Aya and Jun
Jun Kanai is the US Representative for the Miyake Design Studio. Her daughter, Aya Kanai, works as the Chief Fashion Director at Cosmopolitan, Seventeen, Good Housekeeping, Redbook and Woman’s Day. Aya is also a judge of the Lifetime TV Show Project Runway Junior. The Kanai women are a fashion dynasty in the making and I first became aware of them when a friend alerted me to Aya's Instagram page. Even though I was a complete stranger and contacting Aya out of the blue about this little known project, she couldn't have been more open and willing to talk to me.
We arranged to meet at Jun's house (Aya's childhood home) in Manhattan. When I arrived Jun whisked me up to a bedroom, with clothing laid out on the bed, to help her make an outfit decision. As she pulled on some fabulous leather pants she told me a strange and intriguing story. Years ago the room I was standing in had been Aya's bedroom and one evening when Aya was a teenager and home alone, an intruder broke into the house. As he climbed to the top floor, where Aya was lying on her bed doing some homework, she looked up to be confronted with this stranger standing on the landing. She jumped up and told him firmly "I'm sorry, but I think you're in the wrong place." With that he beat a hasty retreat back down the stairs and out of the house. "She's always been fairly fearless" Jun said laughing.
Downstairs in the living room, Aya made us all tea and we began to talk.
Jun: After high school in Tokyo I came to New York for college. That was always my dream, to come to the United States. We were an international family, so there wasn’t any negotiation, I was coming here. See, I was raised in post-World War II Japan. I don’t remember any hardship, but America, then, was the dream. Anything that was good came out of the United States. Whether it was the movies, or the magazines, the food, Coca Cola, everything! My father told me that as long as I was able to get into a college, I could go. Finally I was accepted, my English wasn’t good so I was taken by a small Catholic college for girls in New Jersey. I studied English Literature.
Aya: I feel like my mother has read the canon of an English major and I, as an American through and through, have not!
Jun: So after four years, I was graduating and I wanted to be a journalist so I went to Conde Nast. There was a woman named Mrs Hopkins and she interviewed me and asked me if I had considered going back to Japan. She said “I will take you if you really want me to, but then you are just one of the girls at Conde Nast. If you go back to Japan, you will be one of the very rare people who has an American education and speaks English. You can do a lot for the Japanese society.” I never thought of that, I was only thinking about what I wanted to do, but she showed me what I could do for Japan. To this day I am very grateful for that advice.
Jun: (continued) So I went back for three years. Then I met my husband in New York when I came for a business trip. We were married and he told me he wanted to spend three years in America and then we were to go back to Japan, that was the plan. Forty five years later we are still here!
When I first met my husband he had introduced me to his friend. This man was a designer and he told me that his designs were in the windows of Saks, Fifth Ave. The next day I went to see the windows and they were fantastic. They were all evening gowns made of grey flannel. This was the first time he did flannel. Now, in ’69 evening gowns were made of evening gown fabrics. Day time clothes were made with day time materials, so to see an evening gown made of grey flannel was fantastic. I thought "Wow this young man is very talented." That was Issey Miyake.
So I was hired at Conde Nast. They took me in as a rover. They put me on Brides magazine and after two weeks I went berserk. I went back to personnel and they told me to go to Vogue and man the telephones. At that time Vogue wasn’t as hip as Glamour. I told them “But I want to work at Glamour not Vogue” and they said “When a position opens up we will transfer you, in the meantime go be a rover at Vogue.” Are you sure you want to hear all this story Ruthie?
Ruthie: I do!
Jun: They told me to sit in this small area and told me to answer one phone with: “Hello Mrs. di Montezemolo’s office” and the other “Baron de Ginzburg’s office.” My English wasn’t that great, it took one hour of practicing to be able to pronounce their names! The women who worked at Vogue in the early 70’s didn’t really work for money. They were society people. The photographer was Patrick Litchfield, he was a count or an earl or something, and another was a German aristocrat and of course Lord Snowden. It really was that weird time. Luckily I was able to work the last six months of Diana Vreeland's tenure. She loved anything exotic and I was the exotic! I think I was the only Asian.
Aya: The only Asian?
Jun: Yes. No Asians, no black people. It was a very upper class white situation and I came from generations of fashion victims.
Aya: Generations of fashion victims. Hmm. Okay mom.
Jun: I wanted to be around clothes but I didn’t really have ambition. It’s a different generation. I wanted to have a job, but there wasn’t that aspiration for work like Aya’s generation. It’s very different. It’s me, I guess. I went through the 1960’s without understanding Martin Luther King.
So, I started working for Vogue. I answered the phones, then they put me as an assistant to the accessories editor and the accessories room was a total mess! You could not put a foot down because there was so much stuff. I had nothing else to do, so I started to clean up the mess. I found some really beautiful things, on the floor. It took me a few weeks, by the time I had finished, I was the only person who knew where things were. I became invaluable. By then the sitting editor knew about me because whatever they wanted, I was to the go-to person. Then I became a market editor. In those days we had things made. We would pick up accessories from street vendors. it was crazy.
Then I had a baby and took a few months off. In the meantime Issey went back to Japan and set up Miyake Design Studio. As a friend I helped him. I was showing his clothes to Mrs Vreeland. She loved his clothes. So I was helping him with whatever small publicity I could. By the time Aya came along Issey’s work became pretty busy and so I quit Harpers Bazaar and worked for Issey and since then I have worked for him. Through Issey I also worked on Shiseido cosmetics and helped set up an exhibition for Kyoto Costume Institute. We created a major collection of western clothes from 17th century to today.
Ruthie: How is it for you Aya, hearing these stories?
Aya: I think that the media business has changed so much, that it’s almost like hearing about a different industry. Even though I have worked at Conde Nast, I now of course work at Hearst, the business itself is so fundamentally different, obviously right now is a timely moment because it truly is like a tectonic shift in our industry. How does this kind of information get spread out there into the world? Historically, we would have, between all the different magazines, we would have fought for an exclusive on the latest collaboration or the latest launch of a new brand. But now, brands want representation in magazines of course because it’s still an important medium, but anything that is news-oriented goes straight through social media because that’s where people are going to be hungry for that kind of content. It’s just is a completely different time. Naturally, a lot of the names, words and players are the same, but the way that the work gets done is completely different.
I oversee fashion for five different brands. Gone are the days of working on one brand experience. You have to move between different types of medium. That’s just is how it is. I choose to think of it as a positive thing because at this point, I think it’s pretty fun and interesting to work on different brands, it’s kind of like having your own little ad agency and you have all these clients and you have to do what’s appropriate for each client. So if my client was only Cosmopolitan, maybe I would wish I could do something else, but now I can.
Ruthie: What is your job title?
Aya: I am the Chief Fashion Director at Cosmopolitan, Seventeen, Good Housekeeping, Redbook and Woman’s Day. Those five brands make up what’s known as the Woman’s Group at Hearst.
Ruthie: That sounds like a lot of work?
Aya: Yes, it is a lot of work, but I have an amazing team and we all collaborate together to get everything done. Truly times are different now and having the ability to be creative for different kinds of audiences in a way that’s meaningful for a woman who is 65 and a woman who is 16, is way more important and impactful than just working on one thing. So, although yes it is more work, it’s also more meaningful.
Ruthie: Were you inspired by your mother? The fact that you have gone into a similar field…
Aya: Definitely. I have always been interested in fashion. My grandmother, her mother, had the most amazing kimono collection and handmade pieces and she personally was truly interested in fashion.
Jun: She wore Issey Miyake.
Aya: Yes she did. As a teenager, I grew up here in this house and a few blocks away is the 23rd St row of flea markets and thrift stores and I would drag home garbage bags full of $20 worth of filthy things I had found. That’s what I wore, because that was a creative way, for a very low price, to get your personal style fix. So I’ve always been interested in fashion, I didn’t know it was going to become my career, but I too worked at Conde Nast when I graduated from college.
I was very lucky to get a job as the first assistant at a new brand they were launching called Teen Vogue. this was about 13 years ago. When I first started working there it was a launch, and there had never been a Vogue spin-off before. There was this moment where we’d be calling for samples, so we’d be calling PR people to loan clothing for our shoots, and they’d be like “Yeah right.” There had not be announcement yet, so we’d be begging for things for our photo shoots. Of course three years later, Teen Vogue was the hottest magazine, it was such a great experience and I was so lucky to have been an assistant there because when you’re an assistant at a launch project, you really get to put your hands on everything. Whereas, an assistant at Vogue at that time, would never talk to the director-level people. I, at Teen Vogue, was talking to the Editor in Chief, they would send me to shoots on the weekend, they just needed the help. I was very lucky to really be able to be creative right out of the gate. For those first couple of years I had no weekend off. I was working 100% of the time, but it was totally worth it and a lot of fun.
Jun: You forgot to mention about the Puppeteer thing-
Aya: I know, it’s a little complex, but before that I was a puppeteer.
Ruthie: Um, what?
Jun: She will like that story Aya.
Aya: I know, but we’re not writing Moby Dick here but, um, I was a puppeteer and a puppet maker when I was in college. I studied puppetry at a fellowship after college and then I came back to New York and worked at Angelica Kitchen on 12th St and was working at different theaters, like St. Ann’s Warehouse and La MaMa, after a while I was like “This is not a living,” so that’s when I got a job at Conde Nast.
Jun: She said: “I want a boring 9-5 job.”
Aya: Yeah, I didn’t get that. Even 13 years later I still don’t have a boring 9-5 job! I don’t think anyone’s job is 9-5 these days, especially when you live in New York. That’s not the lifestyle of anyone that I know. I was super lucky to get that Teen Vogue job at that moment. When I went into the interview (they had been interviewing tons of girls) I had a shaved head on one side and I had super long hair and the bottom four inches were blonde, I had basically dipped my hair into bleach. I was wearing one of my vintage dresses and sandals that I had hand-painted. They were interested in the idea of someone who was not wearing a pink suit and coming out of fashion school. They wanted someone who could access this idea of youth meets style, because that’s the brand.
So yes, I was lucky to have those opportunities and have been working in the fashion world, publishing space ever since. At every place I’ve worked I’ve had amazing bosses and had the opportunity to grow a lot.
Ruthie: Do you ever run across people who know your mom?
Aya: Yes. Definitely. Often it’s: “You’re Jun Kanai’s daughter.” It doesn’t happen that much anymore because, quite frankly, I’m older, but yes, there’s definitely people, like Nick Sullivan-
Jun: But she resisted this. She grew up surrounded by fashion and by design. Then she goes to Tokyo and my mother is more into clothing than I am. It goes back to my great-grandmother. Everything is very fashion. I think when she graduated from college that’s not what she wanted to do. Then she was into the puppet thing she saw in Italy and loved the idea. Working in Avant-Garde theater you don’t make a living.
Aya: But even these days - I love working in fashion, I love working with designers - but I would say what is the interesting thing about being an editor is using the clothes for photoshoots and working with hair and makeup people and, who the model should be, and if I’m shooting a celebrity, how do I take what their style DNA is and do something new and different with it creatively. So I’m not just personally obsessed with stuff, clothes and handbags and whatever. Of course I love beautiful things like anyone else, but when it comes to my work, I really like how all of those elements come together to make the pictures that you put out there, whether it’s in social media, or on the printed page of the magazine. Whereas, Kimiko...
Jun: Yes, my mother Kimiko, was obsessed with clothes. Up to that generation it was all about the clothing. Nothing beyond that...
Aya: Being a working woman was different at that time...
Aya: It’s a completely different circumstance...
Jun: I was more interested in design, in working with Issey Miyake. Business was not really my thing. I think when Aya was coming out of college, she was determined not to go into fashion, because it would have been the easiest thing to fall back on. After puppeteering and waitressing she wanted a boring 9-5 job and that’s when I said to go to Conde Nast.
Aya: It’s totally been and continues to be, an interesting career for me. Especially now things are really changing in the world of publishing and media because you really can’t be comfortable in what you’re doing. It’s totally unacceptable to do the same thing we did even six months ago or last year, it just doesn’t work like that anymore and so I think, as someone who likes a lot of change and challenges, interestingly it is the most dynamic industry to be in right now, because you can’t coast. You will get gobbled up by whatever is next. Which is why suddenly I was doing four brands, or a TV show like Project Runway Junior, all of these things are helping develop a more well rounded personality. It allows me to have different ways to connect to the audiences I need to work with. I feel lucky I can work with brands that touch on women of all ages and lifestyles, rather than just one lifestyle and one age group.
Jun: Its amazing how in one generation it’s a totally different world. My mother always complained that I don’t dress up, that whenever I arrive my suitcase is boring. Every generation has become less dressy. She forgot that her mother complained to her that she didn’t dress up.
Ruthie: Do you like each other’s sense of style?
Jun: I think so.
Aya: You like my sense of style!?
Jun: (After a moment) Yeah.
Aya: Oftentimes she’ll be like “You wore that to work!?” But I think what you wear to work is a moving target these days. I’m lucky because I’m tall and sneaker culture has become acceptable. So I don’t wear heels, I don’t wear proper shoes. I’m in a boot or a sneaker, whether I’m in a board meeting or on set for a photo shoot. I’m the kind of person who is always running around, I have a standing desk in my office, I’m never in one place for very long, my meetings are all over the Hearst tower.
Ruthie: So you think the pace of modern life is dictating what people are now wearing to work?
Aya: Certainly, the casualization of the corporate world, it’s not just in the fashion world. All the street brands that have influenced luxury fashion are changing how fancy you need to be in the office. I’ve always been more of a dressed-down kind of girl, more of a tomboy. I was never the girl in the frilly dress, I never wanted to wear a cupcake of a wedding gown, that’s just not my style. Often I want to look fairly simple, because I spend all day long looking at clothes, selecting outfits for different people, that I don’t want the selection of what I’m wearing to be that complicated.
Ruthie: Jun, did you dress Aya in frilly dresses when she was little?
Jun: When she was small? Well...
Aya: There was a Cacharel blue corduroy skirt that I remember very distinctly. It came from Paris one season when she had been at an Issey Miyake show in Paris. At the time I didn’t know what Cacherel was. Pieces like that would come to me...
Jun: Sonial Rykiel....
Aya: Right. There was a Sonia Rykiel tracksuit with rhinestones. It sounds bad, but it was good. So pieces like that. I didn’t know I was wearing Sonia Rykiel or Cacherel. Or that Jean Paul Gaultier mini skirt that I wore to a school dance.
Ruthie: Did you like what your mother put you in?
Jun: She had a distinctive style though when she was small. She wasn’t interested in pink, she wasn’t interested in frilly things, but I did have a friend who bought a lot for her daughter, fancy smock dresses, very expensive, all Bergdorfs or Saks or whatever and the girl would only wear them once or twice. She was two years older than Aya so all these dresses came to Aya. When Aya was a small kid, that was the first time they started using primary colors and black for children. Before that children clothes were all in pastels.
Aya: I grew up having a few cool pieces that I would latch onto that came from my mother’s trips to Paris, they would get mixed with t-shirts. I wasn’t interested in going to the school dance in a dress, I wore the Gaultier skirt with men’s lace up brogues.
Jun: She did have a style though. When she was ten she had a style.
Ruthie: And did you support this Jun? There was no clashing, you wanting Aya to wear a certain thing?
Jun: No no no. Whatever her style, I liked it, it was different from what I would put together, but I was learning.
Aya: The times when she would really throw down the hatchet was when I would wear micro mini skirts on the subway.
Jun: That? Forget it!
Aya: Honestly I don’t know how I got out the door, sometimes when I look at my old clothes I find something and think “Oh that was a tube top that I was wearing as a dress.”
Jun: It’s because of the era. They were growing up in the 70’s and 80’s.
Ruthie: How is it- I think about this being a Brit in America - if I had a child, the child would be American and I have complicated feelings about that. How is it for you being Japanese having an American daughter? Has it been a learning curve?
Jun: Oh yeah. It wasn’t like we were imposing our ideas on our children, I learned more from them than they learned from me and I still do I think. That comes from the fact that I was raised with an open family. I took my parents cue, they were always interested in what I did, I feel the same way about my kids. They give me more than I give them.
Ruthie: Aya how was it for your having a Japanese mum? Did you feel different or because you grew up in New York did it not matter?
Aya: I didn’t feel that different. I have always had a strong sense of how lucky I am to be raised by people who are the kinds of people who put their family lives first, but also succeeded in pursuing their careers. I didn’t think it was that weird. Both myself and my brother are very tall so people always thought I was Korean because I am tall and have a round face, so people are often shocked when I say that I am Japanese, especially when I’m not in this country. I feel lucky to have a place to go home to that’s not in this country.
I was definitely influenced by my mother’s and my grandmother’s personal style, and kind of how fashion and style has influenced all things in their lives, even the stuff you don’t know it’s influencing. Its never all about the stuff or things, its more about what do these things express about how I’m feeling. I have definitely watched my mother’s style evolve over the years and see it in my own self.
When I first started as an assistant I was way more of “Let me just pick up on every trend that is happening, if it’s all about crop tops I’m doing that” you know? I wanted to try it all. Now I’m a little bit, a lot older, I know more about what’s right for me. When I’m working on a brand like Seventeen, I still get to play in that realm, but more on a creative point of view and not in my own look.
Ruthie: So how do you two think you are similar and different?
Aya: I think we are very, very similar. I think I look like my mother more than anyone else.
Jun: Are you talking about look or insides?
Aya: Inside we’re very similar. My mother often says, when I get very stressed about something and I’m like “Should I do this, or should I do that?” and she always says “You should just go with the flow” and I think, but the flow doesn’t always just go, you have to make the flow! That’s one way we are different. The flow of her life has lead to consistently good things.
Jun: I'm lucky.
Aya: Right, but that’s not the case for everyone. Sometimes you have to push the flow the way you want it to go.
Ruthie: It’s a generational thing too perhaps?
Jun: It might be, yes, yes.
Ruthie: I think a lot of baby boomers could just go with the flow and buy a house, but for younger people, you have to fight for every single thing it seems to me.
Aya: Yes and especially in my business now where it really is like the last few life rafts are leaving the Titanic! I’m like “Do I get my life raft now or do I get it later?” You have to fight to be a leader in this space where there are fewer and fewer jobs and I feel a strong responsibility to be proving my worth and value to the company every day. Whereas historically, people in publishing had their job, had their title and they were just going to coast and it was all very comfortable. It’s not like that now. Now you have to get involved AND be creative AND do the photo shoots. There is never a taking away of responsibility, it’s an expansion. Again, I do choose to see it in a positive way, but I could take the go with the flow advice, just to make me calm down a little bit sometimes, but sometime you have to push.
Ruthie: Has there been a time where you relationship came a little further apart and then came back together or have you always remained very close?
Jun: Well, college days, physically she was away, so in that way I guess we were less close. On the whole...
Aya: Also I’m the second child so I think, no I know, I had less pressure and so everything I did that was a success was a pleasant surprise.
Jun: “You mean Aya did that?”
Aya: I think when you have your first kid, you’re all about examining every little thing that they do, whereas when you have your second, you are tired and like “I hope they survive.” I was the hope-you-survive kid, I think both my parents knew I was the kind of person who would really focus in on what I wanted and really go for that and for them to apply additional pressure wouldn't have mattered, because I already applied the pressure on myself.
Jun: She was the kind of person who was really giving 100%, whether she was in kindergarten, high school or college. We travel a lot now so today we are hanging out for a long time. This is unusual for us.
Aya: There wasn’t a big moment where something dramatically bad happened. Especially the nature of living and working in the same town is a really valuable, grounding fact of life. New York is my home base. I think it’s difficult when you come to New York and you don’t have that sense of what’s home. I feel really lucky to have that.
Jun: A true New Yorker.
Ruthie: Do you shop together?
Aya: My mother doesn’t shop that much and the very nature of my job is looking at clothes all day, so if there’s something that I’m telling her about that I like, we’ll talk about it over email or text. When I was in India I found a really beautiful ring and I was like “Do I get it, do I not get it?” I was debating this, so definitely the first person I wanted to talk to about this was my mother, because if she approved of it it would have validated it to me.
Jun: We don’t shop shop. I love window shopping, that’s my way of de-stressing. After a few weeks away to Japan or wherever, when I come back, I like to walk down Madison Ave. or going to Bergdorfs just sort of resets me to New York.
Ruthie: What do you most admire about each other?
Jun: She’s very focused and very hard working. That’s from when she was small. She was a competition swimmer from the first grade on and that’s a lot of work.
Aya: Going back to us working in the same business, not the exact same, but in the general realm of fashion, every now and then I have come across people who think of me as Jun Kanai’s daughter and not who I am, or they know her quite well. The people that I have met that know her have always said, "What a lovely person," "What a kind person."Not just said that, but said “There was a time when she did something that I always remembered as nice and thoughtful.” It made me think that the impact you have on people is really remembered and wouldn’t it be nice when I’m older to have somebody say “Oh I knew Aya and she did a really nice thing.”
That’s just my mother’s natural way, but I think it’s really important thing to….(Aya starts to cry a little)…give to people. I mean, of course if someone knows you and knows your mother, they are going to say she’s great, but I think it has happened enough times where the person has been “She was so nice to me and she didn’t have to be” that kind of thing.
Jun: (Taking Aya's hand) Thank you.
When she went into fashion, she was so adamant that I was not to get involved. I am not to pick up the phone and call Anna (Wintour) or whomever and say "My daughter is working..." so I thought I was always rude not to do my introduction, but she wanted to be independent and prove herself on her own. I really observed that, I am very grateful, because if she wasn’t in the industry, I wouldn’t know any of this feedback. I have worked in the fashion world long enough I have met many talented people, many famous people and many of them are so not nice. I was lucky to have lovely bosses and there was no reason to be unfriendly just because you work in fashion or you work for Vogue or Harper Bazaar, there’s no reason to be cruel. I really tried to be as natural as possible and it’s nice to know that it came back to Aya.
Aya: Even these days when you think about - because I work a lot with celebrities and you see how people try to stop the process of aging, you see it in all the various different levels - even young people - what it does is that it doesn’t make you look young, it makes you look weird. If you can embrace what aging does, you will look better when you’re older, as soon as you start trying to plug every hole in a leaky boat, you can’t, it doesn’t work like that, time is more powerful than anything. The same is true of your relationships, if you behave badly all those things will come back. Especially these days in the fashion industry, there might have been a window where people were just allowed to misbehave and treat assistants like garbage and be mean and nasty to everyone they worked with and it just is not appropriate. The long term effects of it are bad, it’s not a way to live. It’s really that the business itself is moving away from stoic, stone-cold behavior to something that is softer and more open, I hope.
Jun: Like when the movie came out, what was it called?
Aya: The Devil Wears Prada
Jun: And everybody asked me “Is it as bad as that?” and I said "The reality is worse than the movie!" The things in that movie that people think are ridiculous are nothing compared to what I’ve seen or experienced.
Ruthie: So perhaps that’s why your kindness stood out to people so much?
Jun: I was working under Julie Britt and I came back from a photoshoot with a major photographer and the editor Carrie didn’t like it at all. I was just devastated and Julie said “You know Jun, it’s so easy to criticize, but it’s so difficult to create. Just let it go.” I still remember it. Since then, I try not to criticize anything that people try to do because, who am I? It’s so easy to criticize.
Aya: It’s funny because sometimes I’ll mention someone who, to my generation, is the most iconic, the most important, whether its a creative director or a stylist or a photographer and my mother will be like “oh that kid? That kid was an assistant who got fired from the set.” It’s funny when you have that perspective to know that everyone who really has their peacock feathers out now had to come up through the system. I’m like “Oh that person was a kid who didn’t know what they were doing once." Everyone has a moment where they were clueless. Just because they believe it is forgotten now, it was seen by someone and the people who are the luminaries of now, were the assistants of yesterday and the same will be true forever more.
Ruthie: Is there anything you think about the other, that you wish the other would realize?
Aya: Anything she thinks about me, she has no trouble saying. *Laugher*
Jun: No, I really admire her.
Aya: Frankly, if I were to think about what it would be like to be 23 and move to another country and get married in that country and have kids in that country and create a successful career in a different country to the one that I’m from. I haven’t done half of what my parents have.
Jun: It was the right moment in time. In the 1970’s. I couldn’t have done it in the 60’s and by the 80’s there were too many people in fashion.
Aya: It was a different time in New York City. When I think about when my parents were living in New York they knew Grace Jones and Keith Haring and when Grace’s son had a birthday party I would go and stuff like that. That’s stuff that’s not normal and I just discovered in my childhood room, Keith Haring did this big dance party for AIDS research in 1984 and there was this invitation that was like a tank top with one of his illustrations on it and because I was a child I would wear it as a dress and I wrote my name in the collar.
Jun: And Keith had signed it.
Aya: Yeah it was a Keith Haring piece of work that was my nightshirt. That’s how lucky I am. Growing up in that time, I can’t imagine being a parent to children in New York City then, when it was way more sketchy and dangerous than it is now. New York City now is like Disney World for yuppies. It’s so safe you could leave your handbag outside and nothing would happen!
Jun: Not quite.
Aya: In the 80’s it wasn’t safe.
Jun: We were young so we thought it was normal. This block was considered one of the most dangerous blocks in terms of hookers..
Aya: Sex workers, mom.
Jun: Sex workers and the drugs.
Aya: Because it’s on the way to the Holland Tunnel. I have strong memories of sex workers on both sides of the block. Now its baby strollers and Citi bikes.
Jun: One time the police came to stay in the basement and they shot film of the nightlife of the pimps and the prostitutes on this block and we were raising the kids upstairs.
Aya: I would ride the MTA bus by myself when I was 12, with my LL Bean backpack and my school uniform, just on the bus by myself. It helped me to be a very independent person. Now when I see people in my peer group really afraid of things or afraid of going on vacation to an unknown place or there’s a fear that surrounds everything, I don’t have those fears. Maybe that’s a bad thing, but I do believe if I find myself in a bad situation, I will figure it out.
Jun: As long as you don’t wear the mini mini skirts.
Aya: Yes as long as I don’t wear the mini mini skirts, but I’m too old for them now anyway, so there’s no danger of me wearing them anymore.
Ruthie: Do you ever share clothes?
Aya: Yep. Absolutely. Especially because Issey Miyake’s clothes are timeless and they are not trend-driven.
Jun: You shared some clothes with your grandmother. You know, they fought over some pieces, Ruthie.
Aya: That’s true.
Ruthie: Do you shop together?
Jun: We walk around Soho, we walk around Madison Ave-
Aya: I don’t go into real life stores that often. I look at Pret-a-Porter, but often more for research. I’m interested in how things go in that arc from runway to retail. I don’t personally purchase that many trend-driven pieces these days. I’d rather have special things that are items I’m going to wear for a long time. We sometimes go to Hermes, just to look.
Jun: In my old days, I’m getting very conservative. What was that shop, that little boutique?
Aya: Ah yes there’s an Italian brand called Aspesi, I don’t even know if it’s sold in America. It’s like a Cos type store, super basic but well made.
Jun: They sell in Italy and also in the UK I think.
Aya: If we are traveling we’ll look for brands like that, that are harder to get elsewhere. Frankly, I could never buy shoes again and be fine for the rest of my life. I have enough stuff. Of course there are fun trend items that I want for the fun of it, but I always find that if I put it in my virtual shopping basket and leave it for a couple of days, then I can end up being like, "You know what, maybe not." The thing I like to say to myself, when I delete it from my cart is: "It’s amazing how many things you don’t need." Then when you come across the one thing you love, then you can feel really excited to share it with you mother and wear it all the time. The fashion industry right now is suffering from this over-clogging of things. It becomes like this white noise, where you can very easily have this realization where you think: "I don’t need any of it."
Jun: Today people don’t dress up, they way they used to. My mother said the same thing about my generation. My grandmother told me that her mother-in-law, that is my great grandmother, on a day with nothing happening would change outfits three times. So this is only within 100 years.
Ruthie: Do you ever see something and think: “Ooh Aya would love this,” and buy it for her?
Jun: Oh no, too risky! Once in a while my cousin might email and say “I was thinking of buying this for Aya, what do you think?” I say, “Don’t buy anything for Aya to wear as a gift.” We do share, but we can’t share shoes because we are different sizes.
Aya: You know my mother is - how old are you?
Aya: 73 and she is wearing leather pants that I gave her this morning.
Jun: There’s a blurring of the generation’s styles. As long as your are fit you can wear anything. There is still a generation that are very properly dressed and it’s nice to look at them.
Aya: The reality is at the end of this two hour chat with you, the person with the real style in this family is my dad. He looks great whether he’s 23, 33, 63 or 73. He’s had great style his whole life.
Jun: And he doesn’t know it!
Aya: He has very minimal pieces, but it’s just natural to him.
Ruthie: And do you appreciate that Jun?
Jun: I do, but when Aya said stylish mothers and daughters I said: "Oh why can’t it be stylish fathers and daughters? So much easier!"
Aya: One of the few times recently that I got an “Oh you’re Jun Kanai’s daughter” was when I was working with this older stylist and he had come into the office. We were talking and he was like “Your parents were the best looking couple in New York.”
Ruthie: Is there anything else we need to add?
Jun: I mean-
Aya: We talked your ear off! Thank you for reaching out, this has been so fun.
Ruthie: Thank you for agreeing to let me prod and poke at your relationship with your mother!
Aya: Yeah there are no great secrets sorry!
Ruthie: Yes please, that would be lovely.
Update: since my interview another fashionista has arrived. Meet baby Rei.