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Tite Kubo is the well-known Japanese fashion designer behind the Bleach clothing line. Tite launched the clothing line in 1998, selling it exclusively out of Urahara Shōten, a store in downtown Tokyo owned by his once good friend Urahara Kisuke. After a falling out with Urahara in 2001, Tite set up his own store, took his company public, enlisted an army of then-unknown models, and caught the eye and the hearts of the fashion world.
Bleach is known for its vibrant use of colors and its emphasis on wearability. Tite set out to create a line that anyone, be they models or any other well-proportioned young adults, could look good in. He has a keen eye for trends and has an uncanny ability to predict what people will want to wear, and what they should wear, in his line and in others. Designer Ōgure Ito (of the Oh! Great fashion line) once described him as "The Master of the Obvious."
Tite Kubo was born Uryū Taito, on June 26, 1977, near Hiroshima, Japan. The child of a retired actress and a businessman (Ryūken Taito, Quincy inc.), Tite led an uneventful childhood. "I didn't have any direction in life. I didn't know what I wanted to do. When people asked me 'What do you want to do when you grow up?' I didn't have any sort of meaningful answer. I used to say 'A Quincy!' to get them to stop asking. But I didn't have the eyesight to be a Quincy. It wasn't until I was six or seven that I began to realize that I wanted to work in fashion." A self-described reserved kid, Tite used to pretend his anti-social withdrawal was him being a cool, aloof kid, but in reality, he was just shy.
When he was 10, Tite witnessed his Grandfather's violent death, but repressed the memory. At about this time, Tite became increasingly interested in anime and manga, and began to entertain ideas of becoming a mangaka. In high school, he joined the anime club and honed his skills as an artist.
After graduation, Tite began work on a story, Zombie Powder, which he submitted to Shonen Jump in 1997. It was rejected outright, leaving him disheartened. "Cute jokes, but horribly timed. Too much philosophy and too little angst. Study pacing and story telling. There is not enough story here to run for years and years, as we require," the rejection letter read, followed by a handwritten "Great character designs. I like the clothes." Tite recalled his childhood dream, and the rest is history.
A departure from his shy childhood self, Tite Kubo is now an outspoken gossip who loves nothing more than to talk about the fashion industry. His website features downloadable footage he'd collected with a camcorder backstage at all his shows. (Popular especially is the candid footage from the dressing rooms, although his models are less surprised by him than ever.) His behavior's earned him a few enemies, but most people find him irresistibly charming, and he has many powerful and influential friends around the globe. As a designer and a businessman, he is known for his very hands-on approach. He is a presence at every step of the way, down to the modeling; he appears on the cover of every Bleach collection catalogue, in an outfit from the collection, with the other models.
Models associated with the line
It's been said that the fastest way onto a fashion magazine cover is to impress Tite Kubo, as time and again, his chosen ones dominate the world of fashion. Scoffing at traditional views of beauty, Tite prefers models with a more edgy look, where "edgy" means "strange, but you can't quite put your finger on why." He does all his own scouting, and prefers to stay away from existing, tainted models. In the standard Tite contract, models who work for him promise a three year period in which they do not work for anyone else, after which they inevitably explode onto the market, with every fashion and cosmetics company wanting a piece of the, oxymoronically, established fresh meat.
Ichigo and Tite Kubo cannot remember how they met each other. Ichigo claims that he began shopping at Urahara Shōten in 1999, when he was 14 years old and that, a year later, Tite, who had been working the counter that day, told him that he always envisioned him as the face of Bleach. At the time, Ichigo was suffering from Bell's Palsy, locking him in a constant grimace that he was very self-conscious about. While the facial paralysis has since been cured, the scowl has become an integral part of Ichigo's "look". Ichigo credits Tite's comment with giving him the confidence he needed to get through his gawky teenage years. By the time Tite was looking for models, Ichigo was looking the part.
Tite remembers it a little differently. As he tells it, Ichigo's face was the first thing he saw after waking up from a two hour coma after a car crash. At the time, Ichigo was working as a nurse in his father's infirmary.
As a model, Ichigo maintains the image of a hip and trendy everyman. He's rarely seen in clothes that you would not expect the boy next door to be wearing, only he makes it look good. His naturally shock orange hair adds a bit of exoticism to his otherwise 100% Japanese features, but, ironically, is often overshadowed by the even brighter colors he usually wears.
Orihime began modeling for Tite in the spring of 2001, scouted when she was still a sophomore in high school, and, after a 2002 photoshoot that gave rise to the term "spin a leek", quickly became the most recognizable face in Japanese modeling. With her soft, gentle features, her long strawberry hair, and her big round eyes, Orihime is decidedly feminine, and this is reflected in the clothes Tite dresses her in. Flowery pastel skirts, light bouncy dresses, tight tight tops...
Highest paid male model in the world, Renji was once quoted as saying "I don't get out of bed for less than ¥1,169,000." (It was originally a joke but is now often misquoted as: "I don't get in bed for less than ¥1,169,000.") Renji has always been a favorite of the ladies. With his chiseled features and hip-hop attitude, not to mention his full-body tribal tattoos which extend even to his face, he embodies the traditional Japanese ideal of male beauty.
In summer of 2004, Renji was pictured on the cover of Fangirl magazine wearing jeans and a sweatshirt, wet and with his hair down. This led many people to believe that he would be featured naked inside - he was not. The picture was a test photo before a Shinigami Quarterly photoshoot honoring the memory and celebrating the style of deceased boxer Joe Yabuki, which had been snuck out of the studio by a janitor. Inside the magazine was a brief article hardly worth front page mention that sketched out Renji's tattoos based on some paparazzi shots of Renji in a bathing suit on a private beach in Milan. SQ and Renji both sued Fangirl over the use of the images, but dropped the charges when Fangirl promised to contribute profit from the sales of the issue to Zabimaru House, an orphanage in the 78th district of Rukongai which Renji founded the year before. Shortly after this, Renji appeared in briefs and from all angles in high resolution in several Bleach ad campaigns, eliminating the need for tattoo speculation while simultaneously indulging (and affirming) rumors regarding the impressive size of his genitalia. Tite and Renji credit each other with the idea.
In 2006, Director Igarashi "Beat" Takuya tapped Renji to play the role of a lovestruck young Yakuza boss in his film "須王環の憂鬱" (English: The Melancholy of Suoh Tamaki), a remake of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night. Renji was at first hesitant to cross over into acting, but took the job when he found out he'd be working alongside Koyasu Takehito. Oddly enough, Igarashi opted to tone down Renji's gangster look for the movie, covering the facial tattoos with makeup and hair extensions to hide Renji's trademark hairline. The film won awards from the NYGLTFF, in part for Renji's believable and moe portrayal of the sexually confused but ultimately straight Casanova character.
"Chad's my big boy", Tite once said. "Every designer needs one. Someone with arms bigger than your other models. He's also my token foreigner. Say I'm going a photo spread, and I have Orihime in a pink dress. Now, this might not be the cutest dress I've ever designed. And Himetan might be having a bad day. She let some sunlight hit her or something. So the shoot's only looking maybe 80% as good as I want it to look. I call in Chad, put him in a grey sweater, stick him behind her, and BAM, Orihime's beautiful. 110%. She's small, she's light, she's glowing, everyone wants that dress now. But they don't realize, they don't need the dress. They need their own large Mexican boy standing behind them."
Rukia began modeling for Bleach shortly after Orihime, and it is commonly believed that she was hired to be the anti-Orihime. Oddly short for a model, with childlike features and plain coloring, Rukia provides much less of a presence than some of her louder coworkers - she looks quiet.
"She doesn't stand out. If you know to look for her, you see her and recognize her, but most people don't really know who she really is. Every time someone sees her face, they think she's some new hire. We get that every season. I think it frustrates her a bit. But it keeps her fresh. She's ageless. Every year, she's like the new transfer student," Ichigo once said, "She's everyone's kid sister, only she's legal and not related to you. Unless, of course, you're Kuchiki Byakuya."
Tite's "high class muse", Byakuya began working for Tite in 2004, when the two met through Byakuya's sister Rukia. The year saw the beginning of Tite's upscale couture "Hohō" line, a departure from the street clothes of the Bleach line. This is no coincidence; Tite admits he had no particular love for the suit until he saw Byakuya's face.
"[Byakuya] is nothing but clean lines. If you see him naked, it's like he's wearing a three-piece suit already. His face screams sophistication. He's symmetrical, flawless. He's like an angel, with huge white invisible wings," Tite said in a 2005 interview, "His hair, his hair is always neat, despite its length - I tried to make it messy once, and it wouldn't take. It has a mind of its own, and that mind has OCD."
Designer Yamada Akihiro once said of Bleach "These are the kind of clothes that public school 15-year-olds who want to be cool think are cool. The skateboarders and the potheads. The people who are going to die without having contributed anything to society." Within a month after the comment was made, three major fashion magazines reported it and then panned his RahXephon line as "dorky enough to get you beaten up at school, even if you're the gym teacher," "So bland that you suspect anyone who's wearing it to try to get you to buy a flower from them at the mall," and "[his girls' clothes are] so patently unwearable that the only people who will ever wear them will be models, and we know how much they contribute to society." He was bankrupt by the end of the year.
Famous People who wear Bleach
Bleach clothing is favored by many well-known celebrities. Olympic tae kwon do gold medalist Arisawa Tatsuki enjoys both the streetwear line for every day use and the couture line for special occasions. She's been seen wearing the clothes often before they street, prompting rumors romantically connecting her to everyone from Ichigo to Tite himself. She's also done a few "cameo" photo shoots for Tite, which is a more likely explanation. Action movie actress Shihōin Yoruichi also prefers the line, as costume designers for her films are well aware. Radio talk show host "Kon" often talks about Bleach news despite otherwise ignoring the world of fashion on his show, and he seems to have a particular fondness for Orihime. (As he is a radio personality, it is unknown whether he actually wears the line on a regular basis or not.) Former show model and current B-list TV personality Don Kanonji admits to liking Bleach, even though he normally claims to design all his own clothes. Architect designer Shiba Kūkaku wears Bleach and has collaborated with Tite Kubo on some design projects. Renowned interior designer and oversized furniture mogul Aizen Sousuke lists Bleach as one of his favorite clothing lines. He often wore Bleach when hostin his top-rated DIY interior design TV show "Home Improvement with Aizen", before being jailed for financial irregularities. His wife, surrealist painter Momo Hinamori is also known to be a fan; she and Kubo once entered a Bleach design at the Turner prize, but lost out to an unmade bed. Blind reggae musician Tousen Kaname also stated in an interview that he loves Bleach because of its vivid colors and eye-catching designs. How he came to this conclusion, no one knows. Pop artist Ichimaru Gin, infamous for his extendable 'microphone stand'(he swears he's not making up for anything...), states that the clothes bring a smile to his face, not that this is difficult. Grimmjow Jaegerjaquez and Ulquiorra Cifer, of Spanish rock band Espada, are also known to be fans, having embarked on a deal with Kubo, that he supply the band's clothing merchandise, often with philosophical quotations, on Ulquiorra's insistence. This has caused conflict with the band's manager, the notoriously work-shy Coyote Stark.
In the summer of 2006, a string of patient deaths focused the world's attention on the dangers involved in Reishi Surgery, particularly on kaizō konpaku or mod souling, that is, elective surgery to aesthetically improve some aspect of your soul.
Medical pundit Unohana Retsu called for the banning of the procedures, and blamed their popularity on the modeling industry. Among the people she named, Kurosaki Ichigo was listed for the unusually massive size of his zanpakutō, which she argued could not possibly be natural. Ichigo responded with fury and indignation. The natural large size of his zanpakutō was a matter of pride for him, and took center stage in his backlash. "There is no need to drag my zanpakutō through the mud," he is famously quoted as saying, to which Unohana responded "That's not mud."
In the end, the episode did more to reinforce the public's view of models as self-centered, uncaring morons than anything else. After his head cooled, Ichigo tried to reapproach the subject from a different angle, calling for increased regulation for Reishi Surgeons and procedures. In addition, he argued for improved diagnosis and treatment of soul dysmorphophobia, a mental disorder that causes one to doubt the pureness of his soul. Lastly, he repeatedly stressed that modeling has nothing to do with souls, and is purely a superficial thing, where the only important thing is how good someone looks, that regular people should only look to models as a standard of beauty. But the damage was done, and no one expects to ever hear the end of it.
In 2003, the tabloid Le Bount published a front page story claiming inside sources accusing Tite Kubo of hiring orphaned children in poor districts to work, in sweatshop conditions, in constructing the Bleach line. Tite immediately denied the claim, but publicly stated that Bleach was, in fact, made in factories in poorer nations. He rationalized this, arguing comparative advantage and purchasing power parity, but was met with cold blank stares from reporters who don't understand economics. He muttered something about maintaining humane and safe working conditions, pointed reporters to some UNICEF studies, and then retreated from the public eye for a full two months.
The story prompted a backlash against Bleach, as anti-globalization groups condemned Bleach for not keeping the jobs in Japan, where no one would have wanted them. It even prompted some of the Zabimaru House backers to pull out, fearing that Renji's orphanage plans were a front for the sweatshops.
It was later revealed that the "inside source" for Le Bount was an overheard conversation at a Shirow Masamune fashion show where Rukia was talking both about working with Tite Kubo and about Zabimaru House, which had just opened. The Le Bount "reporter" didn't recognize Rukia and assumed she was an orphan girl. This revelation did little to undo the damage caused by the story.
Sex, Lies, and Videotape
In early 2007, recently-contracted Bleach model Matsumoto Rangiku fell prey to public outcry when video footage was leaked over the internet showcasing her and fellow-model Abarai Renji engaged in a variety of lewd sexual acts. The two had recently met at a promotional photoshoot for the first time, and agreed in retrospect of the incident that their relationship was purely mercurial. Nevertheless, the footage inspired a range of mixed controversy, with many editorialists announcing their disdain about what a poor example such celebrity role models were setting for children and invalids.
When asked if he would like to apologize by the press, Renji responded with a resounding "No, I wouldn't. Matsumoto and I were both consenting adults at the time that video was made, and there’s nothing offensive about doing something that millions of people do every day. I only did what any other guy in my position would have done, especially since that position was on top of Matsumoto."
"It’s not the illicit sex that makes me angry," Tite said in response to the controversy. "On the contrary, I expect that from most of my models. No, what makes me angry is the wasted potential for product placement. Over half of the civilized world will likely see this footage, and probably at least one-third of the uncivilized world, and yet there isn’t a single Bleach logo in sight. Renji could have at least had the common courtesy to wear one of my hats while he was screwing Matsumoto. Even an ankle bracelet would have been better than nothing."
Although both participants in the scandal have seen criticism, the brunt of it has fallen not on Renji, but Matsumoto, precisely because of what she was wearing in the video – the signature Sandal-Clogs™ of the Urahara Shōten boutique.
"I swear I don’t know how those things got on my feet," she told one reporter in a confusing and often self-contradicting interview. "I didn’t notice them at all until I saw the video a second time, and I would have taken them off if I had realized what a mess they were going to make. It’s not like the damn things are comfortable, or even practical."
Analysts have estimated that the shoes are prominently visible in 83% of the video’s shots, in many cases due to the high elevation of Matsumoto’s legs.
Speculation as to the source of the video’s leak has, as a result, legitimately centered around Urahara Kisuke himself. The footage surfaced a mere week after another one of Urahara and Tite’s explosive disagreements, this time about which color most optimally pairs with neon pea-green. Despite the allegations, however, Urahara has denied having had any hand in the scandal, particularly noting that "the thought of driving a wedge between Tite and his newest hot model by releasing scandalous footage of her in my signature shoes hadn’t even flitted across my sexy young shopkeeper mind." Most people with half a brain believe he’s responsible.
Yet Tite seems unwilling to let Matsumoto go, even after her evident unfaithfulness to his product line:
"It’s true that she did a bad thing, but dropping Matsumoto would be like dropping... well... it would be like dropping two really, really gigantic boobs. If you’re in the fashion industry and you have someone with a cup size like hers under contract, you simply don’t fire them. She’s under fashion parole right now, and I still don’t know if I’ll use her for the upcoming season, but there’s no way that I’m terminating her employment. Urahara can eat a dick."
Since the video’s initial release, it has been removed from all of its online hosting sources but is now being officially distributed as a pornographic movie under the title Battle with the Bulges, and has already become a number-one seller in Asia, Europe, and America. Where its proceeds go has been a subject of debate, but considering that neither Renji nor Matsumoto have filed suits against the distributor, many people believe that the proceeds have gone towards Renji’s newest yacht and Matsumoto’s recent purchase of a small Caribbean island. Whatever the case, Tite has altered his modeling contracts as a result of the controversy; now all of his models are legally obligated to wear at least one article of Bleach paraphernalia when engaging in any form of sexual congress.
Recently a suit was filed against Tite by Yamamoto Genryūsai Shigekuni, President for Life of the Japan Modeling Society, accusing him of monopolizing the profession by imposing "harsh and unfair terms in the models contracts that hamper movement of artistic talent across the industry." Many believe that the suit was filed primarily because the Japan Modeling Society is actually a front for the Japanese pornography industry, which desperately wished to get hold of Tite's models, especially Kuchiki Byakuya. Tite called a press conference where he called on Parliament to "actively promote democracy by removing such wannabe dictators from the noble fashion industry, and get my vote in the process." The suit has since been dropped, with Yamamoto declining to comment. Urahara Kisuke was spotted smiling sinisterly near the Yamamoto mansion the day the suit was dropped, prompting rumors that he was the cause.
Urahara Kisuke and Tite Kubo
Bleach started as a clothing line exclusively for the then small boutique Urahara Shōten. After a fight between Tite Kubo and Urahara Kisuke in 2001, the clothing line and the store went their separate ways. Perhaps fueled by their new rivalry, Tite and Urahara brought their line and store respectively and separately from obscurity to the forefront of the fashion industry within a few years. Of course, the fashion industry is as much fueled by gossip and bile as it is by clothing and trends. Neither of these men find themselves able to shut up about their rivalry, and their personal differences are very much kept in the public eye.
"[Urahara] has a way of tricking everyone into doing all his work for him. He has great ideas, but he can't stay serious about anything for more than a few seconds. And the next thing you know, he's got you chained up at the bottom of a hole and he's beating you with that damned cane of his. Everyone talks about what a genius he is, and how his business model is new and exciting and everything, but he's hell to work with. His techniques suck and they're likely to kill you. He can suck my cock." Tite once said in an interview.
"To this day, Tite's a whiny kid. He has no team spirit. I mean come on, my techniques can kill people? Of course they can! This is fashion! If people aren't dying, it's boring. If your life isn't on the line, you're not doing it right." Urahara responded a few weeks later.
Oddly enough though, despite their bitter bitter hatred of each other, Tite and Urahara seem to make up with each other every few months, and for a week or so seem like they've patched everything up and are ready to work together. Urahara makes regular appearances in official Bleach promotional materials, and Tite regularly designs clothes to be Urahara Shōten exclusives for a week or so before he starts distributing the designs left and right.
This heated on-and-off relationship has convinced just about everyone that the two must have the best sex in the world.
Tite's coming out
In summer 2006, Tite announced his engagement to long time friend and collaborator Shiba Kūkaku.
No one believed him.
Within a week, no fewer than 18 different fashion magazines asked to interview him, and for each one, he accepted but left the interview within five minutes in a huff. He then hid from the public eye for two months, only to return in early August with a press release.
"What do I say? I say I'm straight but no one believes me. I work in an industry where everyone has to hate you in incredibly sexy ways, or you fail, and I've always been that kind of person, I guess. That's how I grew up. And apparently, all of that, the flamboyancy, the bitch fights with other men, apparently that's all considered gay or something. I'm not straight to create controversy, I'm not straight to piss people off. I'm straight because that's the way I am. I don't care what people think. I'm doing this for me." The press release concluded with a list of women he'd had sex with.
Shortly after, the engagement was broken off, with Kūkaku citing stress and Tite refusing to talk about it. People have speculated that he's actually a closet homosexual.