Japanese designer looks on the bright side

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 12 May, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 12 May, 2010, 12:00am

Most designers will say that black is a chic and safe bet when it comes to clothes. But for Japanese designer Tsumori Chisato, the colour should be used with caution, if at all.

'I have always been different. I like my way. I am not crazy about black. Of course, sometimes you need a bit of black, it's part of every collection, but I try to make it light or use it as an accent - maybe I'll use a shiny fabric or add sequins to it, so it's more me,' she says, wrinkling her nose at the thought.

Chisato is an anomaly in a world where black rules the roost. Even today, sitting in a room filled with people dressed head to toe in black, she is a breath of fresh air in her rainbow-coloured dress dotted with colourful sparkles. While her compatriots such as Yamamoto and Kawakubo were shocking Paris with their all-black collections in the 1980s, the modest designer was making her own mark in Japan with her whimsical and colourful designs that appeal to chic, confident and feminine women (loyal fans include Maggie Cheung and Audrey Tatou). After 20-plus years in the industry, she now counts customers across the globe, including in Hong Kong where she has three free-standing boutiques and holds regular fashion shows (her next will be held next month at the Helena May, followed by another in Tokyo).

'I design for myself and what I want to wear. Women designers are like this, which is why we have a strong following. People in Hong Kong love colour, which is why I think we are popular. They have a positive outlook, which I like. I want my clothes to make people happy; why else design?' she says.

Chisato didn't always want to be a fashion designer, preferring to listen to music and draw comics. When those pursuits didn't show future prospects ('I still love to sing although I am not very good at it,' the designer says), she settled on fashion design and enrolled at Tokyo's famed Bunka, where she discovered a love for prints and bright colours.

Her big break came in 1977 when she entered a fashion competition judged by designer Issey Miyake. Soon after, Miyake invited her to join his team, where she worked for his main line and later Issey Sports. In 1990 he urged her to launch her own label, under his sister company A-net.

'I love cute things but Mr Miyake likes dynamic things so you can imagine the conflict there. He suggested I make things more my style, which is why my line's inspiration always comes from me and how I live my life. It's happy, colourful, pretty and poetic. It's for people like me who love colour, who love food, who enjoy life. We need to bring this back to fashion,' she says.

A quick glance at her spring collection testifies to this philosophy. Inspired by cartoon character Doraemon and his magical pocket, the line features all elements of nature, with flora, fauna and flying-swallow prints on layered separates featuring scalloped trims, ruffles and other feminine details. The look is magical, almost surreal, with unusual prints, many of them designed by Chisato.

'Many of my prints are drawn by my friends, but for spring I did them all myself. I choose the colour but fabric and design are the starting points. I love fabrics, the brighter the better,' she says.

While this philosophy has been successful for the designer for the past two decades, she does admit that her choices may not necessarily appeal to everyone. Too much colour can be intimidating for some women, and because of this she has started to incorporate pieces that are toned down and easier to wear.

'With colour some people find it difficult - it takes a certain woman to wear it. That being said, I usually use more colour in my show and balance it out with more wearable pieces in the showroom. I love jeans and T-shirts, so I want my pieces to mix and match with every woman's wardrobe. We are women - we need a good mix of easy pieces and more fun, embellished pieces,' she says.