Perfect Harmony

The latest Project Runway winner Kentaro Kameyama borrows from the great composers to create his vision for Fashion Week El Paseo.

March 14, 2018
Story by Julie Pendray
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Kentaro Kameyama on his designs: "I work by myself. I don’t use a design team, so I can do whatever I want. I work quickly. I’m often working right up to the day of a show, changing things at the last minute.”
PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY KENTARO KAMEYAMA

Kentaro Kameyama’s dress designs are often streamlined, understated, and neutral yet display sudden bursts of outlandish whimsy. It’s as though this classical pianist and composer is embellishing a restrained melody with a moment of flamboyance.

His clarity of vision helped Kameyama win Season 16 of Project Runway, then take New York Fashion Week by storm in January. Pieces from his New York show, and perhaps a few flowing desert-style designs, will come with this rising star to Fashion Week El Paseo, set for March 17–24 in Palm Desert.

Kameyama loves contrast. “I have a lot of respect for Tchaikovsky and Chopin,” he says. “Classical music of any form. It has dynamics but also ‘peaceful ocean.’ Sometimes the music might slow down to welcome the biggest moment, like with pianissimo. When I create a collection, I do that a bit. I don’t want to be boring. I like different shapes.”

Kameyama holds a graduate certificate in piano performance from the University of Southern California and a master’s degree in music from the University of South Carolina. He studied music from age 5 in his native Japan, but his lifelong passion has been fashion. At age 21 he completed a fast-track design program. Now 38, he fondly remembers mentally redesigning his clothes as a child while shopping with his mother.

“I would say, ‘I don’t want the pocket there. I’d rather have it here,’ or, ‘I don’t like that color.’ I would create designs in my head,” he says.
Growing up in a family of musicians, teachers, and interior designers, Kameyama would visit museums and attend jazz concerts every weekend. “My mom never bought me toys or computer games,” he says. “She knew I was artistic. She bought origami instead.”

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He credits his music competitions with giving him the confidence to compete in fashion. Kameyama graduated from Fashion Careers International Fashion School in Los Angeles, where he now teaches and serves as fashion ambassador. He says he’s proud to be a California designer, now that he has “seen and done everything there is to do in Tokyo.”

When preparing a collection for a show, Kameyama doesn’t think about themes or inspiration. “I just think about what I want to do, and I work organically. I look for colors. Once I make something I like, I add to it. I look for contrasting color. It gives cohesion. Then I begin to get the vibe of the whole collection. I work by myself. I don’t use a design team, so I can do whatever I want. I work quickly. I’m often working right up to the day of a show, changing things at the last minute.”

Kameyama’s collection for New York Fashion Week was featured in Marie Claire magazine. The runway show was accompanied by his own piano composition for a strikingly cohesive event. He describes that collection as avant-garde, but for Palm Desert he may design some “soft, flowy” garments that reflect the climate, and he may bring some vintage pieces.

He says his general focus is not on dressing famous people but, rather, everyday life. “I don’t envision actresses wearing my garments, except taking their kids to school, or cool, hip people going to the coffee shop. I like casual. I’m only 110 pounds, so everything I make, I can wear. I do a lot of fitting myself, so I can see how it flows.” He says he like a clean, simple line, “without glitter or shiny stuff.”

Kameyama thinks soon it will be time to have professional helpers to do embroidery and pleating, to elevate his design. “It’s a lot of work and very expensive,” he says. “All my spending is on clothes.”

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Michael Costello Presents His Friends From Project Runway, 8 p.m. March 20, at Fashion Week El Paseo.

To see more of Kameyama’s work, visit kentarokameyama.com. For information and tickets to Fashion Week El Paseo, go to fashionweekelpaseo.com.

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Kentaro Kameyama