The fashions of Eiko Ishioka, Emilie Jerard’s love of this great artist
Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the fashions of Eiko Ishioka, Emilie Jerard’s love of this great artist.
Emilie Jerard Recreations of Eiko Ishioka’s Mina Dress-Bram Stokers Dracula
“An independent, weirdo outsider with no roots in the business” — a sentence that seems like it vaguely refers to prejudice — actually highlights a person on the pedestal in the world of fashion and design. These were Francis Coppola’s words for the great Eiko Ishioka, a Japanese art director and costume designer, and probably, he was more than right when he wrote that.
Eiko Ishioka was born in July, 1938 in Tokyo, Japan. She was raised in a family where her father was a successful commercial graphic designer and her mother — a housewife. It is likely that this mild patriarchal family structure led to Ishioka becoming an advocate for women’s rights — with a minimal effort put in speaking, but with powerful work and endurance. As a child, her father supported her interest in art, but discouraged her will to become his heir in the business. Sometimes, demotivation is the biggest motivation. And Eiko had her mother as support, who encouraged her to become “something more”. Eiko Ishioka has proved this through her extravagant costumes, the power of messages sent in her videos and posters, as well as through the usage of color red — a true symbol of her fiery character and artwork.
Eiko Ishioka graduated at the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music. At only 22, she started working for the cosmetic company Shiseido. Later, she was discovered by Tsuji Masuda, then chairman of Parco, a department store. Eiko Ishioka’s work for this company was related mostly to commercial design. She created the first 15-second long ad for Parco and its short message “Life is short, the night is long” got the public’s attention. Even further, this slogan is a perfect description of what Eiko Ishioka has built — a whole realm where life is too short. Probably, the same was born in the designer’s long, sleepless nights.
Parco is the company where this incomparable woman imprinted her style in the commercial world. She became Parco’s chief art director. At 26 and still working at Parco, Eiko Ishioka won the most prestigious ad award in Japan. She was the first woman to receive this award in her home country. The last video that she designed for Parco was with the actress Faye Dunaway. This artwork cannot be forgotten easily – Faye Dunaway is dressed in black, she is sitting in black chair and she’s peeling and eating a boiled egg on a black table. This was Eiko Ishioka’s way of expressing her thoughts on surreal eroticism. After the years she’s passed in this department store, Eiko Ishioka strongly expressed her crave for independence and left the job, then started her own design company.
Eiko expanded her designing business by collaborating with many musicians, sportsmen and sportswear companies, movie directors and artists from the West. Over the years, she managed to build a recognizable style. The trademark of her brand wasn’t any logo or advertising, but the color red and her being unstoppable. She used trench red not just as a reminder for her Japanese origin, but rather as a way to express the power of her ideas, and her idiosyncratic and unpredictable character.
Eiko Ishioka was courageous, feisty, creative, ambitious and eager to show that she’s ready to build a different world. Her audacious and extravagant creations show us that they are more than images and visual art; Eiko Ishioka sent important messages to the world. Her creations were screaming with eroticism, feminism and freedom. One of Eiko’s most famous photos is the one with the actress Fay Dunaway and Eiko’s two nieces. Fay Dunaway wears a majestic silver headdress and silver and gold satin robe. She stands glamorously, has her arms spread like an eagle’s wings and she covers Eiko’s two nieces with her robe. The kids are standing in front of Fay Dunaway; they wear red dresses and have uncovered nipples. There goes an ad with this photo, which says: “Can West Wear East?” This is a strong cultural, socio-religious message; one of the ideas and struggles of Eiko Ishioka was her urge to create a unified world where East and West become one. Eventually, she managed to accomplish that.
Eiko Ishioka has worked with many artists, including Miles Davis, Grace Jones and Björk. In 1987, she won a Grammy Award for her cover design for Miles Davis’s album Tutu. Eiko has directed Björk’s video for the song “Cocoon”. In this video, once again, Eiko shows the power and sensuality of a nude female body. Björk is dancing nude and red threads emerge from her nipples and wrap her body in a cocoon. Indeed, a powerful and striking work of art!
Eiko Ishioka is known for her longstanding collaboration with Francis F. Coppola. In 1979, she designed the poster for the Japanese edition of Apocalypse Now. The same poster brought her the Academy Award for Best Costume Design for Bram Stoker’s Dracula 13 years later. She has also been the production designer for Paul Schrader’s film, Mishima; A Life in Four Chapters (1985). When Coppola called Ishioka to work as a costume designer for Bram Stoker’s Dracula, she had full freedom to create the costumes exactly as she wanted. Rather than keeping the classic black vampire cape, Eiko decided to give a modern feature to the costumes. She retained the intensity of the red color (this time she used crimson red) and created a majestic robe that spreads behind the main actor. Inspired by nature and arthropods insects, she created a powerful and modern anatomical suit-armor, a costume worn by Gary Oldman. One of the most remarkable and grandiose costumes were Lucy’s white dress and Mina Murray’s red Victorian gown. Lucy had an impressive costume that left an image of power with its strong, white color, its complex details and the gorgeous headdress. Mina wore the unforgettable red dress which followed her slender figure; a perfect symbol for blood, passion and love. This dress was forever left as legacy to the world of fashion and film in the scene with Mina (Winona Ryder) and The Count (Gary Oldman). Eiko Ishioka’s costume design for F. Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula is by far one of the most prominent artworks in the history of (romantic) horror films.
Eiko Ishioka has also collaborated with Tarsem Singh; she designed and created the costumes for his sci-fi horror film The Cell. These costumes are, perhaps, the culmination of Eiko’s art. The artwork for this movie is the image of the babbling and passion that Eiko was keeping inside her. Anger and ambition (when she won the advertising award in Japan, a famous designer told her she’d never managed to get the prize if she wasn’t a woman) led her to creating provoking, erotic and memorable costumes. Feminism was so furious and awakened in Eiko, that, when Jennifer Lopez asked her to make the collar she was supposed to wear around her neck more comfortable, Eiko Ishioka refused and told her that in the movie, she is supposed to be tortured and that this effect will be achieved only with this kind of costume. Eiko again created a costume that looked like armor, but didn’t allow it to resemble her previous creations. Jennifer Lopez looked sexy, provocative and erotic – just what her role asked for.
Eiko has worked as a costume designer for two more movies directed by Singh; The Fall (2006) and Immortals (2011). She has also worked on the costume design for the Spanish movie Theresa, the Body of Christ (Teresa, el cuerpo del Cristo).
In 1988, Eiko received two Tony Award nominations for the costume and stage design for M. Butterfly, a Broadway play. In 1992, after she received the Grammy Award for the Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Eiko Ishioka was selected as a new member of the NY Art Directors Club Hall of Fame.
Eiko Ishioka’s creativeness doesn’t stop at movies; she’s also worked as a costume designer for circus, opera and theater artists. Eiko designed costumes for the Dutch Opera, Broadway (the musical Spiderman; Turn off the Dark), and for Cirque Du Soleil. She’s also worked as visual artistic director for “David Copperfield: Dreams and Nightmares”. In 2002, she created Cirque Du Soleil’s costumes for their show Varekai. Their stunts are dangerous, risky, unpredictable and exciting; Eiko Ishioka created exactly such costumes, still being cautious and making them easy and comfortable to wear. When designing the Varekai costumes, Eiko drew inspiration from nature, specifically from reptiles, amphibians, plants and the four elements; earth, water, air and fire. The designer used lycra used as the main material, because it is easy to maintain and it’s elastic, which facilitates the artists’ performances.
Eiko Ishioka’s fashion and design career was so much expanded, that she even collaborated with sportswear companies (one of them was the Japanese company Descente, for which she designed outerwear for the Canadian, Spanish, Japanese and Swiss teams at the Winter Olympics in 2002). She has worked as a costume design director for the opening ceremony of 2008 Summer Olympics in China. Less to do with fashion, but related to graphic design is the fact that Eiko has created the logo of the NBA team Houston Rockets, in 2003.
Eiko Ishioka used sharp, expressive and clear patterns. She knew how to combine and merge the unrelated, how to put together tiny parts with large ones and thus, make all of this look sophisticated and spectacular. She knew the color game. Eiko chose the intense red and related it with Japan, with sensuality, blood, power, sex appeal, eroticism and sexuality. She emphasized the volume emitted by the black-red, white-red, golden-red and white-black combinations.
Eiko Ishioka’s work is a legacy for the film world, the world of fashion and design, and in general – for the world of art. The massive, bold and sometimes even frightening costumes and creations are proof for the uniqueness of this woman. Her ambition, the art awakened in her still very young and the obstacles inflicted by the people around her, were the catalyst of the reaction that lived in her.
As a feminist, Eiko Ishioka could be seen in black clothes with a hidden note of male attitude and expressed female dignity. Eiko’s long, black hair, red lips and stern look couldn’t be ignored. She complemented her simplicity with the complexity of the costumes she created over the years.
Finally, androgynous elements are one more feature of her designing style; many artists that collaborated with Eiko, wore costumes that had dual sexul nature; half masculine, half feminine. Such were the costumes of Cirque du Soleil’s troupe for the Varekai show.
Eiko Ishioka was stubborn, ambitious and fearless. She was tied up to the artistic volcano that lived in her. She was a woman that loved contradictions and she matured by blending the opposites. We can see that in the combination of colors, materials, patterns and shades. Eiko Ishioka taught us how to merge the sharp with the elegant, the Gothic with mild tenderness, and the eroticism with innocence. Most important of all, she showed the world that it shouldn’t be afraid of the nude and strong woman, nor of the urge for creativeness that every one of us carries inside.
Eiko Ishioka died in her hometown Tokyo, Japan on January 21, 2012. She is survived by her husband, her brothers and sisters and by her mother. She married her husband Nicholas Soultanakis few months before her death. The last movie she has worked on was Mirror, Mirror directed by her friend and collaborator Tarsem Singh. Eiko Ishioka was posthumously nominated for the Academy Award for Best Costume Design for the same movie.
More Images of the Mina Dress, Recreated by Emilie Jerard.