【INTERVIEW】eye_C Magazine

“Beauty,” as the old saying goes, “is in the eye of the beholder.” 

What’s that to say about utility?

In our language and our lives, function is treated as a genetic trait: an objective quality born unto a creation, not something to be assessed. A 4x4 is unquestionably practical. A rain jacket is full of use. And yet, on a sunny Sunday cruise, it’s the “impractical” things - an agile convertible, a light linen shirt - that prove the most capable. 

Is it function that’s left to the beholder’s eyes? Or is something else at hand?

For AW21, Tokyo-based meanswhile explores the dance between beauty and utility by digging into yet another old saying. The collection, titled “Form Follows Function / Function Follows Form,” explores the belief that new values can be found in existing concepts, similar to how the first human ancestors turned only some rock shapes into tools. 

In doing so, the brand challenges the very essence of technical clothing design.

Function Dictates Form

“It was American architect Louis Henry Sullivan who coined the phrase ‘form follows function,’

and as a designer, this phrase has always been foundational inside my head,” says Naohiro Fujisaki, Creative Director of meanswhile. “It wasn’t until recently that I considered what the opposite, “function follows form” may entail and I began to think about it under the context of our concept.”

The concept in question is the label’s founding ethos. meanswhile came to life in 2014 to explore an idea Sullivan would have likely found dear: “clothing as a tool.” 

Like many in the technical apparel world, Fujisaki’s interest in functional design began with time spent outdoors. “That was probably the start of my interest in equipment and gear,” he tells. “I enjoyed looking into how things were made and often wondered ‘why is this part this particular shape?’ and ‘why was this fabric used?’”

Although he would go on to attend fashion college, he credits his love of the outdoors for setting him on that path. “I’ve always liked fashion, but more than that, my initial desire was just to ‘create.’ I was looking for an avenue in which I could combine my knowledge and past experiences with the outdoors and because I was particularly interested in clothing at the time, I decided that would be it.”

Formal studies exposed Fujisaki to new perspectives on design. Clothing, once defined by its utility, began to appear more as an art form. “I thought about the role that it plays and whether I should create things that stand out,” he recounts. “As a fashion student, the first thing I created from scratch outside of the classroom was a wedding dress.”

(A purpose-built garment, if one ever was.)

Technical background percolating with fashion sensibilities, Fujisaki became interested in how these two fields interplayed: “It was during this time that I came up with meanswhile’s concept of ‘clothing as a tool.’” 

“At that time, there wasn’t a backpack on the market with all the features I wanted, so I decided I had to create it myself. From start to finish, this backpack took three years to complete and with its creation, I started meanswhile.”

Form And Substance

In the decade since Fujisaki began that first backpack, meanswhile has blossomed into one of the most refreshing technical apparel lines in the world.

The brand (difficult to find outside of Japan and not available in North America until last season) carries a certain mystique, even among enthusiasts. A meanswhile garment isn’t just hard to get a hold of - it’s borderline paradoxical. Novel concepts take age-old shapes. Simple facades hide complex features. But no matter how intricate it may look, it is always, unquestionably, designed for function.

“My design process usually starts with the purpose of the item. For example, if it is outerwear intended for mountain climbing, I will consider what functions are necessary and go from there. Will the wearer be moving their arms around? If so, I will need a pattern that does not restrict arm movement. Will it be worn in wet conditions? If so, I will need a fabric that repels water. It’s a process of addition and subtraction based on necessity. What I deem necessary will then ultimately reflect the look of the final design.”

Similar to contemporaries like EASTLOGUE and Mountain Research, meanswhile draws inspiration from vintage military and outdoors garments, reimagining their rugged functionality for modern living. But with meanswhile, there is a restlessness - almost as if the clothes themselves demanded to look unlike any others.

The brand’s latest collection crystallizes this.

For AW21, Fujisaki inverted his typical design process by starting with vintage militaria references (the “forms”) and imagining new functions for them. He then experimented with materials and features that could bring those to life, crucially, without changing their silhouette. GORE-TEX, fleece, Thinsulate, and Toray’s ARTIROSA poly-nylon textile feature throughout. 


“I have this habit of constantly questioning why things are the way they are, why something is a particular shape or why a certain material is used,” says Fujisaki. “I don’t necessarily go out and search for these functional elements, rather I see them as a fundamental way of thinking.”

This season’s Loop Zip MA-1 is but one example. Bomber jackets are often worn open, then zipped tightly closed if the weather demands. Typically, this is accomplished with a central zip and a bit of tugged fabric. But on a meanswhile bomber, that simple single zip is no more. In its place: the paneled double-zip of a backcountry ski shell (and also, an additional pocket.)

How functional is a facelifted panel zip on a bomber? It depends what’s being asked of it.

“What’s important is whether the function serves the purpose it was intended to. However, I do

believe through combining different elements we can create new ways of expression. While one function may be useless in a certain situation, it may prove useful in another. Continuous trial and error is important.”

meanswhile’s latest collection is both a challenge to the traditional ethos of technical apparel design and an evolution of what makes the brand so admired in the first place. 

Function may be in the eye of the beholder. As far as beauty is concerned, meanswhile’s new ways of expression are objectively brilliant.