At Somarta, Couture With Analog Curves and Digital Cuts

March 15, 2019, 8:08 PM UTC

The avant-garde designs of the Japanese fashion label Somarta might appear futuristic, but many of its concepts are surprisingly rooted in primitive and natural sources of inspiration—then taken to the next level with technology.

Speaking at the Fortune and Wallpaper* Brainstorm Design conference in Singapore last week, Somarta’s creative director Tamae Hirokawa revealed how her creations draw from a range of influences that includes Victorian illustrations of human anatomy, tribal dress, and skin adornments such as tattoos and henna designs.

Of all Somarta’s designs, Hirokawa is probably best known for her Second Skin series—a range of “biophilic” knitwear that hugs and mimics the musculature of the body. Her work was featured among collectible fashion pieces in the 2017 exhibition “Items: Is Fashion Modern?” at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

Inspired by the universal desire to adorn the skin with embellishments, which dates from ancient to contemporary times, Hirokawa experimented with the notions of light and shadow to create her iconic pieces that range from bodysuits and tights to gloves and stockings. Made possible by incorporating new manufacturing technology with digital programming, the Skin Series combines a high density knitting method with a non-sewing technology that allows for the creation of interior structures and patterns.

“The pieces are completely seamless,” explained Hirokawa, who was responsible for knitwear at Issey Miyake prior to starting her label. “Based on the body’s structure, we design a knitting structure that looks lighter in certain areas and darker and more dense in others. It’s almost like applying make-up to articulate and emphasize the body’s muscle structure.”

The philosophy has also been applied to less fitted pieces, such as dresses and jackets, where patterns and designs are woven directly into the cloth and then seamlessly assembled to enhance the fit on the body.

“I actually combined two methodologies—Western and Japanese—to create these pieces,” she said. “Traditional kimonos are constructed completed from laying fabrics out flat, while western garments are cut from patterns. In this Skin Series, the interior and exterior pieces of each garment are created together. Same with pockets, which we program the machine to craft them simultaneously. They are completely united.”

While this may all sound very complicated, Hirokawa said her methods are in fact rather simple: “We use a wooden punch card alongside other coding to create variations in the knitting process.”

For more coverage of Fortune’s Brainstorm Design conference, click here.