Ten Meets Designer Tomo Koizumi As He Rebuilds The World in Lego’s New Campaign
It doesn’t take long to fall in love with Tomo Koizumi. First up, his technicolour tulle extravaganzas look like something out of a manga-themed art show. There’s also the inspiring success story of being discovered through Instagram by fashion fairy godmother Katie Grand. And then there’s his incredibly warm and cheerful personality that comes through exactly 10 seconds after I meet him. He’s in London to promote the latest project on his mega busy schedule – along with gymnastics super-human Simone Biles and producer extraordinaire Mark Ronson, Koizumi was chosen as one of the cultural creators in Lego’s campaign Rebuild the World. Focusing on the importance of creativity and play, this power trio is here to remind kids and those alike of what it takes to succeed in tomorrow’s world. Skills in science and maths might take you far, but without creative problem-solving, how far can our society truly go?
Like most of us, Tomo Koizumi first started playing with Lego when he was growing up, always being attracted to the bold primary-coloured blocks like blue, yellow and red. “They didn’t have the transparent, pink and neon ones back then,” he says, explaining how exciting he was to play with the next generation of Legos at the shoot for the campaign. Expectedly, his favourite way of using Legos was making abstract creations using the yellow figurines as his “girls with blocks.” In the Rebuild the World campaign, Koizumi is seen in the studio, surrounded by his other-worldly dresses, explaining how playing with blocks and shapes informs patterns for his work. Those voluminous layers of tulles in every shade on the colour wheel first came to prominence this past February with his New York Fashion Week debut. Trained as a costume designer, Koizumi used to create performance outfits using his signature technique of moulding tulle into bold shapes. Kate Grand instantly fell in love with his skillset and after just a few weeks, he had the likes of Gwendoline Christie and Bella Hadid modelling his garments inside Marc Jacobs’ Madison Avenue boutique, scoring a cover of the WWD the following day.
Tomo Koizumi AW19
At the core of Koizumi’s design, there’s a sense of childlike irreverence. There’s no questions of how or why – his pieces are pure fantasy. There’s no surprise then that he still takes inspiration from toys he first got introduced to as a child. Licca-chan, a modern Japanese doll, and Hina Ningyo, a traditional set of formal dolls which are brought out once a year at Girls’ Day for the happiness of the daughters in the family. “I have younger sisters so we had them in our house and I was obsessed with them because they’re wearing very extravagant dress,” Koizumi says. “I couldn’t play with them though,” he laughs. Many years later though, the Tokyo-based designer is dressing his own, life-sized dolls.
For his second NYFW outing, he worked with Ariel Nicholson on a performance which saw the model and artist dressing up, referencing the process of playing with dolls as well as the royal Japanese dressing ceremonies. “The first show had all of my archives up until that point, so for this new collection I wanted to do something different while also using the ruffle techniques,” the designer explains. This time round, the volume of the silhouettes was taken even further, seeing Nicholson experimenting with movement while getting in and out of the clothes. “After AW19, a lot of people told me I had to be commercial, but I didn’t feel like I’m ready yet. I met many buyers then, but I didn’t really expect people would want to buy my clothes.” That’s where that childlike irreverence come through again – despite the instant interest of the audience in buying his clothes, Koizumi remains a custom, made-to-order kind of business. With potential plans to expand into a more commercial direction in the future, he still enjoys exploring the wild ideas and pushing the limits of what the materials he uses can actually become. “It’s all custom-made so if people want, they can email me. I want to make something people can buy, but what they didn’t expect,” he goes on. Grand remains his mentor, making sure Koizumi is doing things right things at the right pace.
Tomo Koizumi SS20
Despite limiting the actual reach of his clothes to visuals, the fandom of Tomo Koizumi keeps growing. “I really love working as a costume designer but that’s why I was surprised when people think my dresses are fashion and they want to wear them to a party. I’m still getting used to it,” he says. Going from 2k before the first show to now 58k followers and counting, Koizumi truly is a social media sensation who transformed a meme-worthy moment into a wave of success he is still riding. If being discovered is the best thing that ever happened to him on Instagram, what’s the second best? “After the show, so many creative people who I respect followed me and reached out. I got to meet a drag queen called Kim-Chi who suddenly texted me saying ‘your pieces are amazing.’ And then there was Drag Con just next to my showroom in New York so she stopped by and we met. I really love her and we’re going to do something in the future.”