MILAN — The relaxed, smiling face of Tomo Koizumi appeared on the screen surrounded by scraps of fabrics in his atelier in Japan three days before departing for Milan.
“We already shipped almost all of the collection, so we’re making kind of extra pieces,” he said over Zoom, gearing up for his latest creative effort to be staged on Sunday as part of Dolce & Gabbana’s ongoing project endorsing young designers.
Supported by the Italian brand, which will provide for the entire organization of the event, the Japanese designer will stage his first runway show abroad since the pandemic. It will be almost four years after that pivotal, last-minute showcase staged at the Marc Jacobs store on Madison Avenue during New York Fashion Week, which catapulted his name and his kaleidoscopic-colored ruffled designs onto the international fashion radar.
“I really wanted to do a runway show again, in any city, but not in Tokyo,” he said. “Even though I can talk with people internationally through email, Instagram or Zoom, I really missed meeting people outside of Japan. Also, just showing collections only in Japan is feeling less impactful for me. Even if the [collection’s] pictures are on the internet and then people contact me through this, it feels less powerful these days.”
Hence, he talked with English stylist Katie Grand, who was among the first to discover his sculptural creations on Instagram and to mastermind the viral New York presentation in 2019. “She suggested to work with Dolce & Gabbana for this project and, fortunately, I was chosen,” recalled Koizumi, who will follow Matty Bovan and Miss Sohee in the role of supported emerging brand.
If at first glance Koizumi’s aesthetic differs from that of the Italian label, the designer found a common ground in the shared “romantic mood and dramatic dresses.” He also said he’s always looked up to the established duo as they “create something I’ve wanted to do but couldn’t.”
“So while developing this collection, I really felt I could develop myself as a designer. I challenged [myself] a lot through this collaboration and I’m confident that I’ve improved myself. That’s why I really appreciated this project,” Koizumi said.
The first physical encounter between the parties occurred in December, when Koizumi traveled to Milan and met Domenico Dolce as well as the brand’s team. “It was so inspirational because I could visit the office and the archives with all the designs,” he recalled, highlighting how Dolce gave him “great advice” also from a technical perspective at that time.
A first teaser of this creative tie-up was revealed last month when a big, pink ruffled number, re-dubbed “The Biggest Dress,” was donned by Sam Smith in the “I’m not here to make friends” music video, and was also sported for the performance of the “Unholy” hit on “Saturday Night Live.” As the caption of an Instagram post by the brand stated, the flashy creation hails from the fall 2023 collection supported by Dolce & Gabbana.
Yet don’t expect to see only renditions of Koizumi’s signature ruffle explosions on the Milan runway. Asked to elaborate and offer a preview of the collection, the Japanese designer said that he tried different styles this time.
“Since it’s actually supported by Dolce & Gabbana, I could take inspiration and references from the brand and that’s really helpful….Even though my business is really small, taking inspiration from other designers is always a bit risky in this modern world. But I was so comfortable to do it this time,” Koizumi said.
Therefore his own style codes, which remain constant in nodding to the colors of nature and flowers, will intertwine with a more glamorous feel and sexiness lent from the Italian label.
More pragmatically, Dolce & Gabbana supplied him with archival fabrics — including printed ones that are set to make for a refreshing addition to Koizumi’s fashion lexicon — as well as innerwear pieces, spicing up the styling of the looks, and footwear, which is a category missing in Koizumi’s own offering.
“It’s going to be a really colorful collection as usual, but also you’ll see different ways to use colors,” teased the designer, adding that he deployed other fabrics in addition to his signature organza, such as thicker satin.
As he deep-dived into the Dolce & Gabbana archives for research, Koizumi found his way back to his personal roots, too. For example, he revealed that more body-con dresses will be seen at the show, but was quick to note that “actually when I started, I always made those, I really loved them.”
To further retrace the history of the brand, Dolce had the idea of showcasing the evolution of Koizumi’s ruffle technique, which he noted had been increasingly copied.
“I know ruffles are common design for all the dresses, but the way I use them is kind of original, I think, and [Dolce] mentioned that, too. So that’s why we’re going to have my archive exhibited,” revealed Koizumi. A selection of 10 looks from his past collections will be displayed upon guests’ arrival at the location to spotlight the designer’s craftsmanship. “It’s one technique but also it’s been seven years since I started making these dresses, so you’ll see designs from 2016 until now and the difference between one and another,” he said.
Koizumi launched his namesake brand in 2011 after a boutique owner bought one of his creations made while he was still in university. Then he pivoted to styling and costume design, once dressing Lady Gaga, until the New York showing made him an international star and fashion darling. Right after that moment, the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art bought one of his works for its permanent collection, and exhibited two in its 2019 show “Camp: Notes on Fashion.” The following year, Koizumi was one of the eight recipients of the 2020 LVMH Prize and his designs popped up on fashion editorials and international stages alike, donned by the likes of Björk. Today his designs are mostly made-to-order, and commercial plans have not been made for the collection that will bow on Sunday, either.
This is the main point of difference compared to one of Koizumi’s previous collaborations with another Italian brand, Emilio Pucci, which tapped him to design a capsule collection for spring 2021. “That was for selling….I had to keep my designs kind of a bit quiet for that collection, but this collaboration is not, so there’s 100 percent freedom to express my passion,” he noted.
Asked what kind of reaction he would like to elicit from the audience at the show, Koizumi said the aim was to spark a sense of surprise and a smile. “I really don’t care about coolness. Fun and a joyous kind of mood is what I want to bring to people,” the designer said.
The attitude reflects his ultimate mission in fashion, which has not changed throughout the years but has only grown stronger. “When I started my career, I really wanted to bring fashion fantasy to the people. That hasn’t changed. The feeling is only stronger these days, obviously with COVID-19, the war and a lot of bad news. So I really want to do what I can do best, which is making dresses, making beauty, then showing them to the people.”
To this end, his fall 2023 collection will travel around. Right after the show in Milan, Koizumi will touch base in Paris for press days, before the clothes will be eventually displayed in Tokyo. But the designer doesn’t seem committed to staying put in his homeland for too long, as he expressed a desire for new adventures.
“I’ve done several collaborations until now. It was fun, but I really want to try something different…I want to go to another city, maybe for work. If I could get a job in another brand, that would be exciting because I haven’t worked at any company. It would be something new,” he said candidly.
Not one waiting for things to happen, Koizumi since last year started to delve into painting, as well, realizing contemporary art works. It was another return to the roots for the designer, who didn’t study fashion but majored in art education at his university in Japan. “So I’m applying to some art fairs and maybe I’ll show my artworks somewhere by mid-year,” he concluded.