AURALEE is the Japanese brand worthy of the Grail you need
You have seen all the types of clothes that AURALEE has made before, but you have never seen them so well made. Unlike so many “high base” brands that speak out, AURALEE walks the walk.
I know, I know, you’ve heard all of this before, but, trust me, I wouldn’t be so passionate about a silver-tongued Kickstarter copywriter or a boring, fast-paced ‘maverick’. Before launching AURALEE in 2015, founder Ryota Iwai cut his teeth at casual wear brand norikoike, learning what made essentials truly essential. Even six years later, Iwai maintains the same singular goal at AURALEE, making effortless clothing of uncompromising quality. I still remember the first time I handled a piece of AURALEE. It was a baby cashmere turtleneck sweater from the brand’s first collection, Fall / Winter 2015, and it knocked me down. From the specificity of the mixed weave to the right fit, everything was so beautifully and quietly considered – and it was just one piece in the entire collection!
Normally, when a brand has just found its place, it relentlessly tests the stylistic waters here and there. Iwai, however, knew exactly what he wanted from the start and as a result, AURALEE only improved in the years that followed. Iwai’s preference for simple and affordable items means that each season AURALEE produces numerous overcoats, hoodies, t-shirts, pants and jeans – the building blocks of a modular wardrobe.
The AURALEE difference is reflected in the manufacturing. Don’t get me wrong, the cuts are great too, but the story is mostly told through the hand-dyed finishes and loose gauge weaves that can only be achieved by vintage spinning machines. I mean, everything, down to the buttons and the thread used to sew the clothes, is chosen on purpose.
There is a cult of Japanese customers who could very well be the most demanding in the world. You won’t learn about them by reading industry glossaries because they don’t shop in malls and department stores nationwide. No, you will only find them in independent shops that sell craft-conscious labels like, yes, AURALEE.
These are the buyers who expect every stitch to be in its place and the finish to be flawless. More than that, they saw all the boring basic shirts and “timeless” pants. They must be won over by the quality of the materials. For this clientele, AURALEE is the gold standard.
Japanese fans practically go out of their way to tear off AURALEE’s new pieces every season, whether they are washed finx shirts (Egyptian long-staple cotton) or sweaters deliberately knitted from yarns that intertwine the fabric. South African wool and mohair.
It’s no wonder that AURALEE was able to experience catwalks and expansion overseas in a way many of its peers can only dream of.
Iwai’s vision of humble beauty seems an odd match with the flash and flourish of the Paris Fashion Week runway, but her seasonal catwalks have actually proven to be helpful in making her sleek, draped clothes more accessible to the look. western fashion.
AURALEE’s exquisite clothing has since started pouring into international boutiques, entitling unwitting shoppers to the first-hand revelation that occurs when they first experience AURALEE textiles.
As Iwai explained to me, her brand has to be experienced in person.
Part of AURALEE’s appeal is its tangible quality. Do you find it difficult to translate this physical appeal into parades?
Ryota Iwai: Originally I never intended to show our collection on the catwalk, we were more focused on showcasing our world through our flagship store and the product itself. So I really had a hard time translating.
Our ultimate goal has always been to create clothes that real people can cherish and wear. We want to create clothes that exist outside of the runway, a wardrobe that is wearable and that also brings joy into people’s daily lives.
I found myself drawn to the challenge of knowing how to bridge these two worlds and how to present our work in a way that is true to us. I think there is room for – and even an interesting dynamic in – a brand like ours that participates in something like Paris Fashion Week.
How did you experience the international growth of AURALEE? Considering your focus on thoughtful clothing design, was it difficult to scale the scale?
We could never have anticipated and we are very grateful for the positive response and support we have received.
Entering the international market was actually a very gradual process. We have close long term partners who have supported us even before we started showing abroad, but, after bringing our collection to Paris for Spring / Summer 2019 – and thanks to the efforts of our team and our amazing collaborators – we have been so fortunate to see a gradual and healthy increase with each season.
Even without being able to travel and only show our collection digitally in recent seasons, we have been able to forge new partnerships.
One of my goals with AURALEE is to be able to support and give back to the wonderful suppliers and factories we work with. As we grow our business, I believe we are able to offer even more to those who make our work possible.
I don’t feel like my design process has been affected, however. We just want to keep having fun while creating products that we are happy with.
All AURALEE collections are distinct but they also have occasional strong lines, whether in terms of design, palette or pattern. Do you design with this interconnectivity in mind?
I wouldn’t say it’s intentional, but you can notice it because the inspiration and goals for each season often come from the same places.
I view each season not as individual short stories but as different chapters of the same book, capturing different moods and nuances of a constant theme.
Fall / Winter 2021, for example, was all about capturing a healing mood. Restful, warm, relaxed, comfortable.
In contrast, we wanted Spring / Summer 2022 to be vibrant and energetic, evoking the vitality of the outdoors.
AURALEE’s collaborations with New Balance introduced the brand to many new fans. Why is New Balance right for you and your team?
Especially for an independent brand like us, this has been a real opportunity to expand our reach globally.
New Balance collaborations have allowed us to present and share our work and our essence to an even larger audience, to people and communities who otherwise might not even know it. There is also a mutual respect for which I am very grateful.
I think our partnership makes sense for many reasons. For example, on a personal level, I have always worn and have always been a fan of New Balance.
Also, although our scale is completely different, one common ground unites us: we share values of construction, quality, classic aesthetics and innovation.
What would you like AURALEE newcomers to know and what items would you like them to try to get a feel for the brand?
I guess I would like people to know that we are a tight-knit team. We do our best to create timeless yet modern garments that showcase the best of our originally developed fabrics.
We carefully examine and execute every step of our production process, traveling overseas where possible to seek out the best raw materials and uphold the quality of those materials, creating our garments with honest and meticulous production techniques.
We treat all of our products – from a pair of cotton socks to a T-shirt to a hand-sewn cashmere coat – with the same care, from their origin as raw materials to the finished piece.
As the colder months approach, we would like people to try on one of our knits or coats, maybe a cashmere knit sweater or baby knit pants. We would like a customer’s first AURALEE item to be the one they keep for life.