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#TBT Eiko Ishioka - the most visionary costume designer

February 28, 2020 10:50

There’s a thin line between fairy tales and nightmares and when it comes to costume design no one else mastered this balancing act better than Eiko Ishioka: Her designs brought a sensual surrealism to film and are definitely more rooted in the realm of senses than in that of reason. 

Already being recognized as Japan’s premiere art director and graphic designer thanks to her work for Shiseido and breaking through centuries-old stereotypes in male-dominated Japan Ishioka conquered the Western world with her unique vision full of dark eroticism.

The movies of Francis Ford Coppola won 23 Academy Awards and made him one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. After Coppola worked on "Bram Stoker’s Dracula" with Ishioka as costume designer he expressed his frustration with filmmaking and his admiration for Ishioka at the same time:  "When you make a movie, you don’t get exactly what you want. You never do. You get percentages. Except for Eiko. She got what she wanted." 

And in this case she got an Academy Award for Best Costume Design for her opulent, elegant and refined designs. 

When "The Cell" was released in 2000 it was celebrated for its overwhelming visuals and art direction and at the same time criticized for the utterly disturbing story in which Jennifer Lopez enters the mind of a serial killer to find clues to the whereabouts of his latest victim. Revisiting it 20 years after release it’s still one of the most unique serial killer thrillers with images you will never ever forget and some of the most imaginative costumes ever seen on the big screen. 

On the set of "The Cell" Jennifer Lopez asked Ishioka to make a collar on a costume more comfortable. But Ishioka’s answer was as unexpected as an apt example of her approach to costume design: "No. You’re supposed to be tortured" – referring to the preference of the serial killer for sexual sadism. She essentially becomes a sex toy. So she had to look erotic and uncomfortable at the same time. I gave her a sheer dress, a big black-and-red wig, and a bizarre hard collar made of plastic.", said Ishioka to explain why the garments are reflecting the sick and twisted inner world of the psychopathic villain.  

"The Cell" was the kickstarter for one of the most prolific collaborations in cinema history: Director Tarsem Singh and Ishioka did several movies together with "The Fall" (2006) being one of the most visually striking movies of all times – there are so many breathtaking images that it has to be seen to be believed. 

"The Fall" was shot in 28 countries for four years and tells the story of a stunt man whose legs are paralyzed after a fall. He befriends a child recovering from a broken arm and tells her a story about six men who are looking for revenge but in fact he tries to instigate her to steal morphine from the hospital pharmacy to commit suicide. 

This will give you a brief glimpse of the sheer beauty that awaits you within "The Fall":

Ishioka died of pancreatic cancer before her last movie "Mirror, Mirror" was finished. More than 400 costumes were made for this smart and criminally underrated adaptation of the fairy tale "Snow White" starring Julia Roberts and Armie Hammer:

Her other memorable work contains costume design for Cirque du Soleil, a Tony Award for the Broadway musical of Spider-Man, a Grammy for the album art of Miles Davis’s Tutu and Ishioka also took on the art direction of the 2008 Beijing Olympics where she spent more than 100 million dollars.

"The world is my studio and everything on earth is my motif", described Ishioka. Her artistic vision – and her work will live on to echo her vision that span cultures and broke boundaries within the world of fashion and cinema.

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