“TSUMORI CHISATO” is a fashion brand that is extremely popular among women for its unique style that blends cuteness with chicness. Designer Chisato Tsumori says her brand’s concept is to provide independent women with girly and sexy things that make them happy and let them daydream. Her clothes certainly seem to bring happiness to the wearers. We asked Tsumori, whose brand is on to its 29th year, about fashion design, her sources of inspiration, and her ideas for bringing happiness to people and the streets.
Looking back at the past, I feel I haven't changed
For the Tsumori Chisato Exhibition "WAKU WORK" (held Oct. 6 - 24, 2018), I gathered all the things I have made during the roughly 40 years of working in fashion design and tried to make an easy-to-understand presentation. The things I have created are the outcome of hours of exciting and engaging work, but gathering everything in one place for everyone to see was like having people look inside my head, and it was kind of embarrassing. I thought, "What will the visitor think on seeing this?" Sometimes, I myself am not sure what is going on inside my head. I've done all sorts of things, so I suppose that this jumbled atmosphere defines Chisato Tsumori. I don't mind chaos. I think the way the things were displayed at the exhibition showed my desire to infuse the whole place with my scent - to fill it with everything from my world.
The venue for the exhibition was 21_21 DESIGN SIGHT; I don't wish to offend Tadao Ando-san who designed it, but my childhood dream was to build a hut and make it completely and distinctively my own, and so with this exhibition, I turned the place into Chisato Tsumori's castle.
Looking back at the work I've done in the past, I feel that I haven't changed. At the exhibition, writing was placed in a showcase describing the concept for the brand "TSUMORI CHISATO" which I set up in 1990.
The words go: "Uninhibited by factors such as age and profession, I want to make the clothes I want to wear when I feel like wearing them. What matters to me most is expressing myself in a straightforward way. Pretty things are pretty. Nice things are nice. In the TSUMORI CHISATO world, there are sporty and folklore and feminine elements. My wish is that this world will always stay warm and serene and comfortable."
Since then, nothing has changed at all in the way I think and carry out my work. I think it's remarkable that I've continued like this for so long, and I feel grateful for still having an environment that allows me to make the things I like when I want to make them.
Tsumori Chisato Exhibition "WAKU WORK"
Chisato Tsumori's first solo exhibition held Oct.6 (Sat) - 24 (Wed) 2018 at Gallery 3, 21_21 DESIGN SIGHT. On display were archive items such as clothes of the Tsumori Chisato brand from the first Paris collection. Also exhibited were design sketches and Tsumori's personal belongings such as the collections of stuffed animals and Matryoshka doll accumulated over the years. Tsumori herself was in charge of the display down to the smallest detail.
21_21 DESIGN SIGHT
An exhibition facility in Tokyo Midtown founded by fashion designer Issey Miyake and built in 2007. Consisting of a basement and first floor, the roof is made to look like a piece of folded steel sheet; architect Tadao Ando designed it to express Miyake's concept of making clothes from "a piece of cloth." Chisato Tsumori's exhibition was held at Gallery 3, which is a space that opened in 2017 to mark the facility's 10th anniversary.
Photo: Masaya Yoshimura
Designing the clothes I personally would like to wear, just like thinking of what to eat
For me, designing clothes is similar to asking myself what kind of meal I want to have - "Shall I have a Chinese meal or a Japanese meal today?" Everyone basically likes to eat. Having meals is normal, and you never get tired of it - you can always eat. Making clothes is like having a meal; explaining it that way probably makes it simple and easy to understand.
Buying cloth and accumulating ideas is similar to storing food in the fridge - you might not use them immediately but they might be useful one day. Sometimes you mix materials which at first glance don't seem to match, and you can end up with something unexpectedly interesting - that's similar to what happens when you are cooking. I become very uneasy when I run out of stock. Of course, there are times when my brain is like the fridge in my kitchen - it's empty and the family is returning home soon for dinner... Oh, what am I to do?! It's like that. It feels a bit like that when an exhibition is drawing near, and I'm panicking. (laughs)
Having fun and sharing happiness with other people
I've always wanted to create things that are fun and that make people happy. Before launching TSUMORI CHISATO, I was chief designer at "I.S. chisato tsumori design" and I always had the wish to make interesting clothes that people could enjoy. In fact, I probably had that vague wish ever since I was small.
I.S. chisato tsumori design
A brand that Chitose Tsumori set up in 1983 after becoming chief designer at Issey Miyake International. The brand was formerly "ISSEY SPORT". The brand was restarted for the "Waku Work" exhibition and limited-version items such as T-shirts and blousons were sold at the exhibition venue.
As a child, I loved to draw. I drew things that every child draws such as tulips and girls, but I was pleased when people looked at my drawings and seemed interested or happy. Once, my father took my drawings to his workplace. He told me that the people at the company commented that I drew well. I was elated, and for a long time, I had dreams of becoming a manga artist. I am essentially that kindergarten child just grew bigger.
The motivating force for making clothes is the belief that what I find fun will also be fun for the people around me. I wish to share the happy feelings with people and connect with them. Maybe this is self-satisfaction, but I want to make clothes that I myself would like to wear. There is a real consumer within me. I create things with the belief that if I want something, there must be other women who feel the same way - if not in Japan, then in other countries.
The situation has changed slightly nowadays, but in Japan, there are not many opportunities to go to parties, and long dresses don't sell that much because women don't have the chance to wear them. Nonetheless, I sometimes make princess-style gowns, and they are popular in the summer in places like Cannes and Hong Kong. I think they are purchased by people who want to dress slightly differently than others.
"A threatened species" that goes against society's trend
Little girls delight in wearing ribbons and frills, don't they? It might be somewhat awkward to wear a big ribbon on your head when you are grown up, but your spirits are raised when you wear underwear that is subtly decorated with ribbons. No matter what our age, women will always like pretty things.
The clothes of the TSUMORI CHISATO brand are girlish, but also have a sexy air. Every woman has a girly aspect and a sexy aspect. Rather than being just pretty, it's more attractive to be also sexy or sporty or boyish; the fun thing about clothes is that you can express yourself in different ways according to the way you feel on a certain day. In that regard, women have more choices than men; we can express ourselves with clothes and cosmetics and be happy every day.
People have their own definition of happiness, but the one thing I can do is to make clothes that cheers up the wearer so that the happy feeling can be shared by others. When a person is happy, the people around become happy too. On the other hand, negative feelings like sadness and irritability can also be contagious; it's much better for positive feelings to be transferred.
I feel a bit bashful about using the word "love", but I think clothes need to be made lovingly. The wearer is sensitive and can tell whether a piece of clothing has been made with love or not. There is warmth in things that have been made by hand; even a sketch drawn by hand on paper seems to convey more love than a drawing on a tablet. I often sense a story behind textiles and I have a fondness for natural materials. When something is carefully made, the thoughts of a person go into it, and you can feel the power. Now we live in times when things are becoming more efficient, and it has become increasingly difficult to do work by hand, but there is love in things that are handmade. I make clothes in a way that goes against the trend, so I call myself a threatened species.
Cultivating and exhibiting the aesthetic sensibility of children
A woman and her seven-year-old daughter once came to my exhibition. The mother told me that her girl had been expressing a wish to become a fashion designer since she was six and that she is currently going to a fashion school for children. She said that they do things like coloring pages at first, and then eventually, with the support of the teachers, they hold a fashion show. It's amazing, isn't it? I also know a girl of about five whose parents are Italian and Japanese respectively. Apparently this little girl decides by herself what to wear every day. When I was their age, I was running about in the fields and drawing on the ground with a stick. Now that I think of it, I wasn't at all grown-up. (laughs)
Aside from art schools and fashion schools, I think we ought to have all kinds of places where children can learn about fashion and design and develop their abilities. If you want to learn the technical vocabulary and skills, I suppose the quickest and convenient way is to go to an art school or fashion school, but it would be ideal if, before that stage, children could go to places where they can have fun and cultivate an interest in fashion and design. I think it would be interesting to have more things in the world which reflect children's sensibilities. Children draw such powerful pictures - their drawings are cute in a way that cannot be imitated by grownups.
Perhaps events could be held where children draw freely on T-shirts for example; it might be interesting to have a "Children's T-shirt Exhibition" or "Children and Design" exhibition. Visitors will get a sense of hope and become happy. Children are all really geniuses. The good thing is that they don't scheme - they are pure and don't think about sales. (laughs)
The need for more greenery and places to relax
In the '80s I often visited the Axis Gallery, but Roppongi had an image of being an entertainment district, so I didn't have a strong link with the area. I personally feel though, that after Tokyo Midtown was built, the image of Roppongi was enhanced. I like the refreshing park around 21_21 DESIGN SIGHT, but it would be nice if Roppongi, and the rest of Tokyo, had cleaner air and more greenery so that people could relax a bit more.
While New York is also a big city, it is dotted with small parks, and contrary to what you might expect, the people are close to nature. In Tokyo though, there are only a few large parks, and the small parks are tiny spaces for children to play in; if you are not with a child, you hesitate to go there. In the neighborhood where I live, there is very little greenery. I walk for 200 meters and I still might not see any trees. And even when I finally come to a space with greenery, the ground is likely to be covered with cement, and I can't relax.
In Paris, when I'm walking the streets and feel like having tea, I can easily find a place - there are so many establishments to choose from. And there are many places with terraces; the people abroad love spending their time outdoors don't they? But sometimes there are terraces where the air is not clean and you wonder whether the people are really relaxing. In Tokyo, you have to make an effort to find a place where you can sit down and have coffee. Instead of relaxing outdoors, perhaps the Japanese feel more comfortable being indoors. There are many terraces in Tokyo Midtown which is apparently an unusual thing in Tokyo; I think an affluent area is one where there are many places for people to relax on an everyday basis.
Being refreshed and inspired on trips around the world
New York is an interesting place with streets that are stimulating, but the colors in Paris look different, don't you think? Things that have a hard and clear appearance in Japan look more romantic in Paris. Maybe it's because the color of the sky is different. Michelangelo was Italian, but the skies of Paris look like the skies Michelangelo painted - they have the appearance of being covered with thin silk gauze. The skies in Tokyo are so clear and make me think of sports day. (laughs)
The inspiration for the spring and summer collection of 2019 came from my trip to Egypt. I drew pictures of papyrus flowers and I tried to recreate atmosphere of the River Nile - the sparkling river I saw on a cruise there left a deep impression on me. Traveling allows me to gain hints for making clothes, and also to refresh myself and take part in cultural exchange. It's such fun to learn about different countries, cultures and lifestyles. Japan is an island country and when I go abroad, I realize how blank-minded I tend to be in everyday life. The memories of my travels to different countries are often expressed in the clothes I design.
Spring-Summer 2019 Collection
The theme is "Exotic Experience".Arranging the costumes from ancient
wall paintings to modern days or boldly hand-painting Tutankhamen, Ms.Tsumori expresses the mysterious views and styles she encountered in Egyptian Valley of the Kings in a colourful, contemporary way.
Wellness is just as important as happiness
In April, I published a book called "Tsumori Chisato" which covers all the work I've done so far. In October, I had my first solo exhibition; it was purely coincidental, but this year turned out to be year of compilation. I don't feel any pressure to do anything different, but one new project I undertook was the relaunch of "I.S." Miyake Issey-san is the reason I decided to become a designer; when I was a student, I entered a competition because I wanted Miyake-san to see my work. After I graduated from school, I was given the opportunity to work under him, and it was thanks to Miyake-san that I was able to hold my recent exhibition and restart "I.S.".
Published in March 2018 and sold simultaneously in Japan and abroad, the book traces the history of the brand "TSUMORI CHISATO". The book offers a glimpse of Tsumori's carefree imagination through Tsumori's drawings, sketches, designs for prints used in the brand, and past collections.Taku Satoh was in charge of art direction for the book.
When I look at what I made in the past such as for "I.S." and "TSUMORI CHISATO", there are so many clothes that make me think, "This could be worn today!" There's the proverb that we learn new things by studying the past. I am often saying to myself, "I'd forgotten that I made this!" and "Perhaps I could use the same techniques again?" I ponder about remaking some of the things I made. After all, I can boldly do that and not feel guilty or anything.
Health and food are what personally interest me at the moment. To do work, both are important, and I feel that health and food are very much interconnected. From now on, I would like to focus on clothes that enhance wellness. Happiness is important, but so is wellness. We ought to aim to be both happy and well.