Studio Visit: Kei Kagami Masterclass

The Japanese designer and YKK ambassador discusses radical design and functional beauty

Fashion Studio VIsit
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Dazed and YKK join forces to celebrate the spirit of fashion craftsmanship for the 2013 edition of the International Talent Support’s ITS ACCESSORIES competition. The contest is sponsored by the Japanese fastening manufacturer giant, which selects a small group of upcoming designers to reinterpret their products through innovative creative solutions. Aside from a prize of €10,000 for the winner, all finalists will be able to glean advice through their process with exceptional womenswear/accessories designer and YKK ambassador Kei Kagami, who also teaches hands-on workshops for the company at prestigious fashion schools around the world. In a prelude to our series of upcoming studio visits to ITS finalists of the past and present, Dazed stopped by his North London studio to learn about Kagami’s work methods and commitment to artisanal design.

THE KAGAMI WORKSPACE

No doubt about it, Kei Kagami lives and breathes the creative process. His workspace is filled with all aspects of it: multiple clothing rails full of archive pieces, rows upon rows of fascinating footwear constructions, mannequins hung with brand label tags, stacks and stack of fabrics, sewing machines, mechanical tools, even a picture of him riding a motorcycle from his Selfridges Bright Young Things window installation. “Francis Bacon’s studio really encouraged me. Basically it’s a mess but I thought it was brilliant,” he laughs. But perhaps the abundance of materials and creations only helps envelope the designer all the more in his creative world. Classical instrumental music plays in the background, adding a sense of zen-like concentration to the sensory overload of it all.

TRAINED IN TOKYO

Hailing from Tokyo, Kagami’s original career path saw him pursue a bachelor’s degree in architecture, something he soon supplemented with a simultaneous tailoring diploma course at Bunka Fashion College. “At that time I didn’t really put a boundary between fashion or architecture. For me it was one and the same thing: starting from something flat and two-dimensional and making it three-dimensional,” he explains. However, fashion soon won him over. “I just wanted to create something for myself and express what I wanted. With clothing, I can design, draw patterns, stitch and wear it. I thought that is fantastic. I can express myself in each process and manage everything by myself up until the very end,” Kagami says.

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WORKING ALONGSIDE HIS HERO

Having held a fascination for all things British since his childhood, the young designer came to London in 1989 to work alongside his hero John Galliano. After three seasons, the studio declared bankruptcy and relocated to Paris. Kagami decided to stay in London and enroll in the MA Fashion course at Saint Martins college, graduating alongside Alexander McQueen and Wakako Kishimoto. But while some of his peers went on to have houses backed by major luxury groups, Kagami stayed true to his craft-focused roots. “I don’t really like fashion. I love clothes, creation and making conceptual things,” he openly admits, adding: “I’d never been fascinated by money. If you get a job from a commercial company, obviously you get paid a lot, but I rather preferred making what I wanted.”

A LOVE OF CRAFTMANSHIP

Kagami describes his love for handmade and unusual creations as “a matter of craftsmanship. I don’t want to have a boundary between thinking and actual making. Intrinsic, genuine creation is both. I have always had that kind of spirit.” When it comes to this introverted style of production, the designer literally calls his studio home. “I have a favourite area in the back of my studio, surrounded by many machineries, which I love. Usually we work on shoes there. Sometimes when things are busy, I will sleep in my studio upstairs and often go to this space on my own before I go to bed,” he says.

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FUNCTIONAL BEAUTY

His creation over a corporate way of thinking struck a chord with YKK, who began their collaboration with the designer when he proposed a design to them in 1998. Said piece was a dress constructed entirely of zippers. “The idea was about using zips as a textile but still each piece had a function. I don’t like using things just for decoration. Each part has a meaning. That functional beauty is an important element for me,” Kagami states. Since then, the international manufacturer has continued to work closely with the designer. “I like working for YKK because it has an educational value and is not business-minded,” he says. With the company’s backing, he has been able to create radical designs like resin fibreglass and mechanically constructed metal footwear, but Kagami is quick to admit that his avant-garde ideas don’t come easily. “To do something new in fashion is very, very difficult, so many things have already been done. I do struggle each time, to be honest. That’s why I try to use different materials, I believe it is still possible to create something new,” the designer explains.

DO SOMETHING RADICAL

This concept of the new seems to become all the more difficult in the frantic pace of today’s fashion cycle. “Nowadays things are too mass-produced, too commercial and everyone basically works in fashion as a business for money. To break it, you have to do something extraordinary and extreme. If someone doesn’t do something creative, eventually culture will stop developing. I’m more interested in contributing to culture or education in the end. If I could be an influential designer to someone else, that would make me more than happy,” Kagami notes. His words of advice to young designers starting out? “Do something radical and truly express yourself rather than thinking about what other people are doing. The power of the trend vector in fashion is too strong, new designers should break it to keep their identity.”

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