Meet Tomo Koizumi, The Designer Behind Fashion’s Buzziest Gowns
In kindergarten, Tomo Koizumi would bring a backpack filled with origami paper to class, determined to become a teacher of the ancient art of Japanese paper folding. But he soon realised that it wasn’t so much the paper he loved as simply the act of collecting a full spectrum of colours.
Nearly three decades later, Koizumi, 32, still loves hoarding hues, but now uses polyester fabrics that come in 170 colours to build majestic, sartorial sculptures that look like bouquets of blooming hydrangeas for stage performers around the world. Lady Gaga, Japanese girl group Perfume and Hong Kong pop star Miriam Yeung are just a few who have flaunted his frothy creations on stage. “In Japan, there aren’t really occasions to wear big dresses, so I became a costume designer to make these pieces for singers,” he says.
Despite his loud, sometimes larger-than-life creations, Koizumi is humble and shy as we speak over Zoom. Sporting a plain grey T-shirt that recedes into the sofabed he’s reclining on, Koizumi is in his boyfriend’s London flat, taking an extended layover on his way back to Tokyo, where he’s based, after presenting his first collaboration with Emilio Pucci at Milan Fashion Week in September.
“As a costume designer, you often have to get fabric last minute, which is why I chose a very common Japanese polyester organza material that can be found everywhere in Tokyo early in my career and I’ve used it ever since,” he says. “I also liked to use deadstock, so there are many colours to choose from, but it is inconsistent in quantity, so I’d be forced to mix and match, which is why my dresses became very colourful.”
Rise To Fame
If his towering, topiary-esque gowns remind you of those by flamboyant couturiers of the Nineties, that’s because John Galliano’s work for Christian Dior, which Koizumi discovered while skimming through magazines at the age of 14, was what inspired his career in fashion. “The images were really shocking; that moment changed my life,” he says. “For a while I desperately wanted to be [Galliano’s] assistant but I couldn’t afford to study abroad, so just stayed in Japan and majored in fine art.” But the National Chiba University graduate never felt like he could fit into the household Japanese labels. “Issey Miyake’s work for me felt too intelligent, almost like science. A lot of Japanese designers are like that, but I’m not,” he explains. “And obviously I love Comme des Garçons but they’re too big; I didn’t think I could ever work for them because I didn’t study fashion.”
Costume design was what Koizumi eventually turned to, but not before he explored the idea of fashion photography or styling. “I just wanted to express something spontaneous and eye-catching, something that can express beauty without words, that’s easy to understand and feel,” he says. There’s no doubt his fanciful designs, like perfectly whipped buttercream wedding cakes, tug at the heartstrings of every hopeless romantic. “That’s why I love Galliano. It’s about making that moment—I’m always chasing that moment.”
His moment came in 2019 after renowned British stylist Katie Grand stumbled upon his designs on Instagram and decided to orchestrate his debut at New York Fashion Week that season. Grand assembled an all-star team—Pat McGrath created the make-up looks, Tabitha Simmons designed the Mary Jane shoes and Marc Jacobs offered up his Madison Avenue store as the venue. Models and actresses including Bella Hadid, Joan Smalls and Game of Thrones’ Gwendoline Christie spilled over the silver stairs in a rainbow cascade, landing Koizumi on the cover of several fashion newspapers the next day.
The following year became a flurry of custom orders—still the only way his gowns are sold—and regular showcases at New York Fashion Week (NYFW). Most notably, the Metropolitan Museum of Art presented his designs in the Camp: Notes on Fashion exhibition— an honour usually only bestowed upon industry giants. The pandemic caused all this momentum to stall temporarily, but instead of mourning his absence from the NYFW schedule this season, Koizumi returned to his roots, leaning more heavily into Japanese culture for inspiration—specifically, its traditional wedding garb.
As part of his spring-summer 2021 offering, he partnered with Tokyo bridal atelier Treat Maison to create eight white gowns, trimmed with his signature dash of colour. “I found this photo off the internet from the Meiji era, when western culture began influencing Japan and brides wore traditional, heavily embroidered wedding kimonos, but with western veils, which I found so cool,” he says.
For the rest of the collection, Koizumi continued to rely on his favourite source of inspiration: Sailor Moon—one of the most popular manga series in the Nineties, featuring a stylish, crime-fighting girl squad. While the references might not be literal, they’re in the childlike naivety that permeates the fairytale designs. “I think Venus is my favourite Sailor Moon character—she’s a singer by day, unlike the other schoolgirls, and she keeps to herself,” he says, smiling sheepishly. “She’s definitely the coolest of the bunch.”
Hina Ningyo—a traditional set of ornamental dolls representing the royal court that are displayed on Girls’ Day to pray for young girls’ health and happiness—also feeds his imagination. “I have younger sisters and I always envied their dolls,” he says.
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Next On The Radar
Though his inspirations are anchored in Japanese culture, Koizumi continues to gain international traction, and buyers have been putting pressure on him to make his designs more commercially viable. The closest he came was after his nomination as a finalist for the LVMH Prize this year, when he was tempted to showcase his versatility with a few ready-to-wear pieces. “I decided not to do it in the end because it’s risky to start something new right now,” he says. “Maybe someday I will, but for now I just want to go on being as creative as I can. Then if brands want to work with me, we can collaborate and sell the pieces to their markets.”
One of those brands is Emilio Pucci, which partnered with Koizumi to launch a capsule collection in September as part of the Florentine house’s ongoing initiative to reach younger audiences through unexpected collaborations. Pucci taps a new creative voice each season to reimagine its iconic swirling prints. Koizumi has always collected Pucci accessories like scarves and cardholders. “I love how Pucci uses so many colours and prints, maybe even too many, but always manages to make them harmonised and elegant,” he says. Out of Pucci’s more than 4,000 styles, Koizumi chose an archival Vetrate print from the Sixties, a zesty, sorbet-shaded swirl, to recreate in 3D ruffles on minidress silhouettes. The fun, flirty capsule once again made headlines during an otherwise sombre Milan Fashion Week.
Is Paris next on his radar? “One of my biggest dreams is still to work as a creative director for a fashion house—just a small one, maybe, because I don’t like to be pressured,” he says, pausing for a chuckle. “But to be honest most of my dreams already came true—just the shows, the people who walked them—everything that has happened to me so far has been more than a dream. For now, I have to say, I am happy.”
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