Satoshi Kuwata explains the inspiration behind his brand, Setchu, by crumpling a corner of a piece of paper. “There is this plain area that represents simplicity, whereas the crushed part is about texture,” says the 40-year-old Japanese designer. “By mixing these unexpected elements together, you can find the truth of who you are.”

On a sunny spring afternoon, Kuwata – winner of last year’s LVMH Prize – is sitting on a leather armchair in Davies & Son on Savile Row in Mayfair, mixing more unexpected elements. A slim, calm figure dressed in black, with hair tied back and a tidy moustache and goatee, he cuts a modern presence in one of London’s oldest bespoke tailoring houses, in neat contrast with Johnny Allen, the head of bespoke who is regaling visitors with tales from his decades in the business, or co-owner Patrick Murphy who presides over proceedings. They have gathered to mark a new collaboration, a “mini-capsule” of two coats and a jacket that blends Kuwata’s vision with Davies & Son’s savoir-faire. It also marks a full-circle moment for the designer, nearly 20 years since, aged 21 and speaking barely any English, he came to London in 2005 hoping to work on Savile Row. “I’ve been in love with British fashion for half of my life,” he says. “The beautiful thing about this project is that now I get to make it.”

Kuwata, Murphy, Allen and (far left) Davies & Son cutter Joe Matthews measure up a jacket
Kuwata, Murphy, Allen and (far left) Davies & Son cutter Joe Matthews measure up a jacket © Joshua Tarn
Patrick Murphy in Davies & Son
Patrick Murphy in Davies & Son © Joshua Tarn

Kuwata grew up in Yawata, near Kyoto. His mother, hoping to spark his imagination, gave him pen and paper instead of toys to play with: “It made me realise that material limitation can help make you super-creative, because you have to create everything for yourself.” An aunt used to work for Pierre Cardin’s licensing business in Japan, and would bring over Cardin’s creations for him to examine. “It was like a toy that I would break open to see the construction. It was fascinating to see the clothes from the inside.” Aged 19, he started working in the men’s suit department of the Beams store in Osaka. “That’s where I fell in love with classical tailoring, and that’s when I decided to go to Savile Row.”

The culture shock on his arrival in London was intense. “I’d never been out of Japan before, and suddenly there was this priest with tattoos talking to me in the airport.” He first looked for work on Savile Row holding a handwritten sign. Eventually he ended up employed by H Huntsman and Sons, combining this with studying womenswear at Central Saint Martins. “He was so dedicated and always working, never taking his eye off the ball,” recalls his tutor, Howard Tangye, former head of womenswear there. “His clothes always looked best when on the body and in movement.”

Designer Satoshi Kuwata and Patrick Murphy, co-owner of Davies & Son, at the shop on Savile Row
Designer Satoshi Kuwata and Patrick Murphy, co-owner of Davies & Son, at the shop on Savile Row © Joshua Tarn

After working for Gareth Pugh, Givenchy and Golden Goose, Kuwata launched Setchu in 2020 in Milan. The brand’s name comes from the Japanese phrase “wayo setchu”, with “wayo” denoting Japan and the west and “setchu” meaning a compromise or fusion of different cultures; it refers to Kuwata’s British training contrasted with his penchant for Japanese minimalism. He sums up the codes of the brand – now stocked by Bergdorf Goodman, Machine-A and, from next season, Dover Street Market in London and Paris – as “functionality, timelessness and this artisanal, handmade quality”.

This is exemplified by the brand’s bestselling item, the origami jacket (€1,310) – slightly oversized and double-breasted, it is made from a lightweight pre-creased wool and folds up like origami in a suitcase. It can be tied at the waist and, like most of Setchu’s clothes, worn by both men and women. All of Kuwata’s garments mutate via clever draping, folding and fastening: a cashmere jumper turns into a gilet and then into a cardigan, while a greatcoat morphs into a boxy jacket and then, in a twist on a kimono, a wrap skirt. “It’s like going to Tesco and buying three-for-one!”, he laughs. 

Model Bibi wears the short jacket and trousers
Model Bibi wears the short jacket and trousers © Joshua Tarn
Suits being cut at Davies & Son
Suits being cut at Davies & Son © Joshua Tarn

When, last June, Setchu was awarded the LVMH Prize, Kuwata’s mobile phone was full of congratulations. But one message in particular caught his eye: it was from Allen, an old mentor, who had helped Kuwata land that first job at Huntsman. “Even [when he was] a fashion student, I could see that he had an eye for detail and a strong respect for the craft,” says Allen. “I told him we needed to collaborate.”

Though Davies & Son has dressed the likes of Clark Gable, Bryan Ferry and generations of the royal family, this represents the first time in its 221-year history that it has worked with a fashion designer. “We don’t normally do this but we really respect and trust Satoshi,” says Allen. In the door of a changing room, a model wears a long black double-breasted coat, still unfinished with dressing pins in place. While the coat is cut to Davies & Son’s exacting standards, the oversized fit, the unusual choice of fabric (black herringbone, a material typically reserved for morning coats) and the way the coat can be folded and packed away showcase Kuwata’s skills. “He was able to bring new techniques and push the boundaries and challenge us,” says Allen.

Kuwata with George Glasgow Sr, owner of George Cleverley
Kuwata with George Glasgow Sr, owner of George Cleverley © Joshua Tarn
A black Savile Row jacket by Kuwata
A black Savile Row jacket by Kuwata © Joshua Tarn

This month sees the debut, at the Venice Biennale, of the three bespoke looks: the double-breasted coat, a short jacket in black herringbone and a long cashmere coat in white. The bespoke process will take around eight weeks and cost about £9,000 (Kuwata is also looking into a limited run of ready-to-wear). The designer has also called in a favour from bespoke shoemaker George Cleverley, which has produced a black calf-leather version of its classic Chelsea shoe (£1,700).

For Kuwata, it represents not only a homecoming of sorts, but a confirmation that he’s on the right path with Setchu. Much of his approach to the brand is informed by his love of fishing: a keen angler since childhood, he travels everywhere with a fishing reel and tackle in his suitcase, and he wanted to create clothes that “pack nicely”, but also “look chic for any occasion”.

“When I’m working I can’t stop, so the only time I can take a break is when I go fishing,” he says. “But when you catch a fish, you have the same excitement as when you design something good.” 

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