With Noir Kei Ninomiya, Designer Kei Ninomiya Embraces Dichotimies
Every season, Noir Kei Ninomiya seems to reinvent geometry. Roundness is not spherical; expansion is not solid; the largest shapes are often the most transparent. The models are cocooned in voluminous layers of smaller patterns: cornucopias of nets, petals, herringbone, or honeycomb. The designs feel both exceedingly natural—like looking at a coral reef—and cyborg-esque. Ninomiya makes clothes that embrace lightness and thorniness, resounding with beauty and defiance.
Kei Ninomiya launched his label in 2012. At the time, Ninomiya had been working for Comme des Garçons for four years, and he was only 28 years old. When Rei Kawakubo approached him about developing his own brand for Comme des Garçons, she was also putting him in company with the greats: herself and Junya Watanabe. In previous interviews, Ninomiya has described Kawakubo’s invitation without any kind of lore; it was a life-changing but apparently efficient decision.
Since its founding, Noir Kei Ninomiya has produced consistently innovative collections that heavily feature the color black, unconventional materials, almost microbial patterns, and expansive, round silhouettes. In his Spring/Summer 2023 Collection, “Noir in Bloom,” for example, the opening look was a profusion of metallic flowers that fully encased the model’s body. The red, magenta, silver, and black petals lightly bounced down the runway in time with the model’s steps. It was followed by sequences of fringed textiles, oversized sparkling flowers, harnesses, and tulle.
Whitewall spoke with Ninomiya about his fall/winter 2023 collection, his life before Noir, and moving beyond traditional techniques. Ninomiya is a sparing interviewee, consistently leaving room for further interpretation. He does not speak for his designs; his designs essentially speak for themselves, asking the wearer and viewer to puzzle out what they may be saying about clothing, geometry, and solidity.
Who is Kei Ninomiya, the Early Years
WHITEWALL: You have said that your entry into fashion came by way of making things—and enjoying that process. In terms of clothes, what did you wear when you were growing up?
KEI NINOMIYA: I was wearing black most of the time, and also a lot of Comme des Garçons.
WW: What were the styles, trends, or visual cues that influenced or made an impression on you?
KN: Rather than trends, I feel that some people like David Bowie or the Antwerp Six had an impression on me when I was young.
WW: Before you moved to Antwerp to study fashion, you studied French literature. You have said that literature and fashion remain separate for you. But there seems to be an overlap between French literature and your approach to fashion design; your designs and French texts favor being open to interpretation. Are there any French writers who have been very important to you? Why?
KN: I agree that fashion design and French literature are both open to interpretation. Each person has their own way of perception regarding both kinds of creations. In that way, both fields might be quite similar in terms of freedom of expression.
What Noir Kei Ninomiya is Known For
WW: Black is your signature, though you often offset it with color. Your Fall/Winter 2023 collection was more vibrant than usual, with the designs blooming with a multitude of pinks, purples, and blues. What was the thinking behind the expanded color palette?
KN: Using color in my collections is a way to make black stand out in different ways. For Fall/Winter 2023 I incorporated a range of colors that I do not typically use, in order to create something that feels new and different.
WW: You opened that show with an incredible, metallic flower-covered ensemble, and you ended with one that was resplendent with extraordinary bristles. Can you tell us about the process of making those looks?
KN: As always with Noir Kei Ninomiya, I try to create something new using techniques that are different from traditional sewing. My work process involves a lot of research on new techniques and ways of construction, and a lot of them are based on manual work consisting of connecting small parts together.
WW: The opening ensemble reminded me a bit of Yayoi Kusama’s work, with its sense of infinity and expansion. Do you feel any resonance with her work?
KN: I never thought of it that way. I admire her work, but I do not feel any resonance with this collection.
On Collaboration and Comme des Garçons
WW: You worked also with the iconic French brand Repetto in your Fall/Winter 2023 Collection. What was that collaboration like?
KN: I wanted to work with classic shoes, a style that everyone knows, and to add a sense of Noir Kei Ninomiya to them. I immediately thought of Repetto for this collaboration, so I contacted them. Repetto has a long history with Comme des Garçons, and the whole process was very smooth.
WW: In that collection, you included metallic finishes and layers of elaborate netting that was almost like chain mail. Do you ever think about your designs as a kind of armor?
KN: I never thought of my designs as armor, but I can understand that people might think of it that way, as I often use links as a method of construction. Some might perceive this type of clothing as armor to protect their body or as a kind of shelter.
WW: You have said that Rei Kawakubo does not see your designs until the rehearsal for the show. What are the conversations like when she finally sees your work?
KN: We do not have any specific conversations regarding my collections.
WW: What is on your mind right now?
KN: I am thinking of new ideas for my next collection.