Minä Perhonen has been called Japan’s answer to Marimekko, but it is not only design mastermind Akira Minagawa’s predilection for patterned textiles that has earned the brand that title.

Akira Minagawa is dressed in a canary-yellow pullover and charcoal grey trousers with creases sharp enough to slice granite. His hair is a bit messed up by the wind outside as he walks in through the door, followed by his entourage comprised of a personal assistant, a press liaison, and a photographer, whose job it is to document the grand opening of a special exhibition of designs from his Japanese label Minä Perhonen in the Copenhagen concept store Black. He has spent the afternoon at Louisiana – Museum of Modern Art north of Copenhagen and is running a bit late. Nevertheless he glides effortlessly into the room and blends in with the design objects on display. Akira Minagawa obviously feels at home in his own scenography. The plump rabbit cushions in multi-coloured patterns. The little folded socks on parade, displayed so that each will get more attention than normally warranted by something so mundane. The detailed sketches of birds that adorn the windows of the store, sketches he spent hours on preparing the day before. The aesthetic universe is his and his alone.

“When you concentrate on the work you’re doing, you become what you make. The mind follows the hand and the hand follows the mind. Everything comes directly from me,” he says quietly, indicating two birds so meticulously drawn that they look like they might take flight and flutter out into the world any moment.

But even if the point of departure is personal to a significant degree, the Japanese master is also known for his conspicuously generous approach to his own brand. It is, for example, a widespread misapprehension that the name of the label refers to a female designer named Minä Perhonen, but that just makes Akira Minagawa laugh softly and clarify how his life’s big project got its name.

“A great number of fashion brands are named after their founders, but Minä just means I in Finnish. In that way anybody who’s part of the design process may claim ownership of his or her personal contribution, and will not be overshadowed by me,” he explains modestly and adds that the name seemed like the best way to secure the brand and preserve it for the future. Because when he is no longer around to carry the torch, any other designer may assume the role of the brand’s I.

Continue reading in Oak volume Two