Sep 16, 2019
EVEN TOMO KOIZUMI can’t quite believe the year he’s having. In February, he watched as supermodels including Bella Hadid and Karen Elson strutted down runways at New York Fashion Week wearing his designs. At the 2019 Met Ball, while co-host Lady Gaga was flouncing up the stairs in a billowing, hot pink satin number and Katy Perry was vamping it up as a human chandelier, Vogue Thailand contributing editor Nichapat Suphap was turning heads in a cascade of pastel ruffles Koizumi created especially for the event. The theme, of course, was camp, and the Japanese designer’s spectacularly over-the-top style was a perfect fit for both the exhibit Camp: Notes on Fashion and the celebratory gala. Along with Guo Pei, the legendary Chinese couturier behind Rihanna’s iconic saffron cape in 2015, Koizumi is one of the rare talents to showcase his work both on the red carpet and in the corresponding exhibition.
When I meet him at the Tokyo apartment that doubles as his studio, the room is chockablock with rainbow-hued gowns in various stages of completion. Each bespoke, hand-sewn garment is very much a labor of love—a delirious fabric fantasia brought to life through hours of meticulous work. His aesthetic draws on everything from Alexander McQueen to Sailor Moon, yet manages to feel entirely original.
“I try to do haute couture in my own way,” Koizumi says. “My designs are very feminine, but I believe that femininity can be edgy at the same time.”
Koizumi attributes his love for high-glamour to the magazines he pored over as a teenager. Growing up in the countryside around Chiba, his primary connection to the larger world beyond was through these glossy pages.
“I decided to be a designer when I was 14 after looking at work by John Galiano and Christian Dior. I always loved big gowns, this idea of fashion as fantasy,” he says. “I asked my mom to buy a sewing machine as a Christmas gift, then I started to make customized vintage clothes.”
Though his technique has grown more refined over the years, Koizumi has never lost his taste for whimsy. His vision is one in which ferocity and femininity, camp absurdism and exquisite beauty, can coexist. It’s a concept shaped by the city of Tokyo itself, a place where forward-thinking fashionistas can find cutting-edge couture and vintage inspiration on every corner.
TOKYO STREET STYLE
“I think Tokyo is one of the best shopping cities in the world. You can find truly unique things in these streets,” Koizumi says. Unlike London, Paris or Milan, he say he feels that stores in his home city are more likely to take a risk on up-and-coming talent. While Koizumi specializes in lavish costumes, he says many of the city’s best designers lean more towards wearable, everyday clothes. “The Tokyo fashion scene is all about street-wear,” he says. For funky urban-wear, he recommends browsing the offerings at Fake Tokyo, which sells local brands like Kudos. When looking for something more polished, Koizumi heads to Dover Street Market, a seven-story treasure trove with more than 150 brands originally launched by Comme des Garçons founder Rei Kawabuko. “They have international brands, but also a strong domestic selection. It’s easily one of the best shops in Tokyo.”
BEYOND HARAJUKU GIRLS
“When I have fashion-loving foreign friends in town, I bring them to Harajuku,” Koizumi says. While most people associate the neighborhood with tacky animal cafés and shops selling cutesy trinkets, he insists there’s more than meets the eye just off the main drag. “Takeshita Street is too touristy, but there are some good shops hidden around the area if you know where to look.” One of his go-to spots for menswear is United Arrows, an upscale chain with a cult following throughout Japan. “In Harajuku, there’s also one shop called Xanadu Tokyo. They only sell young Japanese designers, so it’s perfect if you’re on the hunt for something a little different,” Koizumi says.
“I love vintage clothing, but I don’t usually buy the fancy kind,” Koizumi admits. “There are some really cool vintage shops around Shimokitazawa. It’s a very interesting place for younger people, although it can get crowded right around the station. They have a unique cityscape and there are so many cool, little shops. Another vintage area clothes area is Koenji, a little west of Shinjuku. They have a market street, which is really lovely on weekends.”
When he’s searching for inspiration, Koizumi often heads to the ritzy enclave near his apartment. “Daikanyama is a really posh area along the river that’s famous for its sakura. You’ll find some nice cafés, along with fancy pet salons and shops selling Leica cameras,” he says. His favorite place to go sit is the Starbucks at Tsutaya Books, where customers can peruse coffee table tomes to their heart’s content. “I’ll ride my bike over there at midnight when there are no people. You can read the books while drinking coffee until 2 a.m.” He never tires of browsing the shelves at second-hand bookstores. “If you like photo books, you should check out Jimbocho district on the east side of Tokyo,” Koizumi says. “There are tons of vintage bookshops. I go there all the time for research.”