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Monica, with pink hair, lays on a bed with her cat held in front of her. Her ankles are crossed behind her.

Monica Nakatani Offers An Escape From Reality With Her DEBUT Collection

Monica Nakatani started designing and constructing cosplay costumes while still in elementary school. “Video game characters often have these impossible looking outfits, and ever since I was young I’ve been in love with the challenge of making them real. It was my escape from reality.” Monica grew up in Watsonville, CA, in the Central Coast area north of Los Angeles, and attended Aptos High School before heading to FIDM. She earned her A.A. in Fashion Design in 2022, after which she was accepted into the prestigious Advanced Fashion Design Program. Monica’s DEBUT collection TAMASHI 魂  finds inspiration in Japanese folklore and video games. The annual DEBUT Runway Show event will livestream on March 31, 2023, at 2:30 PM PDT. We checked in with Monica to learn more. 

Tell us a little about yourself. I’m currently 21 years old and a fashion design student. I love playing video games in the majority of my free time or spending time with my cat Momo. I also enjoy challenging myself, and the more impossible something looks to make, the more I want to try and make it myself. I was a cosplayer before I attended FIDM, so I’ve been sewing for a long time. I think I probably started sewing around 10-12 years old, and I mean actually sewing costumes and stuff, not just playing around with my mom’s machine. I think I probably started messing with the machine around 6-7 years old. Although my mom had a machine, I taught myself how to sew when I would make my cosplays. My love of cosplay ultimately stemmed from my love for video games.

Tell us about your DEBUT collection. TAMASHI 魂 focuses on Japanese folklore creatures, specifically the futakuchi-onna. This collection is meant to represent me and who I am, as given the name Tamashi, “soul/spirit.” It consists of dark themes with “pretty” or “beautiful” silhouettes. There are softer colors and very dark colors. They are meant to counter each other and really represent who I am as a designer. The soft, dark and unsettling; that is the mood of TAMASHI 魂.

What silhouettes and fabrics can we expect to see? The silhouettes you can expect to see in my collection are more form fitting, asymmetrical, and some are...odd, even. The fabrics you can expect to see are gabardine, Crepe de Chine, chiffon, pleather, georgette, and habotai.

What is your point of view as a designer? As a designer I love to create the feeling of unsettling beauty within my collections. With my other collections it’s usually one or the other, but within TAMASHI 魂 the ideas are fully united together. I think there is beauty in the unsettling and I don’t think many people see that, but it is very interesting when you do!

How do you hope people will feel when they see your designs? I hope people will feel a bit unsettled by the collection but comfortable at the same time. There’s a lot of Japanese cultural influences that I have taken from my culture. I hope people will appreciate the collection and maybe recognize some of the influences that are implemented within the collection, but it’s ok if you don’t! Maybe the folklore creatures will be new to people, and I hope you’ll be interested in learning more about their tales after seeing my collection. I overall hope that people will be able to see the unsettling beauty that I see within my collection! :)

What inspires you as a creative and as a fashion designer? There are a lot of things I’m inspired by. I love implementing things that “aren’t normal”  into fashion. For instance, my DEBUT collection has lots of hair details, just because I thought it would be unique to put those in, but also details relating to the futakuchi-onna. Primarily, I’m inspired by video games, just anything within fantasy. As I had mentioned before, I play a lot of video games in my free time, and I’m sure as many people have seen, video game characters have some impossible looking garments! I also really like looking at unique buildings and animals. Those also really inspire me when I’m designing a collection. There are so many shapes, curves, and ideas to work with!

What is a lesson you've learned as you've been working on your collection? A big lesson I have learned from working on my collection is that it’s ok to rest. Before DEBUT and even in the beginning, I would always tell myself that I didn’t really need rest. I ended up burning myself out and it was horrible. As I went through that, I forced myself to work in relaxation/rest time into my schedule. I was often not sleeping or maybe getting in a couple naps to help sustain me most days of the week. Another important thing I learned is to never be afraid to get a bit of extra supplies, whether it be fabric or sendouts. You don’t want to fall short at all because getting those again within short notice can be really stressful! I feel a lot better now. It took a while, but I worked in adequate relaxation time to be able to still get things done and feel good mentally. Never disregard your mental health!

Tell us about your path to FIDM. As I had mentioned before, I would cosplay and make costumes all the time growing up. I had so much fun with it, but I wanted to try out making actual clothes rather than costumes. That led me to seek out FIDM. I had heard from a friend that attended FIDM that it was a promising school so I sought it out my senior year of high school and ended up attending a year after I graduated. I took a year off after I graduated high school since I just wanted a gap between doing another few years.

How is FIDM helping you get closer to your career goals? FIDM is helping me so much with my career goals because I am learning so much from just DEBUT. I’ve met so many people and learned so many things that I wouldn’t have known if I didn’t do this program. I’m understanding more of what it takes to make your own collections and I’m excited to start my brand after finishing. :)

Any advice for someone considering applying to be a DEBUT student? I would say just go for it. Be yourself, be genuine, but most importantly don’t be predictable! Set yourself apart from other applicants, and be confident even if you struggle with that. Don’t tell them what they want to hear. Tell them about who you are, whether it's good or bad, it's genuine and you! Another piece of advice I would give is definitely understand what it is that you are getting yourself into. If you aren’t punctual and on top of your work then you should make changes so you can be on top of your work if you are considering DEBUT. You don’t want to get extremely overwhelmed and stressed with DEBUT over your work ethic. It’s not healthy and it is hard to catch up if you don’t discipline yourself to be timely.

Follow Monica’s journey on Instagram @plujoo.

Categories:  Fashion Design Student