The making of: Tour de Couture in Tokyo

Hotel Okura Tokyo played a huge part in the first episode of Tour de Couture, both as a featured character of the episode and as a driving inspiration behind the whole Tour de Couture travel series. Being Nicole’s favorite hotel in the world, it makes almost serendipitous sense that its ending would be a catalyst in TdC’s beginning.

Speaking of serendipitous, many of the organizational aspects of preparing for filming the episode came together just a couple of months before filming began.

This all came together at the last moment effortlessly which makes me feel it was all meant to be. [...] I think we got the whole crew together just a month or two before going to Japan. [...] Everyone was enthusiastic about the project and it’s still amazing to me how we got organized so quickly.” -Nicole Reina

Leaning on friends from around the world, as well as local connections, Nicole was able to find Dagmar Ege to direct, Birgit Moller to film, Mitsuhiro Honda to photograph, and a makeup and hair crew to help her and travel companion, Tziporah Salamon, get ready for their closeups.

The Tour de Couture cast and crew at the Hotel Okura.

The Tour de Couture cast and crew at the Hotel Okura.

Tziporah, a fellow fashion aficionado and appreciator of fine craftsmanship and unique modernist design, was the first person to pop into Nicole’s mind when looking for a travel partner for the trip. Wanting to soak in the last days of the original Main Wing of the Okura, Nicole and Tziporah journeyed to the hotel in an effort to preserve its atmosphere and memory through documentary-like film. But, as it was Tziporah’s first time in Japan, Nicole also wanted her to have a fuller experience of what Japan is like.

I wanted to show Tziporah the old and new Tokyo. I think we had the full experience, from the traditional tea ceremony to more modern theme restaurants.” -Nicole Reina

Tziporah getting ready for filming.

Tziporah getting ready for filming.

Nonetheless, putting together the first episode of TdC was still an enormous labor of love for Nicole.

Getting a crew, flights, and hotels for everyone - all at the last minute - was a big challenge. I organized everything by myself since we were not a big budget project. I was the host of the program, director, tour guide, and project manager and I did it all while being very jet-lagged. I’m exhausted just thinking about it!” -Nicole Reina


Of course, the travel aspect was just one piece of the puzzle. Incorporating her palpable love of fashion into Tour de Couture was always a foundational part of the series and Nicole was able to do this with the help of vintage shops, modern designers, and a few custom-made pieces.

Most outfits were vintage which were sourced from Fashion by Robert Black and Vintage by Misty, but others were custom-made and a few were from modern designers. Most importantly, I wanted bold colorful looks and I tried to use colors that also complemented the interior of Hotel Okura.” -Nicole Reina

Waking up in the middle of the night to start with hair and makeup before getting dressed to complete the look for some early-morning shoots is a memory that sticks in Nicole’s mind when reflecting back on the trip. The exhaustion, coupled with jetlag, was somewhat ameliorated by an always punctual and professional crew to work with.

Getting a touch-up between shots.

Getting a touch-up between shots.

I was very lucky that my hair and makeup ladies were familiar with how to wear a kimono to help dress me. It’s not easy to do it on one's own. I’m so grateful to everyone who woke up at 3:00am to help get these looks accomplished.” -Nicole Reina

Most of the outfits and hairstyles featured in this episode of Tour de Couture were created in collaboration with the stylists, using Nicole’s vision for the final look as the inspiration.

I really love all of the hairstyles. They were all so detailed so it’s difficult to choose a favorite. My hair and makeup crew in Tokyo are very talented ladies who work with the top fashion designers and I’m lucky to have worked with them. I will say the hair-bow hairstyle with the kimono look was one of my favorites because it was very avantgarde and not an everyday look.” -Nicole Reina

Some of the filming had to occur in the early hours of the day to ensure that details of the hotel could be captured without distracting (or being distracted by) other guests and staff.

Capturing the Okura’s characteristic corners in the early morning quiet.

Capturing the Okura’s characteristic corners in the early morning quiet.

Filming in other locations, such as the karaoke bar and vintage kimono shop, were spontaneous, while others, like the traditional tea ceremony and Kawaii Monster Cafe, were planned.

We spent 10 days filming in Tokyo. Most of our days were spent exploring every last nook of the Okura.” -Nicole Reina

Travel partners

Even though a lot of the trip was spent inside the hotel itself, Nicole was excited to show Tziporah more of Tokyo and was amused to see the crew experience some culture shock while putting the film together.

I had been to Japan many times before this project, but it was the film crew and Tziporah’s first time and I could see them adapting to some of the unique ways of Japan.” -Nicole Reina

Tziporah and the legendary Hotel Okura facade.

Tziporah and the legendary Hotel Okura facade.

Connecting with the crew and Tziporah beyond filming was an especially fond part of the trip for Nicole.

[Tziporah and I] met a little before traveling to Tokyo for the film. I remember hanging out in the hotel room at night and sharing life stories and giggles. I remember how in awe Tziporah was at the tea ceremony and how she could spend hours looking at vintage kimono shops. We are genuinely friends outside from having worked together.” -Nicole Reina

As she reflects back on the trip to Japan, the people that she was there with pop up time and time again, interspersed with the bittersweet memories of her last stay at the Okura.

After a long, early morning of shooting I loved when we all took breakfast together. We tried the amazing french toast and just chatted about life. I just love connecting with people and it was so nice when we had time in between shooting to get to know about everyone’s life. Especially Tziporah, she has had a very interesting life.” -Nicole Reina

Moments worth remembering behind the scenes at Hotel Okura.

Moments worth remembering behind the scenes at Hotel Okura.

The moral of the story

Ultimately, a trip to Tokyo that was inspired by a loss for Nicole - the loss of her most favorite hotel in the world - led to new connections, fond memories, and experiences worth preserving. And that’s the moral of the story behind the first episode of Tour de Couture: some things are worth preserving.

I left Tokyo feeling a little disconnected from a city I once felt very connected to. It was a big disappointment Hotel Okura was demolished and I imagine other buildings of that same era were torn down in preparation for the Olympic games. I feel a little piece of the charm is missing now. I will go back to Japan, but I won’t go to see the new Okura. That would be too disappointing for me. I would experience feelings of grief.” -Nicole Reina

Behind the ScenesSonia Motisca