As commercial director, consultant, chairman, investor and art collector, Seiya Nakamura certainly masters the business dynamics of multiple creative fields. He oversees some of the most interesting Japanese brands currently breaking through the international market, with his showroom acting as a bridge between the East and the West. As a matter of fact, he’s pretty much responsible of the growth and development of those brands, and eventually of their arousing popularity within our side of the world. The great knowledge of Eastern culture, combined with unique eye for spotting the new make him the perfect trend forecaster. Whether is investing on new designers or buying art, he’s not afraid of risks and follows his instinct to the bottom, and he’s usually right! We sat down with him to find out more about his business and approach nurture by passion and commitment.
How did your business and position within the fashion industry change from your beginning to the present time?
When I started at Julius around 5 years ago I was the commercial director of the brand. This meant that I was highly involved in the company, yet I was always outside the company, so I had a broader vision. This allowed me to better understand the market dynamics and I learnt straight from my personal experience how to successfully introduce a Japanese brand to the Western market. My position also involved a lot of traveling, which eventually lead me to grow a solid network of retailers, agents and put me in touch with other brands. Thanks to my knowledge of the Asian market, I happened to represent and distribute major fashion labels in Asia naturally, acting as a middle figure between the East and the West. Now I am managing multiple showrooms and expanding the business through a wide portfolio of different international brands, not only from Japan, but from London, Paris, Australia, Los Angeles, Antwerp, China, Sweden, etc that appeal to different worlds and aesthetics.
Can you explain how is your approach different from a simple sales agent?
It’s rather different. Sales agents are mostly concerned with numbers and work on seasonal deadlines, as a commercial director and consultant I am focused on the growth of the brand on a longer time span and with bigger goals and concerns. Nowadays everyone seems to be a sales agent and have a showroom, but taking care of the commercial development of a brand is much more than just providing a space and few rails during Paris Fashion Week. I am interested more in quality as opposed to numbers, obviously I understand that numbers are important and that a brand has to be profitable, but to achieve profits it’s necessary to build the brand value and identity first. For these reasons, I am also involved in the overall brand’s image, design, and strategy. I do run multiple showrooms and manage the commercial aspect of several brands, but I am also a director that works within some of the brands that I represent.
In which way do you connect the East and the West?
I spend a lot of time traveling between the two worlds, and obviously I come across many different brands, people and realities. I have been able to grow an understanding of cities and tendencies, due to the experiences that I have luckily had. My travels and experiences, have allowed me to be in the right environment and access the information and perspective to share with my partners. This all allows me to be able to fulfill my mission of helping new brands to bring their philosophy and ethos to the international world, by creating the right context and selecting the right audience for them to be understood. Through me they also overcome language barriers and logistics, which at times can be very tricky and impact on the success of young brands. As I am involved 100% in the brands I represent, I also help them to adjust their fittings and designs to suit the international market and its current needs.
Your showroom is named Ryodan, does it have any specific meaning?
In Japanese Ryodan means nomad. When I started in the business, I was a nomad, I was always traveling, visiting shops, studios, and seeing the world. I feel that fashion should reflect the era, the moment and the future, and I needed to see the direction of the world, in order to be on point and actually feel what was going on. I didn’t even have a real house at the time, as I rarely spent more than two weeks in the same place. I was looking for my roots, eventually I found them in different places, and I felt stable enough to expand my own business and set up my family. Tokyo, Paris, Berlin: each of these cities owns a part of me. Tokyo is my heritage and my past, Paris is love and present, Berlin is challenge and future. Even now that I have a little daughter we keep on moving… I guess my nomadic spirit will always stay with me.
What do you think of the current state of fashion and do you plan to develop your business in the future?
Everything in fashion goes so fast, and the scene is tricky. Brands need to slow down. I believe there is way too much product out there, with quantities that are so high that they do not meet the real demand. Faster does not necessarily mean better, as quality and identity get inevitably sacrificed. Even when the product is good, if there is too much of it, its value gets diluted as it becomes too accessible.
It is very common for brands to be over hyped, too quickly, and then exit just as quickly. I push my brands to have a steady but solid growth, always finding a balance with their identify and what the market actually needs. I want to invest in brands that have potential and I see this as a long term commitment.
In the future, I will be expanding my approach beyond the showroom, really working from inside the company for some brands, which I think is vital step for growth. Beyond my own Ryodan showroom, I currently am personally involved and present, during the Men’s season with Namacheko and my new project Fumito Ganryu, debuting at Pitti Uomo this June, and during the Women’s collections with Mame Kurogouchi. I will keep on following this path and this direction, eventually tackling different fields such as lifestyle or art.
Speaking about art, I know you are passionate about art and that you collect. Can you tell us more about it?
I collect a mix of established and up and coming artists. I choose things that speak to me rather than following market trends. When I buy art from an emerging artist I take a risk, I don’t know where they will go and if they will be consistent…to some extent it’s similar to working with young brands. It’s not easy to embrace the uncertain, but you may have the biggest and most rewarding surprises from it. When I am exploring a new artist, I am not only looking at their work at the time but also trying to understand and feel their vision and development for the future.
Looking at art and collecting it trains your eye to understand meaning and creativity, and also to understand value. This helps me a lot in my business because it pushes me to go behind the surface and truly understand the aesthetics that stands before the product. Thanks to this deep knowledge I am able to craft a strategy and present it in the most truthful way possible.
All of this aside, at the end of the day however I am also among many others in the creative field, just an admirer of the art. Art that I love, really speaks to me and touches me, and the creativity gives me positive energy and inspiration.