Sunday, February 5, 2012

Eiko Ishioka Tribute

Eiko Ishioka was a goddamn genius, and she died on January 21st. I'm sure there have been a number of blog posts about her, but I wanted mine to be broad, sweeping, and image-heavy, analogous to her work.

While her designs are very distinct, they tend to defy classification. Most of her clothing was comprised of huge quantities of fabric and often included beautiful embroidery, masks and dramatic neck and headpieces. She also had a thing for armour. Lush, overwhelming, eerie, otherworldly and frightening are some other adjectives that come to mind to describe it. Personally I'd say that she designed on the dreamlike visionary level of a couple of my other favourites, Jean-Paul Gaultier and Alexander McQueen.

I'm now exceptionally glad that I bought Eiko by Eiko - the enormous hardcover coffee table compendium of her fashion, design and advertising work - from Goodwill Online about three years ago, despite the fact that it's been damaged by what appears to have been a small child with scissors. (When this was originally written in 2012 it retailed on Amazon for $285 new, though it is now a fraction of that price, which is kind of weird.)
I really need to get back to NYC - where she of course ended up living - for a number of reasons, one of them being to see some of her work on permanent display at MoMA. Because, yeah, in our prolonged drunken stupor we managed to fail to hit MoMA while we were there.

Here are some kind of bad photos from that massive book:





("There are no rails on the High Heel Express")





As you can see, I've just picked some of my favourite Parco ads from the book, but the important thing about them is the fact that she basically introduced the idea of selling emotions instead of tangible products. 

One wonderful example from her last campaign for the Japanese department store chain is a commercial in which she directed Faye Dunaway to carefully peel and eat a hard boiled egg. Her trained movements are alternately quick and sensual, creating a rhythmic and mildly erotic dance of sorts that compliments the background music.


Ishioka designed costumes for opera and Broadway productions as well as Cirque du Soleil's Varekai, in 2002:









What I have just learned, as of this 2018 edit on the 6th anniversary of her death, is that the Dutch National Opera was also using her costumes for performances of the four Wagner operas that comprise Der Ring des Nibelungen from 1997 to 2014. You can read a bit more about that here. I'm completely heartbroken to have missed the opportunity to see her costumes on stage, and I can only hope that there is some sort of limited use of them in the future, or at least another museum-style display.










Something else you possibly have seen and been blown away by is the opening ceremony for the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics. I remember being so eager to watch it and made a serious point of doing so, rapt, motionless, and almost without blinking. It was completely befitting to her epic repertoire.




She lowkey ripped off Yayoi Kusama with these ones and I don't even care. 
They were probably friends.




She also directed Björk's video for Cocoon (2001):






And now the films. In chronological order, unlike this post. 

First, she designed the costumes in Bram Stoker's Dracula. I wish I had pictures of (1) Dracula's incredibly long cloak that looks like a pool of blood and (2) the flowing red shawl and corset Lucy wears when she's lured outside and subsequently ravaged by Dracula as a werewolf. I think I need to just watch it again and try to take worthwhile photos of the screen.






Then there was The Cell, the first of four films on which she would collaborate with director Tarsem Singh. It's just like the most elaborate and jarring nightmare ever, I love it. It contains quite a few abstract postmodern art references, the most recognisable of which is this disturbing scene, based on a painting called 'Dawn' by Norwegian artist Odd Nerdrum:










The next of these visually stunning collaborative dreamscapes and my personal favourite by a wide margin was The Fall. 
It's worth mentioning that David Fincher presented it for its theatrical release. You should at least watch the trailer, because it's one of those things that can't be done justice by pictures. It still brings tears to my eyes to this day, so struck am I by the tragic magnificence of the lie Lee Pace tells the little girl.






Had I been aware that Immortals was a Singh/Ishioka flick I definitely would have seen it on the big screen; I didn't see the trailer full of telling costumes and cinematography and was also able to contain my joy about Stephen Dorff getting his hair back, so that alone wasn't adequate motivation. Trying to make a mainstream, action-packed blockbuster with a safe formula and a weak plot was a mistake, I think. Everyone involved deserves Hollywood money, that's for sure, but it's just one of those things. It wasn't very good and it didn't work.




So I did finally see Immortals and was accordingly unimpressed by everything but the visuals. At the time I was relieved it wasn't to be the last Singh/Ishioka collaboration. 

"In a couple of months Mirror Mirror, a Snow White story, is coming out. It's obviously going to kick the shit out of Snow White and the Huntsman, though that terrible Twilight actress who can't keep her mouth closed might dictate otherwise in terms of revenue," I wrote when I first made this post and before I had seen the trailer. 
Well, I mean, it can't be hard to make a better movie than Snow White and the Huntsman or Red Riding Hood, despite all the good and desirable actors they managed to get on board for those, riding the wave of hefty paychecks promised to those willing to low-bar it for a while doing shitty formulaic Twilight follow-ups. 
Mirror Mirror was over-the-top and weird and it tried to be funny but it wasn't, really, and... Well, again, Tarsem Singh tried to break into mainstream Hollywood and kind of faceplanted. Again.







I mean, clearly, the costumes are the point


"Having seen Mirror Mirror (this post, of course, was originally written five years ago), I must say that once again I was not impressed by anything but the visuals, though I do applaud the effort to create something quirky, weird, and totally different from what people expected. 
These later two certainly do not detract from the greatness of the former two, especially The Fall," I decided. I still agree with my recent-past self.

Eiko Ishioka created a dimension of reality all her own that can evoke any and all emotions with its mesmerising beauty and grandiose scale, the likes of which most wouldn't dare to imagine. The world is a less profound place without her.