A fairy godmother, an overnight transformation, polyester turned into once-in-a-lifetime ball gowns. It may sound cliché, but for Tomo Koizumi, it became reality. For the last seven years, the 31-year-old Japanese designer, who is based in Tokyo, has been quietly making radically vibrant dresses created from acres of organza in topiary-like shapes and colours that run the gamut of the rainbow. Though pop stars including Lady Gaga and the Japanese girl group Perfume have worn his pieces, Koizumi doesn’t sell his clothes in stores and, until recently, he had never presented them during a fashion week. Accordingly, he remained largely unknown outside of Japan.
That was until the stylist Katie Grand introduced herself. Grand, the British consultant to Marc Jacobs and Miuccia Prada who has fostered the careers of designers like Matty Bovan and Giles Deacon, stumbled across Koizumi’s work on Instagram and was so taken aback by his saturated, over-the-top costumes — towering, enveloping pieces made to be worn in the spotlight — that she immediately offered to stage his debut fashion show in New York. Within a few weeks, the actress Gwendoline Christie and the models Bella Hadid and Joan Smalls posed in Koizumi’s dresses, forming a colourful tableau on the staircase of the Marc Jacobs boutique on Madison Avenue. The renowned stylist Guido Palau did the models’ hair; the industry icon Pat McGrath did their makeup; and Koizumi was heralded as the saving grace of an otherwise anodyne New York Fashion Week.
“Everything happened by Instagram,” says Koizumi, still in astonishment. “I already had some samples, but I had to create 14 more to have a full collection — it was just me and my assistant.” Koizumi’s dresses are not exactly everyday garments: Some are made from as much as 650 feet of fabric and are as wide as they are tall. He is uninterested in compromising his vision to create ready-to-wear for retailers (although he likes to point out his dresses are all machine washable — if you have a machine big enough). Instead, Koizumi makes custom dresses for individual clients — usually pop stars or stage performers — in his apartment studio in Tokyo, which he shares with his two pet cats, Khyikhyi and Paan.
“I’m always trying to make something eye-catching,” he explains on a trip to London, where he is visiting his boyfriend. “Fashion designers do everything, but I don’t make jackets or trousers — I only make dresses.” Part of his reluctance to expand his label stems from being self-taught. “I have limited technique, so I can’t do everything. But I can do what I want,” he says. Koizumi studied fine art in his hometown Chiba, a city 25 miles east of Tokyo, and he devoured fashion magazines as a teenager without internet access. It was the discovery of John Galliano’s work for Christian Dior — distinctive for its larger-than-life grandeur, corseted waists and exaggerated historicism — that ignited his passion for dressmaking. “I’m still following that dream in my own way,” says Koizumi, who taught himself to sew from books before assisting costume designers in Tokyo.
Although his favoured material looks like tulle — which fashion has seen plenty of in the voluminous mille-feuille dresses of Molly Goddard in London and Giambattista Valli in Paris — Koizumi’s designs are in fact made from a common type of Japanese polyester organza. He prefers the softness of its texture, and the wide variety of colour options (it comes in 170 shades). He chooses hues that evoke his personal influences: the kitschy vibrancy of the Harajuku neighbourhood of Tokyo; characters in “Sailor Moon,” a manga series he watched as a child; the bright funeral banners that his mother made from artificial flowers for a living. The result is striking, even extreme. His dresses resemble sea creatures with cartoonish proportions. “My work is not cool,” he insists. “Being cool is boring. I want to make something beautiful. Maybe it’s uncool-cool.”
While many designers are eager to accumulate as many stockists as possible, Koizumi remains cautious, despite substantial interest from retailers after his debut show. “I still feel like I’m not ready,” he says, though in a year, it may be time. Until then, he says, “I make custom-made things: costumes.” He’s currently working on his next collection of one-offs, which he will show during London Fashion Week in September. For now, Koizumi’s fairy-tale ending is only just beginning.
Related story: On Set | Tomo Koizumi
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