Inspired by nature, filled with thoughtfulness and designed to evoke emotion, the work of Japanese designer Tokujin Yoshioka is simply genius.
Famed for awe-inspiring installations and objects that extol the beauty of Far Eastern style, combined with modern day alchemy, it's no wonder Tokujin Yoshioka is taking the West by storm.
Tokujin Yoshioka's definition of luxury:
An image that you have in your heart.
Somewhere you feel very relaxed.
If there was one trend that stood out against the barrage of looks at this year's Milan International Design Week, it was all things Japanese; from origami inspired furniture to the serene simplicity of Japanese design. The name on everyone's lips was Tokujin Yoshioka, the 41 year-old designer from Saga Prefecture.
Upon graduating from Tokyo's Kuwasawa Design School in 1986, Yoshioka studied with the great Shiro Kuramata (unfortunately curtailed by Kuramata's death a year later) and Issey Miyake before setting up his own studio in 2000.
Two years later the designer found international fame with the launch of Tokyo-pop a seating collection produced by Italian furniture manufacturer Driade. This year Tokujin Yoshioka presented a range of new products, including Mermaid, his latest design for Driade; Moroso's Panna, an evolution of his 2006 Pane chair; and the sumptuously upholstered and aptly named Heaven chair produced by Cassina, as well as limited edition pieces for Vitra's Edition collection, shown at Milan's La Triennale di Milano and Eternal, a group of 41 limited edition stools for Swarovski's Crystal Palace. He was also responsible for the interior and façade of Swarovski's much lauded new Ginza flagship store.
Tokujin Yoshioka has been cited as one of "100 Japanese respected by the world" by the Japanese edition of Newsweek magazine, as well as winning an impressive array of awards, including the Bulgari Brilliant Dreams award and the Design Miami Design of the Year award in 2007. We spoke to the designer at this year's Swarovski Crystal Palace in Milan.
Can you tell us about Eternal, your limited edition collection of seating for this year's Swarovski Crystal Palace?
In the first instance, I wanted to create a sort of symbolic chair by using crystal components that represents the company.
The crystal palace is usually reserved for lighting, but this year you, and many other designers, have create furniture and objects, how did the company feel about your proposal?
I've been working with Swarovski for several years. When I was talking to Swarovski I asked if it was possible to design furniture, rather than a chandelier and they were happy to receive a new proposal.
You've got an impressive array of new pieces, from quite a number of top brands this year. How did this come about?
It's not that I want to work with a large number of manufacturers, it was just lucky that this year the timing was right. Also, some of the pieces took a few years before being realised, so it's just a coincidence that this year they all came together.
Which piece took the longest to produce?
The Kartell piece. It took more than two years.
Did you experiment with any new techniques during the production of this piece?
When I work with these types of manufacturers, I try to understand what are the best techniques that they have, what they do best, and I try to use those characteristics. I often question myself, what am I to design? What is my mission? What are they expecting me to design for them?
What was your mission with the current new pieces?
It differs between each manufacturer.
Do you have a personal mission?
I've been given fantastic opportunities by many manufacturers. I'd like to create something that will live in their hearts. My mission is to create things that move emotions.
Apart from designing objects, you are also well known for your incredible installations. Where do you begin with large-scale projects, with the material or the idea?
The idea, then I try to find the right materials in the drawer of my mind!
What processes and materials are you currently looking into?
Before I was trying to use very high tech and high end materials, but nowadays I'm more attracted to materials that are familiar to everyone, materials that we find in our daily life. If you look at my installations right now you'll notice that it's all what we use in our daily life, although when you look at it, you don't recognise that it's a daily based material.
What are you currently working on?
I am working on an exhibition in Tokyo called Second Nature at 21_21 Design Sight (the museum of Issey Miyake). I am directing and curating the exhibition. I have invited some international artists and designers, like Ross Lovegrove and the Campana brothers. That's what I really need to start focussing on after my return from Milan.
What is its theme?
The meaning of second nature is about abilities or skills, so by using special skills I tried to create a second nature, so it's a play on the two meanings. It's a combination of human life, new structure and lighting. The exhibition is going to be something different.
Curating takes you in a new direction, are you moving into any other areas?
Many could argue that much of your current work is art?
I'm not wishing to become an artist, or to draw boundaries between art or design, it's just that I want to go beyond. I don't really define my work as design or art.
You were nominated as Designer of the Year at last year's Design Miami, what do you think of this current merging of the two markets?
I never really knew before what was design and what was art, but nowadays I feel that art is something relating to oneself, while design is something relating to the companies or manufacturers. It's relating to society, to our environment.
You've wanted to be a designer since you were a young child, what was the first thing you ever designed?
A mask, at school. I was about 18 at the time. It was an important moment because I realised that I was different from others. I created the mask by using electric components combined together. The students and the professor were very pleased with it. You could say that it was a turning point.
What is it about design that appeals to you most?
For me, I enjoy the moment the design is realised, when it changes from a vision in my mind into a reality. I enjoy that very much.
There is a sense of serenity within your work, does this reflect your personality?
I'm quiet but strong (he says laughing).
How does working in Japan compare with working in Europe?
It's completely different! In Japan everything is very systemized. When we work with European companies there are many moments when we have "accidents", but it's often a happy accident. It can change the project in positive ways. Not everything is perfect, but I like it.
Which do you prefer?
Well, in Japan I'm closer so I can obviously have more control over the process, so in that respect I prefer working in Japan.