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Photography by Franco Schicke for Oyster Magazine

The cult Japanese hairstylist inspired by 90s Harajuku street style

Takayoshi Tsukisawa gives us a five-step process for creating mindblowing hair looks

From digital artists to photographers, body sculptors and hair stylists to make-up and nail artists, in our Spotlight series, we profile the creatives tearing up the rulebook in their respective industries.

Born and bred in rural Japan, it wasn’t until his older brother took him on a trip to Tokyo that Takayoshi Tsukisawa first became aware of the allure of street culture. By the time he was a teenager, he had become fully immersed in 90s Harajuku culture, an event which has left a lasting imprint on his work. After five years mastering his craft in one of Toyko’s top salons, Tsuki moved to New York, and from there he quickly made it onto sets and runways across Europe thanks to his holistic approach to hair styling. For Tsuki, hair is never simple – “It’s not only about hair, it’s about hair in context,” he says.

Though rooted in his early experience of Japanese street style, his work is far more dynamic than that one influence – in his time as a stylist, through prioritising a hands-on approach to developing skills, he has put together a striking and diverse portfolio including work for names like Cos, Calvin Klein and Tom Ford.

Here we chat to Tsuki about his first terrible haircut, his Japanese icons, and getting hair inspo from everything from trees to architecture.

Tell us a bit about yourself and where you grew up. How has your background shaped who you are as a person?
Takayoshi Tsukisawa: I was born and raised in the rural countryside of Japan. My grandparents, parents, and entire family are all Japanese. As a kid I loved hanging out in the forest and playing lots of baseball.

Do you remember the first time you were conscious of your appearance?
Takayoshi Tsukisawa: When I went to the barber shop, the barber told me that I should get the “sport cut”. I didn’t know what the sport cut was, but I said okay because it sounded cool. But it was just a buzz cut. I cried a lot.

Growing up, what informed your understanding of beauty and identity and the way you presented yourself visually?
Takayoshi Tsukisawa: I have a brother who is five years older than me. He always showed me things that older kids liked – music, fashion, hairstyles – things that kids my age didn’t know about. He had mature taste for his age. When I was about 12 years old, he told me, “Hey, your style isn’t cool. Let’s go to Tokyo, I’ll show you how to be cooler.” That’s when I discovered the Harajuku street style of the 90s.

Why are you a hair stylist? What made you want to become one?
Takayoshi Tsukisawa: There were no interesting hair salons in my town, so I began to cut my own hair and my friends’ hair… and sometimes their ears. I was crazy about cutting hair at the time. I also hated studying and didn’t want to end up working in an office. When I was 16, my mother asked if I wanted to go to beauty school since I didn’t like studying. I said “yes yes yes!”

How did you actually get into it? Where did you hone your craft? Is it something you learnt or is it more instinctual?
Takayoshi Tsukisawa: After beauty school, I worked at one of Tokyo’s top salons where I mastered basic skills. I practised before work and after work every day for five years, honing my skills with cut and colour, perms, up-dos, styling, and make-up. I never had the chance to work for fashion magazines or do shows. so I decided to move to NYC to learn about more creative hairstyling. I ended up working for Luigi Murenu on set and for shows in NYC, Milan, and Paris. It was a dream come true. I learned so many amazing new things during that time.

Tell us a bit about your creative process. From initial idea to final image.
Takayoshi Tsukisawa: I have 5 steps:

  1. Gather reference images about a specific subject.
  2. Mix images up in your brain, save into the brain’s ‘Hair’ folder.
  3. Do something else - hang out with friends, take a vacation, watch a movie - forget about the folder.
  4. Suddenly an idea will occur to me, when I’m on vacation or when I’m drinking coffee.
  5. Try to actualise the idea with a model or wig. This is the most difficult part because you have to consider total balance, depending on the outfit, make-up, and lighting, all in relation to the idea itself.

Is beauty something you try to capture in your work or something that you reject? What is your relationship to “beauty”?
Takayoshi Tsukisawa: Beauty is my motivation, power, and passion.

What are the projects that you’re most proud of?
Takayoshi Tsukisawa: I made a book about the texture of hair in which  I tried to express the qualities of hair that captivate me.

What’s the most significant thing you’ve learnt over the course of your career?
Takayoshi Tsukisawa: I’m always thinking about striking a good balance. A good sense of balance is more important than styling skills. It’s not only about hair, it’s about hair in context.

How do you translate someone’s ideas/ vision into hair? How much of the process is a collaboration and how much comes from you?
Takayoshi Tsukisawa: For most photoshoots, the concept comes from editors or someone else. I have to create hair based on the concept but I don't want to style hair that I don’t enjoy. I try to do 60% concept based, 40% my input.

What should a hairstyle bring to a look or fashion image?
Takayoshi Tsukisawa: A hairstyle should explain the style and personality of someone – it should complete a look.

Where do you get your inspiration from?
Takayoshi Tsukisawa: There is inspiration in everything I see. People on the street and subways, trees, old pictures, movies, animals, cars, architecture, etc. Not everything inspires me directly, but I envision those things in the context of a model and hairstyle. For example, what hairstyle does the woman driving an 80’s sports car have? I love NYC because there is so many different cultures, fashions, and art to draw inspiration from.

What is your dream project to work on/ person to shoot? Why?
Takayoshi Tsukisawa: I have many dreams! I would especially like to work with Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto because I respect them as icons of Japanese design.

How do you think the industry has evolved since you first started out?
Takayoshi Tsukisawa: People were more focused on the creation of one thing before, but now we have to think about so many other things to survive in this industry.

How do you think our understanding of beauty has shifted with the evolution of technology?
Takayoshi Tsukisawa: It’s become much easier to get information and to learn skills from social media, but unfortunately people can only get real skills and information from real life. We have to see and touch real people and real hair with our own eyes and hands. You have to practice a lot to get real skills; you have to get real experiences from real life.

What advice would you give to young artists hoping to get into the industry?
Takayoshi Tsukisawa: The most important thing is to know what you want to be. Do you want to be an okay hair stylist? A good hair stylist, or an incredible hair stylist? All the little things come together to make you the one you want to be.

What is the future of beauty?
Takayoshi Tsukisawa: You’ll be able to tap the hairstyle that you want on an iPad and robot arms will make it.

What are you currently working on?
Takayoshi Tsukisawa: I’m spending the next week making green coloured wigs for my next hair story. I have a hair mask story coming out soon. Check it out!

Who would you like to shine a spotlight on next?
Takayoshi Tsukisawa: Paris based hair stylist Olivier Schawalder.