Akira Minagawa

TOKYO — The name Minä Perhonen may sound Finnish but the textiles and fashion line is actually the brainchild of Japanese designer Akira Minagawa, who has cleverly paired Scandinavian sensibilities with Japanese traditional textile making.

Appearing at WWD’s 20/20 Retail summit in Tokyo, Minagawa explained his journey. The fascination with Finland first began when he was young and he encountered Finnish design in the furniture shop run by his grandparents. His first trip to Helsinki at 19 only further cemented that attraction.

After launching the brand in 1995, the company became known for its original hand-sketched prints that are then transformed into dresses, bags and an assortment of products. Now, Minagawa counts 13 Minä Perhonen stores. His products never go on sale; instead, he prefers to take any remaining stock and transfer it to the store’s archives for safekeeping.

Butterflies, and other natural elements from birds, plants and trees, often feature in Minagawa’s designs — in fact, the name Minä Perhonen is Finnish for “I Butterfly.”

The designer explains that having grown up in Tokyo, his direct interaction with nature was limited and so he wanted to incorporate it into his clothes.

“If with the clothes or any patterns I’m able to bring to mind the nature element, that’s wonderful,” he said. “But my patterns are not so much about exactly visualizing the natural items. It’s coming from the imagination, thinking that it could possibly exist. I am imagining there’s probably a creature that looks like this, and I am able to create the relationship between the human and nature.”

With the exception of tartan, which he sources from Scotland, Minagawa uses all Japanese manufacturers. While some partners he works with are very traditional, he interprets and adapts their techniques for new silhouettes and uses.

He gave the example of kimono-producing facilities, elaborating that “we are not making that kind of traditional material [the kimono] but then we work together with the plant and many of the plants have that kind of technology or the craftsmanship in their roots.”

While he himself may personally oversee 30 to 40 years of the business, Minagawa said it’s his hope to engender a brand philosophy that includes a trusting relationship with the manufacturer, eventually passing that to the next generation.

“I hope that by 100 years, my philosophy will have deepened and then this wonderful kind of manufacturing is able to provide a wonderful life to its users.”