Akira Iso­gawa, fash­ion de­signer, 53

The Weekend Australian - Magazine - - Front Page - By Gly­nis Traill-Nash ◖ ◗

Your birth­day is on Christ­mas Day – was that an­noy­ing when you were lit­tle? Christ­mas is all about ex­chang­ing gifts and par­ties in Ja­pan, not so much about vis­it­ing church or fam­ily lunch. So all of my friends were re­ceiv­ing gor­geous gifts on the same day – it did make me feel com­pletely flat.

Af­ter ar­riv­ing in Aus­tralia from Ky­oto in 1986, you worked as a tour guide… Yes, un­til the mid-1990s there were a lot of Ja­pa­nese tourists, more than now. Even in the first years of my la­bel, 50 per cent of my time was de­voted to tour guid­ing – that’s how I earnt money. In Ja­pan, the guide is con­sid­ered a source of en­ter­tain­ment for the tourists, so I had to lead them in singing Waltz­ing Matilda, that sort of thing. It was re­ally naff.

What were the ’80s like for you, fash­ion-wise? When I came here I couldn’t find shops I liked. Then, about six months af­ter I ar­rived, some­one took me to a RAT party – short for Recre­ational Art Team – and that’s when I felt, “This is it.” Ev­ery­one made their own clothes and looked fab­u­lous. It was a turn­ing point for me cre­atively. I started study­ing fash­ion af­ter that.

Your work is of­ten de­scribed as a true ex­pres­sion of your Ja­pa­nese her­itage and Aus­tralian home. What does each bring? I fol­low the Ja­pa­nese phi­los­o­phy of wabi-sabi, which is very hum­ble – you ap­pre­ci­ate things as they are. If there is a crack in the teacup, let’s glo­rify the crack and mend it with gold. Wabi-sabi feels as if it re­lates to the move­ment of sus­tain­able fash­ion. And Aus­tralia for me means free­dom, not hav­ing any pre­con­cep­tions of what things are meant to look like. With the styling es­pe­cially, it’s the colour com­bi­na­tions, or lay­er­ing short and long-sleeve T-shirts. It’s about a sense of the un­ex­pected.

You dug into 25 years of ar­chives for a new ex­hi­bi­tion at Syd­ney’s Mu­seum of Ap­plied Arts & Sciences. Were there any sur­prises? I pulled out one piece to show cu­ra­tor Roger Leong that was quite ex­per­i­men­tal, us­ing la­tex over printed or­ganza. The la­tex com­pletely dis­in­te­grated in my hands in front of us. Roger wasn’t sur­prised – he knew it could hap­pen – but I was re­ally em­bar­rassed.

What’s the ear­li­est piece in the show? It’s a top from 1994, heav­ily in­spired by [Bel­gian de­signer Mar­tin] Margiela. When I first saw Margiela gar­ments I nearly fainted. I had never seen any­thing like it: jeans and jack­ets all hand-painted in heavy pig­ment. This top is made with silk geor­gette var­nished with liq­uid shel­lac that made it rock hard – it could stand up on the desk. Af­ter I used it in a show I thought it was garbage, so I threw it in the bin. Chris­tiane [Lehmann, Iso­gawa’s muse and artist] thought it was good enough to keep, and pulled it out.

You travel a lot for work. Any tips? Be­cause I usu­ally stay such a short time I never ad­just to lo­cal time, so I haven’t dealt with jet-lag for a long time. And they say it’s best to stay al­co­hol-free on the flight, so I’ve learnt to do that. But then I cheat a lit­tle bit be­cause be­fore the flight I have a few gins…

You still make wed­ding dresses for clients – is that a dif­fer­ent kind of pres­sure? There’s def­i­nitely a sense of re­spon­si­bil­ity, mak­ing sure the brides are to­tally happy with what they’ve got – be­cause it’s meant to hap­pen once in a life­time. But my favourite is the sec­ond mar­riage bride. They are less ner­vous and do not seek ap­proval from any­one. Akira Iso­gawa’s ex­hi­bi­tion is at MAAS (Pow­er­house Mu­seum) in Syd­ney from Dec 15. maas.mu­seum

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