Tsumori Chisato: Master Of Classy Fashion With Childlike Fun | CoolJapan

Tsumori Chisato’s (or stylised in English as Chisato Tsumori) aesthetic marries Japanese pop culture with haute couture. Her designs will make you feel like you’re falling down Alice in Wonderland’s rabbit hole, with elements bursting with whimsicality and eclectic appeal.

Japanese designer Tsumori Chisato

One of Tsumori Chisato’s boutiques. (Photo from: Yanfogum 2322, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

Once upon a time, she was Issey Miyake’s protégé. But at present, she’s in the same league as her mentor as one of Japan’s globally recognised fashion designers.

From apprentice to world-class talent

The Saitama-born designer studied at Bunka Fashion School in Tokyo in 1976. This was the same college other famous names in fashion like Yohji Yamamoto, Junya Watanabe (Comme des Garçons), and Kenzo Takada (KENZO) went to.

Her path to fashion was inspired by her mother who was also into making clothes. Reading fashion magazines and going to her next-door neighbour who was going to a dressmaking school at the time also fueled her interest in the subject.

In 1977, she entered Issey Miyake’s design company, where she eventually became Issey Sports’ (IS) head designer. She expressed that Issey was actually the reason why she wanted to become a designer and that she actually joined an exhibition when she was a student to be noticed by him.

Issey Sports was later renamed to ‘I.S. chisato tsumori design’ in 1983, where she was appointed as the creative director. Two years after her new role, Chisato received the prestigious Mainichi Fashion Grand Prix Newcomer Award in 1985.

Under the encouragement of Issey himself, Chisato eventually started her independent eponymous fashion line in 1990. She debuted a collection in Japan Fashion Week in the same year.

In 1995, she opened her first boutique in Aoyama, Tokyo. This was followed by the opening of her first store outside of Asia, located in Paris in 1999 (which was later closed down). At present, the label operates several stand-alone boutiques in various parts of Asia and a concession at the Le Bon Marché department store in Paris.

Chisato’s eponymous label has also been consistently participating in Paris Pret-a-Porter Fashion Week since 2003 for its women’s line. The brand also debuted its menswear line around the same time it started showing in Paris.

Creating exceptional hand-created art on fabric

Take one look at Chisato’s designs and you’ll instantly see and feel her love for art. Her creative flair manifests through her pieces’ intricate beadwork, embroidery, prints, and appliques she uniquely conceptualises and creates.

In a 2013 interview, Chisato said, “I create my own prints by hand. Sometimes I use watercolour or pencil. A million kinds of things. Sometimes I mix in digital, but I normally hand paint everything.”

The ‘face’ on her boutiques' mannequins, which is also featured on her label’s official website and Instagram account, is also based on Tsumori’s hand-drawn sketch.

She expressed that she “prefers the work of human beings” and therefore prefers to do most of her designs by hand, not being able to stop once she starts drawing on her sketchbook.

Child-like creativity made for adults

Chisato said, “Japanese fashion can be a little childish but colourful compared to other countries.” She described it further as “cute” and “joyful”. This made her want to create pieces that evoke the vibe “for adults to wear”.

In her WAKU WORK exhibition in 2018, Chisato looked back at her vision for her brand, saying that her intention in creating has never changed.

She said: "Uninhibited by factors such as age and profession, I want to make the clothes I want to wear when I feel like wearing them. What matters to me most is expressing myself in a straightforward way.”

Chisato also elaborated that in the “world” of her label, “there are sporty and folklore and feminine elements” where she wishes things would always “stay warm and serene and comfortable”.

Fashion also doesn’t have to make sense right away, Chisato believes. But in the end, you just have to go for it and something interesting might come along the way.

Next, learn more about the enigma that is Japanese designer Rei Kawakubo.