On days when the city looks postcard perfect, it’d be rude not to take a few snaps. With the sun shining brightly, but barely able to haul itself above the horizon, we asked the taxi driver to drop us a little early, so we could orientate ourselves with the location. Of course, rocking up to the Serpentine before the staff had even opened the doors wasn’t part of the plan, but thankfully they heard us knocking and came to welcome us inside. With the intruder alarms deactivated, we started scoping out the space and waiting for the days’ strolling partner – Hikari Yokoyama
All-round wonder woman and Marylebone local, she’d agreed to come and talk about her teenage style icons (Kurt Cobain and Bjork), a love of Boris bikes and her design studio, Naum House. She arrived smiling, bang on time and came striding towards the reception area in Ria Coat, striped Santos Shirt and Kick Boots, perfectly poised and polished. It was bloody frosty – but bright outside, so we took a slip hazard gamble and decided to get some steps in around Hyde Park.
Born in Japan and raised in the suburbs of Chicago, the wandering spirit is very much part of Hikari’s DNA and was the starting point for our conversation. “Being bicultural from a minority religious background, I was lucky enough to have a more worldly view than a lot of kids growing up around me. I was less afraid about the unknown. There was a distinct feeling about the American ‘melting point’ ideal, which, for someone like me, meant conforming – fitting in. I couldn’t do this successfully, so this is what pushed me to the big city, to university and New York.”
Before the move, she’d been an industrious teen, customising thrift shop clothes and poring over indie magazines, with the aim of honing in her own personal style. She remembered how at 13, “it was all about the music. Ray Gun was my favourite magazine. In the days with no social media and no computers, every single image was carefully (and repeatedly) studied. I was never given much money for clothes, so I had to get into that 1990s creative ethos – I once made a skirt out of duct tape! It was never about the brands, it was about being liberated enough to use what little you had to generate your own look and look good doing it. I learned to shop from the Salvation Army rack – always new treasure to discover. To the younger version of me, clothing was about wanting to belong. Now that I'm older (and a bit wiser) I think it’s become more about dressing for myself, and more about how I feel in a particular garment. I want to be the protagonist in my own adventure rather than the object in someone else’s.”
With a few portraits in the bag, we head to the Serpentine cafe and turn the chatter to her affiliation with our chosen location for the day. Positioned outside in the midday sunshine, she explained, “I’ve been on a fundraising committee for the Serpentine for many years now. The Serpentine is an ecosystem, most well-known for its exhibitions – which are far ranging. But, at its best, it is much more than that – experimental performances in the summer nights [Park Nights], nimble possibilities for architecture [Pavilion], pluralistic information absorption events [Marathon], evening blind friend dating [Mystery Nights]. I like that amongst all the established arts institutions in London (which I know and love for their collections & exhibitions that take years to develop) there is also space for non-profit outfits like The Serpentine, that exist to bring people together around radical ideas.”
With tea slurped by me (and sipped by Hikari), we’re off again towards the Royal Albert Hall, where Matt fancies taking a few action shots on the Prince Albert memorial statue steps. Hyde Park is busy now, and as we weave amongst the roller-bladers, horse riders, runners and tourists with selfie sticks I ask about Naum House, which she founded in 2018. A multi-faceted design studio, with a focus on interior design, creative direction and the design of experiences such as events, workshops, and retreats. As a woman with ‘successful entrepreneur’ already on the CV, I ask what makes it tick. She explained, “Design is a process by which we make choices in order to bring things into being. There is an inherent functional objective that needs meeting and it pushes forward alongside an aesthetic ideal. We are interested in how the forms that we create, shape our human relationships to each other and to the wider world, hence our tagline ‘the forms that shape us’.
A lot has been made in recent times about how things look and what they signify in our rampant consumer culture, being on trend or in style. However, the Naum House approach is interested in how things come into being and how they will continue to exist in the duration of their lifespan. For a simplistic example, say we need a table – do we repurpose and reconfigure something that has slipped into a period of unusefulness because it is slightly broken? Or work with a local woodworker who sources each piece of timber selectively? Or source an antique that has been restored? Or just buy something mass produced and make it feel high end? All of these choices have an implication on what kind of world we are participating in and what kind of world we are creating through our choices. This is what motivates us through design. We believe every object tells a story and that design shapes human behaviour.”
We wrap and mooch down to Kensington Gore to flag cabs. While we waited, thumbs out, she smiled and said, “When I arrived, I loved walking or biking through London just to see how one area melted into something else. On the night of the opening ceremonies of the London Olympics, I took advantage of the empty streets and cruised on Boris bikes through the ghost city with my sister. After so many years of living in cities, I have been continually drawn to the parks in London, with their ambling fenceless expanses and mature trees. I love how in London, in the park, you can hear languages that I can’t identify. On a nice day, I like going up to strangers and saying, “What language are you speaking?” and striking up a random conversation about dogs.”
Says it all. One minute she’s partying with London’s art world glitterati, and the next, she’s down at the park, shooting the breeze about dogs. For Hikari, there are no limits.