as emphasising thick eyebrows on a model like Cara Delevigne, or wearing big clumpy shoes with pretty dresses is the way things have evolved.
GB What makes something worthy of the word Beauty to you?
SP It’s a delicate balance. It’s a combination of the way something is made, its origins and history and that of its maker, the emotional effect it has on me, the circumstances in which I experience it but also a sense that something can transcend that moment and have a life beyond trends.