Since my first buying trip for Dilettante some 12 years ago, I've been on the hunt for the perfect t-shirt. The world of luxury fashion has never seen a shortage of exquisite garments to add to our collection, but tracking down those unique staple items that are so necessary to balance out a wardrobe has proven to be another thing entirely.
Something with a feminine silhouette that is also interesting enough to be worn in the evening comes pretty close to fitting my own vision for a perfect t-shirt... Above all however, it would need to be comfortable, and so the quality of fabric is always of the highest priority.
In 2007 I met Larz Harry when he was studying Fashion at Curtin with a colleague of mine. After graduating, he spent time living in Japan and has only recently returned to Perth to start his own line of menswear, MAN-TLE, with new wife Aida. At the heart of MAN-TLE lies an appreciation for the robust fabrics created in Japanese mills, with 'Heavy Weight Clothing' serving simultaneously as a description and mantra.
With fabric research and development being so integral to their brand, I asked if they would be interested in working on a capsule collection of basics together. What came of it was a collaboration that seeks to fill that gaping hole in our own collections, and a manifestation of that proverbial, perfect t-shirt.
This month we take a moment with Aida of MAN-TLE to learn about her foray into the world of fashion, the virtue of Japanese fabrics, and finding a new home in Perth.
DIANA: Aida, can you tell me about where you grew up?
AIDA: I grew up in South Korea. I was born in Seoul but our family moved to a small harbour town when I was about 7 years old. I have lots of fun memories from there. Nature was our playground and I loved to play in the mountains or on the beach.
What were some of your interests as a child?
I was interested in nature, science and making and building things. And I also cared about clothing a lot. After Mum dressed me in pretty dresses, I would run back to the house to change into what I really wanted to wear before going to school.
What is your first memory of fashion?
I really loved what my Mum wore when I was young. I told her to keep her clothes for me until I became an adult. She used to wear long skirts, short jackets, big coats and many irregular shapes.
What did you do once you finished high school? Have you studied fashion?
No I haven’t. I was afraid of studying what I loved. I kept trying to avoid fashion.
After finishing high school, I studied art photography in Japan then worked for an architectural photography company for a few years. Finally though, I entered Comme des Garçons and the fashion industry. I still think my love of photography continues to influence my expressions a lot. It helps me to approach fashion from a different angle. I might not have got that if I had only ever done fashion.
I believe you worked at the iconic, Dover Street Market in Ginza Japan. For many fashion lovers, this is one of the first designer temples that you obsess over, what was it like to work at such a place? And what was your role?
I started by working at Comme des Garçons as a retail assistant and then was moved to the office as a visual merchandiser. That was when I started to work with Rei Kawakubo directly. I moved to Dover Street Market Ginza and was put in charge of CDG BLACK and the jewellery as well as assisting the women’s buying team. I learnt a lot from these roles and the experience of working closely with Rei. I also began to build a very international network of friends from being there.
You also met your future husband while working there, is that right? Can you tell me how you two got together?
I remember when I saw him for the first time, he was wearing a pink jacket and towering above a group of 10 Thai women he was attending through the store. That was impressive. He had no one to help him communicate with the Japanese staff however, so he often asked me to translate his words. I found it all a bit suspicious actually!
You and Larz have the menswear label, MAN-TLE & side project, HEAVY WEIGHT CLOTHING. At what point in your relationship did these businesses develop?
We always talked about clothing and products and wanted to make our own. I always wanted to be self employed too, as did Larz.
Can you explain the difference between MAN-TLE & HEAVY WEIGHT CLOTHING?
HEAVY WEIGHT CLOTHING is our business name, and it’s meaning is at the root of our brand MAN-TLE.
Now HEAVY WEIGHT CLOTHING is also the name of our side project, in which we are making products through collaboration with businesses and friends. These products are specific to the context in which they will be sold.
MAN-TLE is our flagship brand, and it reflects more strongly our opinions on the clothing we desire and our story as people. We strive to make timeless clothing for people to enjoy for the long term.
The two projects are approached differently, but their ideology is the same.
As a husband and wife business, do you have set roles each? And were they obvious from the beginning?
Creating together is not that difficult now. Usually we have similar ideas or even if it’s different, we respect each other’s opinions. We believe that makes the outcomes much stronger. At the beginning, it wasn’t easy to work together because we couldn't recognise who was better at what.
Basically Larz does the more technical parts regarding construction and patterns, and I do all of the Japanese communication and the production side of things.
Your husband’s hometown is Perth, where you both now live. Were you always open to the idea of moving here?
It wasn’t easy to leave Japan after living there for 10 years. I had visited Perth twice before I moved and I enjoyed the lifestyle and thought it would be a good start for our new life together. The most important thing for me was seeing a happier, more relaxed Larz, who existed in Australia but rarely in Tokyo.
What are the biggest challenges of moving from a City like Tokyo, to tiny Perth?
The biggest challenge with small cities is inconvenience, however that same issue can easily work to our advantage. Inconvenience leads us to create more pure, unaffected products in our design work. In small cities it’s not necessary to look for new things all the time, and it also helps us appreciate the natural environment far more.
Other challenges include getting my driver's license and learning to swim in the wild ocean!
Have you lived in any other countries?
Besides Japan and Korea, I have lived in the US in New York where I studied for 1 year, and before that in France where I studied after high-school.
I understand that you travel back to Tokyo a fair bit with MAN-TLE as all of your production is in Japan. What are the benefits of producing in Japan?
Manufacturing in Japan was a natural outcome following all of our fabric research and development there, which began while we were still employed in our previous jobs. Sewing in Japan saves us transporting Japanese fabrics elsewhere to do so, and we also believe the quality is exceptional there. We work closely with small factories and mills that take great pride in their work. They are specialists and often have rich family history in their craft.
We recently collaborated together on a line of basics for DILETTANTE. We wanted to create the perfect t-shirt and long sleeve tops for layering. Can you share some details about the project and the Japanese Mill that created the incredibly lightweight cotton for these t-shirts?
This was a collaborative project in which we went back and forth between yourselves and the makers in Japan. The results are easy to wear and of very high quality. The cotton jersey used in the t-shirts is very breathable, yet weighty and dry to touch. The very dense yarn used for this jersey has been boiled and then twisted with a second identical yarn. This process reduces the likelihood of the garment twisting out of shape when washed.
Do you dress differently inside the studio than you would normally? And what does your wardrobe consist of?
I like dressing as if my clothes are my uniform, so I don’t dress differently between studio or otherwise. My wardrobe consists of just a few variations of shape, mostly made from wool gabardine and cotton fabrics, almost entirely in solid colours. I obviously wear a lot of MAN-TLE too, although the menswear is a bit big for me.
You have a cult following in Australia for your menswear already, as well as being stocked at some of the most prestigious stores worldwide. I was really excited to hear that this season in Paris you will be adding a womenswear collection to MAN-TLE. Can you tell me a bit about what to expect from this womens’ line?
The approach is the same as our menswear collection, making durable, reliable and practical clothes to wear every day. They are timeless and unique. Because some of our menswear is already easily worn by females, we avoided designing similar shapes for the womens collection. Instead we are making quite feminine shapes, strong in character and beautiful on the body. They share our same signature fabrics with the menswear.