Japanese textile designer, Dan Namura, has fast become a much-admired figure in the industry. His ethereal designs – a product of his unique artistic sensibility, and a fusion of diverse influences – have seen him design for several major Japanese and European interior shops and, more recently, become the first Asian trendforecaster for the Heimtextil trade fair. Furniture News’ Gemma Ralph speaks with Dan to find out more about his idiosyncratic artistic process.

It was a trip to Europe in 1999 that first inspired Dan to begin designing textiles, and which signified the inception of a far-reaching and prosperous relationship with travel and foreign culture that is still firmly evident in his work today. Within two years of this visit, Dan joined Japanese fabric label Need’k, working alongside the company as it expanded overseas, before setting up his own label, DAN project. 

Despite this multinational grounding, it could be conceived that Dan’s inspirations and connections with the industry lie closer to home. With a rich family heritage in the ancient Japanese craft of Yuzen-zome – a hand-painted dyeing technique used to decorate cloth with exquisite patterns – Dan’s talent and flair for textile design might be seen as a natural devlopment.

Dan is, however, adamant that his work be viewed in isolation from his personal background. Indeed, when asked if his family history has influenced his designs, he responds rather unexpectedly, stating: “Honestly, I don’t really think about it. I want people to feel directly from my creations.”

Of course, while Dan doesn’t necessarily wish his own character to impinge upon his designs, his Japanese heritage, and more specifically Japan’s truly cosmopolitan blur of influences, is a significant source of inspiration. When asked to describe his style, Dan says it is “mixed, like Tokyo. For example, using a fork and chopsticks simultaneously to eat Japanese food”.

Finding balance, whether it be between conflicting aspects of a culture, or in terms of correlation between colour and texture, is a key consideration for Dan. “It is the most important thing for me,” he says. “There is a poem by Paracelsus: ‘Poison is in everything, and no thing is without poison. The dosage makes it either a poison or a remedy.’ I always try to find this balance when I design things.”

Dan’s alchemic approach – blending vibrant colour accents with neutralising elements – reflects an intelligent awareness of people’s diverse preferences and of the imperative need for end-users to actively experience his designs. Indeed, despite the diverse application of his work – from interior textiles to fashion products – Dan sustains focus on the design process itself, rather than anticipating the practicalities or specific end-use of each piece.

“I wish to convey the image, or way of thinking, rather than selling a particular visual product or design,” he says. “I would like people to realise the richness and beauty of nature and unknown culture through my work. Not by over-designing, but I would like to create items you can treat akin to air.”

It is easy to see why Dan would wish to retain this mercurial feel within his designs. His simple, yet exquisitely beautiful turns of phrase – even in a foreign tongue – are mirrored in the quiet, unobtrusive beauty of his work. Elegant and unusual motifs or tones blend with dappled, flowing materials, channelling the multitude of sensory impressions that inspired their creation.

From the characteristic scent of freshly-mown grass, to the brassy colours of the Kabukicho, Tokyo’s red light district, Dan extracts and purifies his responses to diverse and often overlooked stimuli in art form. “I think obediently what I want for myself. And then I drop my images into the space,” says

Dan of the origin of his designs. “Simple, ordinary things inspire me. But for me, they are super-unrealistic and unordinary things.”

The soothing pace of the natural world is a persistent source of inspiration for Dan, who firmly advocates that there can be no beauty in creating products that are to the detriment of the environment. “There is no limit to people’s desire, and each moment things are becoming increasingly more comfortable and more convenient. The speed of evolution in the natural world – including humans – is slower than technology, and that soothes me,” he comments.

In a bid to refute the appeal of fast fashion, Dan has set up an initiative to recycle clothes at a factory in India, giving these valuable materials a second life in the form of patchwork rugs. “I love it when people surprise me by telling me that products are made from trash,” he says. 

Dan’s concern for the environmental impact of his products has also compelled him to take a rather more proactive role in the pricing and marketing of his products. “I used to not think about it,” he explains, “but now I think that seeing the product through to completion is an integral part of the design. It is also the best way to combat environmental problems.” 

This awareness of the broader implications of his work has always been extant, however, as in 2002 Dan took part in the planning and designs for local weaving mills as part of a government project in the Aichi-prefecture. Situated in the Chubu region – part of Japan’s main island, Honshu – the Aichi prefecture is known for its rich history in textile manufacturing.

“I was focusing mainly on the workforce’s technique and quality to bring them up to a world standard level,” he says of his role in the project. “Based on this experience, I also designed things that were completely new.”

When asked if the Japanese textile industry had the potential to bolster recovery following natural disasters or periods of economic instability, Dan responds, “There are actually so many local textile weaving mills in Japan, but most Japanese companies depend heavily on China now. I think that possibility will increase dramatically if this situation alters and production in Japan is resumed.”

Despite the idiosyncratic nature of Dan’s designs, then, his openness to inspiration and to discussion is key to his artistic philosophy. As a key figure in the creative direction team at fabric and textile exhibition, Heimtextil – and Interior Lifestyle Tokyo – Dan is tasked with observing and delivering trend proposals and predictions.

While trends have by no means always been a key motivation for Dan, his four years as a trend-setter for the fair have nevertheless proved a positive influence on his work. “Creation can only step forwards through communicating with others,” he says. “My brain works towards things I usually don’t think of. It is very important work for me, and ensures that I remain proactive.”

It is this open-mindedness and lack of pretension that translates most strongly into Dan’s work – the raw, uncalculated forms he has such passion for, intelligently captured through his designs without constraint or inhibition. Despite his considerable international renown, it is refreshing to see that Dan is confident enough to let his products tell their own narrative.