Since childhood, designer Hiroko Koshino was highly influenced by the sensual beauty of Japanese aesthetics, particularly that of kimonos, and westernized styles and silhouettes. Hiroko has been a fashion powerhouse since the 1960s with her expert fusion of east meets west as well as blurring the lines between art and fashion. Though her fashion career skyrocketed in the 1970s, more recently her artwork has begun to receive worldwide acclaim. Hiroko further expanded her repertoire by collaborating with renowned Japanese tabletop ceramics company Nikko. Her collection, Sumi-No-Toki, was awarded the Tableware International Licensed Collaboration award. The grouping consists of four designs that layer different textures and decals into the bone china to achieve the sense of depth that Hiroko’s sumi ink designs project.
Was there a defining moment in your career, and if so, how did it shape you as a designer?
It was in the 1970s that my career began to soar. I presented a collection in Tokyo as part of TD6, the premier Tokyo fashion show, and also made my first international debut at Alta Moda, Rome, becoming the first Japanese designer to ever participate in the show. The works I created in collaboration with Italian traditional craftsmen truly amazed people in Rome, leaving a long-lasting impression and also leading to a 30-page special feature in Harper’s Bazaar Italy. It was this period when my identity and “the beauty of the fusion of the east and the west” began to be truly and extensively appreciated.
What is the basis of your design strategy?
The basis of my concept design and fashion is very personal. The beauty of nature in Japan and the environment that I live in are the foundation of my design inspiration. At a very young age I knew I wanted to become a painter before I wanted to become a fashion designer. My relationship with nature and my appreciation of its beauty create the foundation of my design sensitivity. Nature is always the base of my inspiration!
That is how I am!
How do you know when to stick it out and when to let go of an idea?
I began my artistic studies quite early on in life! My mother was a well-known designer in Osaka, Japan and her influence was paramount to the life choices that I made. Thus, I started, at least mentally, to become an artist and a designer at a very young age.
I knew what I wanted to do with my life, but before I established my career, I wanted to build an environment where I could be alone, by myself, surrounded by nature. So, I built an amazing house designed by the renowned architect, Tadao Ando. I wanted to build a center to cultivate my artistic sensitivity. A center to focus on what I value and what I do not value in terms of artistic sensitivity.
In Japan, there is a saying “jiku ga burenai”, which means “being centered”, or, “being true to the invariable principle within”. My first priority was to build my center and then begin painting and designing. Once I was mentally centered I could begin my artistic endeavors. My first priority is always being mentally centered and continue from this point in all that I do.
Is it difficult to strike a balance between your personal design aesthetic and the objective for commercial success?
That is another good question to ask. As an artist my work does not change really. My work is an expression of my aesthetic sensitivity. Fashion is not art, it is an artistic expression.
My goal is to translate my aesthetic to products but not necessarily with the intention of making a lot of money. It is instinctual and spiritual, not necessarily commercial. I am not intentionally creating a business because I do not think this is the right approach. I have a mental and spiritual connection with my customer. I believe that being curious about what is going on in the world helps me to understand market needs. My priority and inspiration are a bit different. It is about instinctively feeling the needs of the market from the depth of my soul.
Outside of design, what things inspire you and influence your work?
Nature, my environment and the Japanese philosophy, “The Center Does Not Move”
If you were not a designer, is there another career path that intrigues you?
Basically, I became successful as a fashion designer first and reached a certain level of achievement. I now can realize what I wanted to be from the beginning, a painter. I spend 50% of my time painting and 50% of my time on fashion design.
My career as a fashion designer has spanned almost 60 years! So, fashion design comes almost naturally to me. My passion now is painting, and I feel so fortunate that at my age and at this point in my career I am able to do what I love the most!
I am very spiritual and feel that doing fashion only is not enough. When I paint, which I believe is a purer form of my aesthetic sensibility, I can better fulfill myself and I am able to elevate my fashion designs to a higher level of expression.
Is there one person who you admire or consider to be your greatest mentor or design inspiration?
As an artist, Picasso, and, as a fashion designer, Coco Chanel.
Is there anything else you would like to share with us regarding design and your career as a designer?
I have thousands! But recently I published a book, “HIROKO KOSHINO | it is as it is”—the book features my collection looks from 1978 to 2017 Autumn/Winter and paintings that I drew over the years. The book is a culmination of myself and shares my history of creation.
What advice would you give to young designers who are just starting out in a commercial marketplace?
It is an age of information, which is a good thing, but at the same time, it may not be so good. Without editing this sea of information, one might lose who she or he is exactly! So younger people need to learn how to choose what they see and choose what they hear instead of being exposed to everything which might lead to self-confusion in the end.
So basically, for example, it is quite easy to get information from here or there, read it and create something, but that is not true creation. It is a kind of rearranging things so in order to truly create something, it has to come from the heart. It is important for young people to truly build oneself first and foremost.
What is most important, is to have continuity from the beginning throughout your life and career, to have something inside of you that is never changing, “jiku ga burenai” ”being true to the invariable principle within”.