After Walking Prada, Taira Discusses Gender Identities in Fashion

As once-rigid binaries dissipate, more people than ever are questioning and re-defining what genders are. After exclusively debuting in Milan on the Prada runway this past season, Japanese new face Taira Go has been steadily making a name by disrupting the conventional gender-specific expectations and landing coveted editorials shot by Nadine Ijewere and Campbell Addy. The rookie graduated in more ways than one this year, going from his virtual masters’ ceremony in London to a whole new realm of ranks walking for Prada’s first joint venture with Raf Simons. We linked up virtually with Taira to discuss more on how the talent got scouted in Tokyo, new beginnings at Prada, and the complex nature of identity politics.

Where are you from and how were you first scouted? How did you first connect to your European agencies as well?
I was born and raised in Hokkaido, which is an island in the northernmost of Japan. I was initially scouted in Tokyo by a friend of mine who is now my best friend and mother agent, Cailin when I was a university student there. Soon after I got signed with her agency Beyond Tokyo and moved to London to do my masters. As I was living in London, Cailin sent me to some agencies, and fortunately, Storm really liked me. I also felt great energy from the team, so we decided to work together since then.

How has your background influenced your pathway into the fashion industry?
I’ve been interested in fashion ever since I was little. I very much enjoyed art or creative subjects back in school, and fashion was some sort of an extension to it for me. I think I was quite particular about how I styled/presented myself. I cared a lot about how I’d be seen by others especially when I was in school (perhaps I was insecure about myself and I was not confident), which naturally led me to grow interests in fashion initially. Fashion was a sort of armor to get validations from the communities I was in.

How was it recently completing your masters and what led you to major in Cultural Studies? How important is education to you and do you apply learning to fashion at all?
It was enjoyable but challenging at the same time because the program often required me to push my comfort zone. I find education super important. Of course for myself, but especially for young generations. It definitely helped me to cultivate myself as an ‘international’ human being. Learning together with a diverse group of people coming from a variety of socio-cultural backgrounds gave me fresh insights and values to evaluate things around me. Now that I have graduated, I’ve noticed that the course provided me with the courage and confidence that I needed to do whatever I peruse. My educational background makes me think a lot about the performative elements of modeling. Modeling can be like playing a character, and I perform different surfaces of ‘Taira’ for that moment in time.

How was the experience of walking Prada S/S 21 as an exclusive, from fittings to the runway?
It was absolutely an honor to walk for them as my debut show. I can’t express my gratitude enough towards everybody who believed in me and supported me throughout the journey. It was really exciting to take part in the fresh beginning of the legendary fashion house. I felt responsibility at the same time, as I knew it would be a special collection for the brand.

Likewise, I’m very grateful for having been able to witness the outstanding craftsmanship & the amazing teamwork that support the great heritage, which is normally invisible to the public. It was utterly inspiring. The scale of the production was just astonishing, and I appreciate it so much that I could be a part of it and work with so many talented individuals. So thank you very much indeed everyone!

Had you ever been to Milan before this season and what did you explore when you went there?
Yes, I have actually. It was mainly for tourism, and I did not have much time to explore the city since it was a short visit. I was lucky enough to have a chance to experience the Milano Expo as it happened to be open around the time, which was brilliant! I also remember the lovely night view of a canal that I enjoyed very much from a local restaurant. The food was scrumptious!

In terms of gender identity/expression, what’s the one thing fashion gets right or wrong? How has your understanding of gender identity evolved?
In my opinion, there’s no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ when it comes to identity expressions. It’s something that I cannot explain fully to others, so I cannot ask others to understand either. Identity politics is very complex and messy, it can be confusing and even intimidating to address. In the fashion industry, I am very much aware that there’re circumstances in which talents could sense that they’ve been tokenized or treated as ‘props’ for brands to be politically ‘correct’. But I believe fashion has great power to impact how we see the world. Change is rarely a comfortable experience, but it’s what the world needs right now. And I am very happy to see more and more inspiring people joining in to shift sands to change the landscape.

I learned a lot about it in university where I studied Cultural Studies. The more I learned and encountered different perspectives, the more the things that hadn’t sat right with me in my childhood started making sense. I guess, also, the fact that I had a privilege to be exposed to different cultures and people coming from various backgrounds by getting out of the communities, with which I grew up, helped tremendously to deepen my understanding of identities.

When you’re not working, how do you like to spend your time?
My current hobbies all seem to revolve around de-stressing. Stretching, reflective thought, and meditation so I can take time for myself to recentre properly. Sometimes the most productive thing you can do is rest. I also enjoy studying more these days. Read books, watch documentaries, listen to podcasts, take online classes, etc. I believe it’s really important for the current world especially that we reflect and learn what/why we do.

What changes would you like to be apart of in the modeling world?
It might sound like a very vague answer, but I would like to contribute to the world in order to make a better tomorrow somehow. As an individual who’s lived being different and as minorities judging from some socio-political aspects, I believe there’s something I would be able to commit to the world by using my perspectives/experiences while utilizing modeling as a platform. By that, I am not saying I would like to be an activist. In my opinion, you don’t necessarily have to be a so-called ‘activist’ in order to make an impact on society. Even if I could inspire one individual, I would be happy. I haven’t figured out how to do so specifically yet. But I hope I’d be able to find out gradually.

It’s been amazing to be able to work with photographers, such as Nadine Ijewere and Campbell Addy, who are pushing the boundaries within the industry. Being on set with Tim Walker, and sharing ideas around identity politics was also such a life-changing experience for me. It would be wonderful if I could work with creatives, such as Ethan James Green, whose work shares similar beliefs or interests.

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