In a perfect world, N.Hoolywood's Daisuke Obana would be staging operas or costuming films on the scale of DeMille's—that's a measure of his full-throttle embrace of his chosen subjects. He's more than a designer. He's a sort of dramaturge.
Last season, N.Hoolywood offered Police Picture, a largely street-cast showing of growling thugs in vintage prison stripes, posing for their mug shots. It was inspired by the twenties and thirties, but felt totally true to its own time. This season, it's Half Dome, named for the Yosemite peak documented by Ansel Adams. Obana explained backstage that he'd come across a book of old photos of Yosemite at a flea market in L.A. and become enraptured by the outfits worn by climbers at the beginning part of the twentieth century. It provided the seed of a captivating, convincing menswear show.
To a minimal, unsettling piano score, out marched an army of rough and ragged gentleman climbers, equipped with pickaxes and lengths of braided rope. They sported bushy beards and were made up to look windburned and leather-tan. Their clothes were rugged but nothing less than refined, too. They wore hardy tweed suits with breeches buttoned at the calf, and wide, culotte-style shorts. Knits were gorgeously detailed with snaking, textured cables on matching sweaters, hats, and knee-high socks. Among the outerwear, wool melton coats stood out.
You didn't doubt for a minute that these were men who could have spent their days scaling the sheer face of the cliffs. But take their outfits piece by piece and you could see that it would all work today. That's timelessness: antithesis of fashion, epitome of style. And that's a lesson learned, so to speak, at the school of rock. "When he saw Yosemite, it was exactly the same as the pictures" from the forties, an interpreter (Obana speaks very little English) said backstage. "It was a long time ago, but it was still the same, amazing." As explanations go, that's probably as good as we're going to get. Like some of his countrymen (Junya Watanabe comes to mind), the designer seems disinclined to over-parse. "The last time, he found the book of police pictures at the same flea market," the interpreter offered when asked to connect last season to the next. Obana himself broke in with a grin: "It was only $10!"