Andrea Pompilio of Onitsuka Tiger on Downtown Rave

DA MAN chats with the creative director behind popular Japanese footwear brand Onitsuka Tiger, Andrea Pompilio, about the brand’s latest collection.

Andrea Pompilio grew up in an environment full of art. His father was an architect, his mother a painter, and his grandmother a boutique owner. For himself, after studying fashion at art school—his childhood dream was to become a fashion designer—in Pesaro and at the Istituto Marangoni in Milan, Pompilio built up his résumé working with well-known brands in Milan, New York, Paris before revealing his own signature brand in autumn/winter 2011. It was in January of 2013 at Pitti Uomo that Pompilio started a collaboration with Japanese footwear brand Onitsuka Tiger, introducing an iconic sneaker, only to then design—each season—the “Onitsuka Tiger x Andrea Pompilio” capsule collection. This complete ready-to-wear proposition includes everything from footwear to apparel and accessories.

Fast forward to 2019, the Italian-born designer has become the creative director of Onitsuka Tiger. And earlier this year, the popular Japanese brand hosted its fall/winter 2019/20 launch event in Bangkok, Thailand. Titled Downtown Rave, the collection showcases a curated array of shoes and apparel, combining the edgy look of European rave scene of the ’90s with the craftsmanship and classical touches that have come to characterize the Japanese brand. In his chat with DAMAN, Pompilio talks about the brand’s latest collection and is inspired by observing every little detail around him.

DA MAN: First and foremost, what is the main story behind this new collection?
Andrea Pompilio: It’s always the same. I’d love to break down the wall of countries and this is something important for me. I’m always thinking as an international customer and I think this collection is like a European collection or a Japanese collection. In other words: an international collection. For me, this is really an international brand and I love to dress everybody from different cultures and different religions. That’s one of the biggest goals.

DA: Any particular reason why you named the collection Downtown Rave?
AP: We called it that because it was inspired by raves. A rave is like an illegal party and I was always doing a lot of that, especially when I was young, in my hometown which is very close to Riccione, the Ibiza of Italy. So, there are a lot of DJs, a lot of disco clubbing and a lot of underground cultures. I remember the way we were dressing at that moment. It was like a psychedelic kind of moment. On the other hand, we called it downtown because this was an inspiration that we bring to normal life, with a very “every day” way to dress. Because “downtown” means we now grow up in a big city. So, that’s why we put the rave party downtown. Above all, it’s a way to translate something historical for me, but in a very contemporary way.

“I think fashion is always about dreaming and fashion is always about moving, crying and emotion. Now it’s not like that anymore”

DA: How do you connect these to launching the collection in a tropical country like Bangkok?
AP: We’re working with installations and we work on the collection but in a very different environment. For sure, we’re still concentrating on the global collection. In most countries, there’s a winter and summer. So, we need to work in that way, thinking about America, Northern Europe and so on. But at the same time, here in Bangkok, it’s very difficult to represent that kind of heavy stuff as it’s a tropical country. So, that’s why we take out some pieces from the collection, like the padded jacket, but present it with a naked body, to give this kind of coolness and a new way to present clothes. We also did a lot of new styling and we had a lot of fun. We kept a lot of clean skin. Case in point: You’ll see the models with pants but topless. We have a lot of T-shirts with so many different logos, prints and we have a lot of pants, short pants and everything.

DA: How does this new collection fit within the already existing Onitsuka Tiger collection?
AP: Regarding the new collection, I think the most important for me is always keep moving like Onitsuka Tiger. What I meant by moving is really moving, as we are going to introduce it season after season, with some new ideas, new concepts and new iconic inspirations. We designed new pieces, new colors, new shapes and that’s what makes the difference between one season and other. But in the end, the work is always the same and we never change so much. Automatically, it’s still always the same kind of customers and it’s the same kind of company, since the beginning until now.

DA: One of the highlights from the collection is the sneakers with thick outsole and bold lines. What was the inspiration behind this?
AP: It was actually coming from a pair of vintage Onitsuka Tiger boots. But now, we mix the boots with the sneakers. That’s the reason behind it.

DA: We also saw a lot of loose and comfortable pieces in the collection…
AP: Always. I love these things. I like very relaxed feelings and oversized pieces, especially in the last two, three or four seasons. I really like that a lot. I love the idea of “don’t show the body anymore.” Maybe because I was coming from a place where the body and the aesthetic of men and womenswear are more important. So, for me, the idea of oversized covering is almost like really to find out more about the person. Because now, aesthetically—through Instagram and social media—sometimes you completely lose the nice feeling about other people. You don’t even talk to other people anymore. You are only interested in the beauty of a person, how many followers you have, etc. Everything becomes so superficial. Maybe my answer to all of this is to cover more parts of people, in order to discover more about what’s inside.

“Above all, it’s a way to translate something historical for me, in a very contemporary way”

DA: What can you tell us about this collection in terms of material?
AP: We have a lot of shiny and matte fabric mixed together and sometimes we have completely shiny looks. Maybe some of the items you don’t see it here in Bangkok, but you’re going to see it in the advertising campaign. There’s a padded jacket where we combined shiny and matte together—the combination is really interesting. We use a lot of nylon that is super shiny and colors including black, orange and electric blue. You’re going to see a lot of them.

DA: Speaking of inspiration, personally what is it that inspires you?
AP: I find my inspiration for the design from around the world. I travel a lot and I absorb a lot as I look around a lot. This, for me, is one of the biggest sources of inspiration. For me, it’s 360 degrees. Like in the airport, when I’m there for a couple of hours between flights, that’s an inspirational moment. I see people from different cultures in one place, that’s the inspiration. It’s not always about beautiful pieces of art or beautiful movies. Tor me it is always about my normal life.

DA: Moving on to yourself, can you describe your own personal style? What do you personally like to wear on a day–to–day basis?
AP: My personal, personal style is very boring. [Chuckles] It’s very simple because I give so much emotion to my brand and my clients. So, when I have to dress, I don’t want to think so much. I’m very simple, very classic. I give my emotions to everybody else and keep myself very quiet. I love the sneakers. I love a lot of shoes. I spend a lot of money on it and also for socks because shoes and socks are the most interesting parts of classic men outfits.

“Maybe my answer to all of this is to cover more parts of people, in order to discover more about what’s inside”

DA: What’s your take on the athleisure trend that’s been going on right now?
AP: I think, in our case, nothing’s really changing because we’re a sports company. So, we actually grew up in a much more sophisticated and luxurious way. But personally, I think it’s going to die out soon. I don’t like how these couture houses are doing things like sweatshirts and sneakers. For me, it’s really ridiculous. I understand that it’s on-trend, but for somebody like me, who grew up in the ’80s with all these beautiful brands and now to see them doing sneakers and t-shirts—I really feel bad for them. I think fashion is always about dreaming and fashion is always about moving, crying and emotion. Now it’s not like that anymore. When I see a pair of sneakers and sweatshirts in a fashion show of a big brand, it doesn’t make me feel emotional.

DA: Last but not least, did you have a favorite Onitsuka Tiger design or a fond memory of the brand before you first started working with them?
AP: Definitely. The iconic Bruce Lee in the yellow suit and the Onitsuka Tiger shoes was one of the biggest and an iconic moment for sure.