Interview with Yoshiyuki Morii
This article originally appeared on MEKAS.
Yoshiyuki Morii is steadily becoming Japan’s most famous “personal stylist.” A young pioneer in the field, he works with clients of all ages and all types to improve their style, and hopefully, their self-confidence too. Recently, Morii has published a book Fasshon no Sukiru: Otona no ‘Kyouyou’ (our translation, Fashion Skills: What Adults Must Know) to spread contemporary fashion knowledge to a business audience who may not think they need to worry about the fit of their suit.
We sat down with Mr. Morii in our offices.
When did you first become interested in fashion?
When I was in middle-school or high-school. I went to an all boys’ school, and I liked to go on group dates with girls from the sister school. I was really bad at talking to girls, maybe because I was going through an awkward teenage phase. But I ended up wanting to use fashion to be more attractive to women. At that time, I would have used the kind of personal stylist service I do now had it existed. At that point, the internet had not really caught on, so there was no way I could have found out about personal stylist services. And I am not sure there was anyone doing it anyway. So I thought at that time, I will improve my fashion sense, and when I grow up, I will become a “personal stylist.”
Did you study fashion in college?
I was in the Law Department, but fashion was a big part of my life. But I forgot how much I liked fashion, and after graduation, I found a job as a manager at the English language school Nova. I liked English, but I decided I liked fashion more than English around 2004, and so I started my own home page and started to find customers as a personal stylist.
You did not think to work at an apparel company?
More than just liking clothing, I like selecting certain items out of a lot of choices. I want to find the things that customers are looking for. When you work in a store, you have to find things that fit the customer and also you have to think about the company’s earnings. So if you knew that there was an even better jacket at a different store, you can’t tell the customer. I wanted to create a neutral standpoint from which I could advise customers.
Have there been no personal stylists up to this point?
When I started my business in 2004, I thought no one else was doing it. But I can’t say I was the pioneer of the field, because six months after I started, I discovered that there was already another website called Fashion Rescue doing the same thing. So there were some people who were doing it before me.
Please tell us about what you do as a personal stylist.
Basically, I go shopping with clients who sign up for my services. My standard service is an hour-and-a-half. In that time, we go around to five or six shops. I select clothing that fits the client, and he tries them on. Then he buys what I think fits him and he personally likes and also is within budget. Right when I meet him, I also take a photo. That’s the “Before” shot.
We go shopping together, he buys some clothes, and at that point, I have him cut out the tags and change into the clothes. In the hour-and-a-half that we go around to the five or six stores, the person will have a totally different fashion style at the end of it. So we take a picture again at the end, the “After” shot. I send these shots to the customer, so he can see how much he has changed.
What is the window shopping course? What about the one-day stylist course?
With window shopping, we don’t plan on buying anything, but just try things on at the shop. And since it’s a try-out of the service, it only lasts 30-40 minutes.
The one-day styling course is the basic hour-and-a-half course. But there are some people who want to hear style lectures on top of that, so there is the First “Image Up” Course. The Fashion Sense Course includes first a color examination, and then afterwards we go shopping.
Which do clients want help on ― casual or formal fashion?
Both, but I get more requests for casual. With business suits, most people look good enough, even if they don’t necessarily look stylish. An example of casual: a mid-level manager salaryman will have to go on a group trip with employees. He knows he has no fashion sense, but he doesn’t want to look embarrassing to his staff. So he wants to know how to dress casually in a way that will be okay to the younger employees. I have a lot of clients like that.
Also, one-in-two 30 year-old Japanese men is unmarried. Last year the word kon-katsu (“Marriage Recruiting”) was a buzzword, and these men want me to help them pick fashion that they can wear to parties or clothes to wear to a dating service.
What is the average age of your clients?
The most are in their 30s. They are not all looking for wives, however. There are also a lot in their 40s and 20s. When you are in your 30s, you are pretty busy with work, so you can’t make any time to go and buy clothes. And since pure window shopping is a waste of time, they mostly want to just leave everything to a pro like me. They really need to shop efficiently.
Were your 30 year-old clients interested in fashion when they were younger?
About half of them. Those that were interested in fashion had fun buying their own clothes when they were in their 20s, but now they are busy with work and don’t want to spend their days off shopping. But they know their old clothes don’t work for private events, so most want to make a change. The other half are engineers, for example, and they never had much interest in fashion to begin with. So they have no idea how to choose their clothes. I would say about 20% are those who want me to teach them the basics.
In Japan, a lot of magazines teach you how to be stylish from zero. What can you get from a personal stylist that you can’t get from a Japanese magazine like Men’s Nonno?
Magazines take the position of providing the latest fashion information to those who are interested in trends. Personal stylists are for those who may have been knowledgeable about trends in the past but haven’t followed them lately. The standard for my clients is much lower. They may just wake up to the meaning of fashion after hearing my lecture. You have to know how to read magazines, but it’s very easy and fun to meet with a personal stylist directly and learn while shopping. Magazines are for more active customers, stylists are more passive customers.
Do your clients usually have a style they are trying to achieve?
Most of my clients do not know anything but their old style, so they do not know what is most flattering on them. The style that I usually recommend is “elegant casual.” I believe that 20th century fashion was about “the performance of self” but in the 21st century, fashion has become one of many crucial business skills. So “being in style” means having an appearance that matches the minimum social standard. I think “elegant casual” is best for that because it focuses on expressing style through elegance and playfulness.
There are many Japanese brands that make clothes in the “elegant casual” style. Do you choose which stores you go in regards to the customer’s budget?
Of course. When I have a customer who wants to spend ¥300,000 to 500,000, I first check with him, do you want to buy luxury goods? Or do you want to get some good stuff at reasonable prices?
Do you have shops you always use?
I use a lot of select shops like Edifice and Ships and also reasonably-priced chain stores like Uniqlo, GAP, and Suits Company. I am always researching what they have in stock before I go with clients.
I ask clients about their height/weight, budget, and desired items via email, and then before I meet them, I find styles that fit the conditions they laid out. And then I decide on which shops to use. There are about ten shops In Shibuya that I always consider, so I just choose the ones that fit my customers’ needs best.
How many stores do you hit in an hour-and-a-half?
Five to six. We start in Shibuya and then walk towards Harajuku on Meiji Street.
Do you go to department stores?
No. There are two reasons. First, they are much more expensive than select shops. Also, from the perspective of providing them a service, the department store has already put lots of brands and labels in one place, so the reason for having a stylist guiding you tends to disappear. I always go to standalone stores, because I also want to emphasize the entertainment/adventure part of it.
Do you ever tell your clients not to buy something?
Yes, of course. But usually I just tend to quietly recommend something I think it is better.
What do you do on days when you don’t have clients?
I update my homepage and blog, send out a e-mail newsletter. I also write columns for two or three web magazines. Last month, I published my first book, and in mid-April, my second volume comes out from Tokuma Shoten. So I am writing that at the moment.
Your first book is called “Fashion Skills: What Adults Must Know,” Is the readership of this book similar to your clients?
The book is for businessmen from their mid-20s to their early 40s. Regardless of their work, they want to change their fashion but do not have the time. I am targeting those who do not know what to do fashion-wise by themselves.
You seem to have a very specific belief about the role of fashion in society.
Originally, I became interested in fashion from the objective position of wanting to be attractive to women. The majority of those interested in fashion are interested in expressing their individuality. For them, their clothes should feel good and look good to themselves. Most people engaged in fashion think that way.
My personal goal with fashion was never myself but trying to impress women. Basically, I wanted to wear things that those around me would like, so at that point, it wasn’t at all about individual desires. I didn’t really understand if what I wore was acceptable or not. So I started this service in 2004, and now I have taken over 1,000 requests. The clients who have used me all have the same reaction. Of course, I make a website that says this and they see the webpage and want to use, but they all want to create a wardrobe that makes a positive impression on those around them. It’s not about being trendy or being different or making fashion be art. I am always thinking about what kind of style and selection best matches their needs.
For example, take jacket length. Right now, short jackets are in style, but if you go too short, it becomes a bit too trendy and about showing your individuality. At the same time, if the jacket is too long, it just looks old. So I very procedurally think about what length jacket would seem good to other people but not go too far.
Do you ever act as a personal stylist for women?
I do if women ask me, but I try to just be a specialist for men. If I do both sexes, I will have double the research.
In the book, you write, “Fashion is not about personal taste, but about knowledge.” I also saw this phrase in a recent men’s fashion magazine. For most fashion people, there is a strong belief that it all revolves around personal taste, but in Japan, magazines take the stance that if you follow the rules, you can be stylish. Why do you in particular think it’s not about personal taste?
I think, first of all, that “good taste” means different things in Japan and the rest of the world. When I say “taste,” I mean feeling over rules. Like, taste is, “I can’t explain why I like this but I can just feel it!” Certainly, maybe I am being extreme here, but I think fashion is too complex to just set up a system and logic and explain it that way. If you just say it’s all about “taste,” however, then there is no place for a personal stylist. There is no reason for me to make an effort to help people. I don’t think it’s a wasted effort if I can have those who are not interested in fashion start to use my knowledge and become better dressers.
Where do most clients go wrong with their outfits and clothes?
Silhouette is the number one problem. There are three points about silhouette I think are important.
From around 2000, silhouette became the most important thing in fashion, so if you wear clothes that fit your body neatly, even if you mess up with color coordination, the overall effect is still pretty good. What is too bad, however, is that men and women have a big difference in what they think “fitting well” means. Women put the emphasis on clothes that look very neat on a guy, where the guy only cares about being comfortable and having ease of movement. So if a guy thinks something is the right size, a woman is likely to say it’s too sloppy. I have a lot of customers who don’t realize this.
Right now, a lot of the big suit stores have more slim-fitting suits for young men. Do you think young people are dressing with better fit these days?
Yes, there is definitely a rise in slim silhouettes. But it still depends on the business sector. On average, the sloppy silhouette is still a big problem.
Do you think the “fashion gap” is related to income disparity?
I think it is to a certain degree. Ambitious and curious people rise to the top. So I don’t think it’s about just swallowing what other people say to you, but thinking for yourself. Those kinds of people succeed in fashion, work, and other things. Those people who have no interest and are forced to do it, they don’t succeed in work and fashion. As a result, there develops a gap, and it becomes a gap of character.
Right now, everyone says we live in an age of the ¥3 million salary, but I took a survey of my customers. Their average salary hovers around ¥5 million. I talked to 65 people, and five exceeded ¥10 million and about the same number for ¥8 million. So those who have a bit of money do use my services. But these more wealthy customers are not wearing clothing that fits their salary when I first meet them. In the process of working with them, they start showing a fashion sense more suited to them.
Do you think that fashion can solve the problem of wanting to appeal to the opposite sex?
This is a very important point. What I noticed in doing my service is that I used to think the best merit in changing your external appearance is improving your first impression. But the most important merit is changing the person from the inside. If you wear clothes that suit you, I think that connects to your confidence. Passive people can become a little more active.
After doing a survey of my customers, I found that when I took the 17 who were married or had girlfriends, one-out-of-three got a girlfriend after using a personal stylist. I don’t think that’s just because they improved their clothes, but I do think my service helped. I have had about 300 customers, and two of them have married after using my services. So I think changing their fashion sense helped them get started on that.
Why did you publish your book as a business book instead of a fashion book?
Men don’t really know if book stores have shelves for fashion books. I only figured it out after I started to write books. There are fashion magazines for men, but there are few books. So I realized, even if my book was in the fashion section, those who would want to read it may not be able to find it. I wanted to publish the book as a business book about fashion so that those going to buy marketing books would also notice my fashion book. I picked the publisher PHP Institute because they were so strong in the business area.
Why do you ask your customers not to wear black?
I think black is a very difficult color to pull off. Very fashionable people can use it, of course, but there are so many fashion beginners who think, “As long as I wear black, I am safe.” So I wanted to reject this idea of black, which always seems to brainwash the people who read fashion magazines and do whatever is written there. Those who understand color know black can have a very distinguished image and feel unordinary. And when black is high-quality it’s nice because it can be matte or shiny. But if you buy a ¥3000 black cotton shirt, it will look really cheap. There is something unpleasant about seeing “sophisticated black” look cheap. It’s discomforting.
Guys who are fashion beginners don’t know how to buy high-quality things and try to get clothes for as cheap as possible. And so they buy cheap-looking black things. So I tell them it’s difficult to make black work.
Women, on the other hand, tend to be much better at style overall. They care about their hair and make-up and have a high-level minimum of what they wear every day. So if you are a woman, you can get away with more of an elegant, special style, meaning that it’s easier to use black. Guys have to be experts to really use black well.
What do women notice first in a man’s outfit?
Everybody always says this, but I think women notice shoes, because shoes are the thing men are most likely to ignore. So it’s very easy to look at a man’s shoe and understand his fashion level, because the guy is likely to think “No one’s looking” and just be lazy about it. Even when guys wear a jacket, if they don’t pay attention to their shoes, women will pick up on it. “He’s trying to be stylish now, but at heart, he isn’t.”
After shoes, it’s the belt. Even if you don’t wear a belt, there are a lot of guys who think that no one will see it. I think that everyone should pay attention to the very things they are most likely to not forget about.
Do you have clients who have “graduated” from your services?
There is no official “graduation” for my services, but after four or five times, clients do start to be able to figure out what I would choose for them. I can feel that they have greater cultivated their own tastes. So I recommend that they now can shop by themselves, but there are people who like shopping with me, so they still use my services.
What is the biggest business challenge for a personal stylist? And do you think there will be an increase in demand in the future?
At the moment, I have about 30 appointments a month. I get about 5-10 new ones each month, and the rest are repeaters. Last year, I had 25 appointments a mont, so I saw an increase of 60 total over the last year. The most clients I could possibly take in one month is 40, so if I get more demand than that, I could not do it by myself. So I am thinking about creating a salon-like select shop where I show clothing that I personally select. I am also thinking about training another generation of stylists.