Hirotaka Inoue is the founder of Hirotaka, a Tokyo-based, fine jewelry line inspired by nature. After leaving Japan to study international affairs and political science in Los Angeles, Inoue could no longer ignore his passion for jewelry and moved to Paris to perfect his craft. Upon his return to Japan, Inoue began to design bespoke jewelry for private customers and to the delight of his distinguished clientele, officially established his eponymous brand in 2009. Hirotaka is sold at Louis Boston, Otte, Wolf & Badger in London and online at Boutique LW7 and Hirotaka.
Why did you decide to launch a fine jewelry line inspired by fauna and flora?
I’ve always been fascinated by fauna and flora thriving in the highly competitive environment in the tropical rain forests. Their exaggerated horns, iridescent metallic colors, incredibly elongated claws, sharp thorns, etc. They are all so out of our range of imagination, and so beautiful.
I see the interesting correlation between those creatures in the jungle and us, humans, thriving in big cities with our own style.
I still keep my design more abstract, but my inspirations are mostly from my passion for nature.
Can you describe the influences that inspired your current collection?
The Gossamer collection is the image of night dews on spider webs sparkling in the moonlight. It started as an elegant and minimal line, but is developing into the more subtly punkish diamond bar style, which I love.
I also have a large ring with cassowary leg scale patterns. I own a huge cassowary claw from 100 years ago used by a tribesman in Papua New Guinea. I get so much inspiration from those tribal ornaments and artifacts.
What is the most literal piece of nature you’ve incorporated into a design?
I have made so many literal pieces for my bespoke clients—a seahorse, a snail, a bird’s foot, etc. I do have leopard claws and thorn motifs in my current collection, but they are very conceptual too—they are the symbol of strength and protection.
You experiment with many different materials–which is your favorite? What has been the most exotic?
I have worked with mammoth tusks and ebony wood for one of my loyal clients, but I would say human canine was the most exotic material I’ve used. The client was a Nicaraguan American with exquisite taste, and it seems like keeping all the milk teeth is a part of their tradition. I made her a pendant with her old baby canine with obelisk studs and diamonds—very special and personal.
You’re thoughtful in your pairings to keep a nice range in price point. How did you come to understand the way women shop for jewelry?
When I became independent with my background in high-end jewelry, I was clueless, and did not have the $200- $500 range. However, as I started to work in the fashion industry in NYC, I realized my clients’ needs, and I am happy that they can enjoy wearing Hirotaka. I also like the idea of personal jewelry, and they tend to be subtle and small, so that is one of the reasons I can keep the price low.
Is it tough to connect with your US and Europe-based customers from Japan?
I work with PR representatives in NYC and we work very closely, so I do not feel any difficulties, but when it comes to making bespoke jewelry, it could possibly be difficult.
Are there any challenges with getting overseas exposure?
I have not felt much difficulty at this point.
Custom work is a huge part of your business. How is this client different than your retail customer?
The biggest difference is the time we spend together. For custom work, we sit down and I try to draw out what they are really looking for and the whole process until completion may take six months or more. In this process, some may agree with my aesthetics, and some may want to make it totally different from what I usually like, but in any case, I am happy that I can be a part of making something very personal for them.
For retail customers, I usually do not have a chance to speak to them, but with some trunk shows, I can get some feedback from them, and try to reflect them in my creations.
What do you think of jewelry for men? Ever think about creating a men’s line?
I love images of the old Maharaja of India wearing profuse amount of precious jewels and all sorts of adornments, and tribesmen of Papua New Guinea wearing hornbill skulls on the back of their necks and cassowary killing claws on their chests, and bird of paradise feathers on their head… I am still working on translating those images into jewelry for modern men in the city–quite a task.
I do have some unisex items, like the Leopard Claw Wrist Wrap, made of oxidized silver with gray diamond, which can also be worn as a pendant top, but I admit that I have mostly made things for women, probably due to my career path in women’s jewelry.
I personally find the thinnest diamond bar on a tanned strong arm sexy. When it comes to men wearing jewelry, if the jewelry enhances their personality, they should not be afraid of wearing anything from hornbill skull to diamonds.
How many times a year do you come to New York? What’s your favorite part of the city?
I come to NYC about twice a year. I usually run around with all the appointments, so I don’t have much time to explore, but I love the downtown area, SoHo, West Village, Meatpacking District, and TriBeCa.