With a highly successful and expansive career spanning more than 25 years, Japanese born and Sydney-based creative Akira Isogawa’s work is a rare combination of eclectic fashion, timeless art and a smorgasbord of strong cross-cultural influences. In a celebratory and eponymous exhibition on now at the Powerhouse Museum, Isogawa’s life and works are presented for a broad audience.
Thoughtful and eloquent, Isogawa possesses an air of quasi-omnipotence when describing his life’s work and his ideas on the future of fashion. Throughout the course of his illustrious career, spanning Vogue covers and Paris Fashion Week shows, Isogawa has amassed a legion of influential, dedicated fans and collaborators, from high-profile Vogue executives to performing arts veterans. Part of the reason for his outstanding success has been his uncanny ability to mix Asian tradition with Australian ease.
Isogawa was born and raised in the ancient city of Kyoto, Japan. “I aimed to fuse the cultures between Kyoto and Sydney,” he said of his work. While Isogawa talked reverently of his hometown, he noted it was conservative and largely dominated by one culture.
“When I got to Sydney, I met so many people, and I was amazed at the inclusivity I experienced” he said. Still, for Isogawa, Kyoto is an “unbelievable place to experience, with a strong sense of natural and architectural beauty.”
Taking his upbringing in this city to his work in Sydney, Kyoto remains present in Isogawa’s creative process, albeit Sydney led to a realisation of his creative potential.
“For me, Kyoto was and always will be a source of great inspiration, not a place to live and work. The freedom I found in Sydney was unparalleled,” highlighted Isogawa.
The Powerhouse exhibition, sectioned into several pivotal ‘Chapters’, features ‘Kimono’ as a standalone Chapter, highlighting the pivotal role this garment played in Isogawa’s designs. Translating this traditional garment to contemporary collections, Isogawa likens it to a chef bringing a recipe to life: “There is always the kimono as a base, combined with different elements of Japanese beauty more widely and other ‘ingredients and spices’ to create something new and beautiful.”
Having begun in the underground of Sydney, designing outfits and attending the RAT parties of the late 1980s, Isogawa’s work has been lauded worldwide. What the designer considers of paramount importance across all these works is craftsmanship.
“Craftsmanship can transcend fashion. For example, embroidery is an ancient craft and can be transposed to other mediums, not just merely garments. It goes beyond trends,” explained Isogawa. It is not hard to see his respect for craftsmanship when viewing the pieces featured in the exhibition, showcasing incredibly detailed, embroidered bridal dresses and evening gowns.
Looking forward, Isogawa is optimistic about the future of fashion and the next generation of young creatives.
“When I first arrived in the 1980s, there was not a lot of diversity in the fashion industry, but what’s exciting now is that more and more diverse young designers are emerging, expressing their own individuality and breaking onto the scene” he said.
“The younger generation is more brave. They cannot simply copy what currently exists. They must innovate to create.”
This is precisely what Isogawa has done. The Akira Isogawa exhibition is showing at the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences’ Powerhouse Museum until June 30. As part of Sydney Design Festival, Kate Jinx hosts Isogawa in conversation with MAAS Senior Curator Roger Leong on March 4. Tickets are on sale here: https://sydneydesign.com.au/2019/event/unsaid-akira-isogawa-in-conversation/