Building dreams with ruffles: Tomo Koizumi x Emilio Pucci

Maximalists itching to dress up this summer can look forward to Tomo Koizumi’s collaboration with Pucci. The Japanese designer talks to Zaneta Cheng about staying true to one’s dreams and how this collaboration brought his pieces off the runway and into day-to-day wardrobes

Photo: Tomo Koizumi

Fashion designer Tomo Koizumi knows a thing or two about dreams. For one, he’s been busily turning them into reality for the past decade. After catching the attention of Perfume, one of Japan’s most popular girl bands, who very early on commissioned him to create a series of costumes while he was a student of fine arts at National Chiba University, Lady Gaga wore a piece from his “Ballet” collection in 2016 as she was leaving Japan during her tour for the album Joanne, and soon the designer had an early foothold in the Japanese market as a creator of joyously vibrant and arresting pieces.

Two years later, Instagram brought Koizumi’s Starburst-coloured, ruffled profusions to the eyeballs of designer Giles Deacon who showed them to his friend, stylist and editor Katie Grand. Like a fairy godmother, Grand brought Koizumi and his label to New York Fashion Week, where his debut was an instant success, feted by editors around the globe. Before long the designer saw pieces from his autumn/winter 2019 collection worn by models and actresses the likes of Bella Hadid, Joan Smalls and Emily Ratajkowski. Now two years in, Koizumi has designed a dress for the Met Gala, is a co-winner of the 2020 LVMH Prize and has a collaboration with Pucci underway.

How did the designer take his Cinderella transformation? “I was a bit nervous after Katie Grand contacted me on Instagram and decided to support me by holding a fashion show in New York,” he says. “I thought, ‘I have to say yes to the biggest opportunity in my career.’ I had some samples ready but I had to create more to have a full collection and it was just me and my assistant so we really did our best to make it happen!”

Having made his otherworldly frothy technicolour pieces for more than five years before Grand spotted his work, Koizumi’s designs were recognised in his home country as a costumes rather than fashion, which explains the limited production and smaller team.

“I was working as a costume designer because I love big gowns. But there was not much occasion to dress in big gowns in Japan, so I found my way in the entertainment industry,” he says. “Making one-off pieces is such precious work for me, so I decided to create theatrical and eye-catching designs. But members of the fashion industry in Japan thought it was costume, not fashion, which is why I started thinking the same.”

Despite his success, Koizumi has resisted commercialising his pieces. “Especially during this uncertain time, I thought starting a new business in a more commercial way wasn’t a good idea,” he says. “I prefer to keep the focus on custom-made items, keeping myself small, keeping myself independent and trying to make something really different to other designers.”

But even as Koizumi insists on small output, brands and buyers have come knocking. “Tomo is doing something we haven’t seen before, and that’s something we always look for with new designers,” says Libby Page, senior fashion market editor at Net-a-Porter. “His creations spark instant joy, which is something that’s really needed in the current climate. The designers are the epitome of the optimism that we are craving and looking to.

Photo: Tomo Koizumi

“We’ve been trying to find a way to work with Tomo since his standout NYFW show but as he’s not set up as a brand, we found it was harder to collaborate. Our buyers met with him in Tokyo to try and work something out and when we heard of the collaboration with Emilio Pucci, it was too good of an opportunity to pass up.”

In September 2020, Koizumi designed a collaboration with Pucci to launch in summer 2021. “I think we are united by our shared passion for colour, a similar idea of femininity and a belief that fashion is meant to spray joy and optimism,” Koizumi says of the project.

And spray it does indeed, because the capsule, while commercial, still contains the rainbow tulle that is now a hallmark of Koizumi’s brand. The collection remains Koizumi’s personal expression of colour and form, even after he spent hours sifting through the Pucci archives and house codes.

“The Pucci creative team helped me a lot, providing me with books and samples from the house’s archive where I took inspiration,” says Koizumi. “We did a lot of research into archive prints and we decided to use the vetrate print from 1966 in order to transform a two-dimensional pattern into three-dimensional creations. Visually it looks like a print, but it’s just an effect created with my own technique.”

The result is a series of pieces made from layers of yellow, white, pink and peach tulle, arranged into gathered swirls to mimic the vetrate print. The collection comprises bags, slides, playsuits, dresses, tops and skirts. There’s also an all-white cape to suit a client perhaps more minimalistically minded.

And while most of us know that bibbity-bobbity-boo might turn a pumpkin into a carriage, Koizumi won’t let us in on his magic spells so easily. “I invented the technique of ruffles for costume design, a field where I started my career. I like how it looks sculptural. The process is… kind of secret!” Koizumi exclaims. “I never share it because it has become a signature of my design. It’s very recognisable and I love when people can tell it’s one of my creations at first glance.”

For those who think that tracksuits and austerity may have eclipsed dressier options, Koizumi is making his pieces to prove them wrong. Is it a sign of the times? Perhaps the past year has propelled a yearning for fantasy. Perhaps fairy tales are coming true. Koizumi’s own trajectory seems to suggest that it’s possible.

Photo: Tomo Koizumi

“The pandemic gave me even stronger belief in my thoughts. It pushed me to make bigger and stronger pieces,” he says. “I know my style is really alternative, but I would tell people that you can find your own way to survive and express yourself. I had been making ruffled designs for more than five years before Katie Grand brought me to the fashion stage.  After the success of the New York fashion show, I see now that fashion is any kind of creative expression.”

See also: Gemma Chan spotlights Asian designers on Raya press tour

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