One of the most inspiring workshops that took place in Bucharest involved the mastermind that is Kei Kagami (for YKK) and a bunch of young designer students that got to listen to him talking about creativity and how you manage to put together your emotions and stories and still find a way to make money out of it.
After getting his bachelor degree in Architecture, Kei Kagami started working for Kenzo Tanie, one of the most influential architects from Taiwan. He also got his diploma in tailoring and took all this experience and put it into working for Galliano as a studio assistant, a venture that dragged him into the world of fashion, creative freedom and a business that was rising in the early ’90s.
After his Galliano experience, an experience that shaped and put him on a path to doing extraordinary things, he moved to London and started working on his masters degree at St.Martin, being colleagues with McQueen and the likes of him. A few years later, Kei started working as a freelance designer and from 1997 he works for his own label, putting together catwalk shows in London (2001-2004) and Milan (2004-2007).
This is just a short introduction of Kei Kagami, the mysterious and inspiring human being that was before us on a sunny May morning at Hotel Epoque in Bucharest. His creative workshop was sponsored and supported by YKK and it was meant to bring fresh ideas to new designers and introduce new YKK products to them, as well. But everything was focused around Kei’s journey through the world of art and fashion.
Kei Kagami is a one man show. That is, he doesn’t like working with a lot of people and he’s running his own show, his own business. And he has done it for many years now. It was a way of keeping his creative energy centered, as many designers do. For example, when he gets bigger orders, he asks the client to reduce the order. He doesn’t like to work with outside people.
While Kagami was talking about and showing us his past work, he mentioned a few times that is “not commercial enough” as you can tell that he’s not doing mass productions, it’s haute couture stuff. It’s more like an art installation than fashion. It’s not about something that you cannot wear, it’s about self-expression and putting his ideas out there, in the most ingenious and futuristic way possible. And it’s about freeedom, too.
“You need a very good idea to get sponsorhip” says Kei who had many of them so his partnership with YKK started in 1998 and is going on until this day with him desiging their new showroom in London, a futuristic and multi-functional place that can be transformed from a workshop into an office into a showroom and then a party venue for socialising and having fun. Everything that he created in the YKK showroom is suspended and everything moves, it’s like always transforming lego-place, it’s something that combines the need for three different places in ONE, it’s a genius way of using space in such a crowded world.
Some of the most talented designers are inspired a lot by architecture and most of their work is influenced by that (the first names that come to my mind are Hussein Chalayan and Lucian Broscatean). And that’s how Kagami’s passion for doing shoes started as well. He says it’s the “fight between the structure and design”. He also takes inspiration from British subculture, music and arts. But it all started with architecture.
“Most of my work is quite despressing” he says while laughing. There was a sadness in his voice but there was also a certainty that he got used to it and he knows that the best of art comes from sadness, most of the time.
The more creative you are, the lower the sales go. – Kei Kagami
Then he talks about restoring a vintage motorcicyle and feeling a connection to it. He did everything from engine to finish and seems very passionate and curious about understanding how it works. And then he adds with a certain dettachment in his voice that “Motorcicyles are more human that human beings. They don’t lie. And you can figure out if they’re not happy.”
And then Kagami goes off back on talking about his work. And how he started and how he lost it all when the the courier lost all his samples so he lost all his customers in Milan. He faced some serious finance problems throughout time and Kei had to stop the catwalk shows because, back then, you needed around 6000 pounds just to register in calendar plus the show. Also, you had to take 10 people with you to put together the catwalk show – especially in his case with his art installations.
In 2005, the press wrote about his collection that it looks like ‘torture couture”. Actually, it was a health mecanism that helped neck and head injuries. It was also included and transformed into fashion. Basically, it spoke about the future of fashion and it’s the dialogue that we all read about these days on business fashion blogs: fashion needs to be useful, practical and include our needs, our problems. Fashion needs to heal, to help, to be a friend. And that was what his collection was about. 11 years ago. But the press got it as being torture elements when it was actually elements made to help your neck, back head injuries. Take a look.
In 2006 Kei Kagami released an ecology collection made of salad with concealed zippers.
“A week before presenting in Paris, I planted the seeds and I had to water them three times a day. To get the dress from Paris to Milano, I hired a van with eight shelves, I spread the dress in eight pieces tied together with zipper. He had to drive for 22 hours to Milan Fashion Show with the salad dress and put it together. It’s about how far would you go for your vision and your creativity?
Take a look:
Then comes the Water Dress – an alive dress with faucets for watering and an irigation system. The water lines come together to shape up the most wonderful dress:
37 brass nozzles, 2 water pumps, 5 spot lights – everything was about 2000 euros and it was comissioned by a London charity organization.
Kei is self-conscious with his creation and said that even his grandmother doesn’t understand some of them. So when asked what’s the purpose of creativity, he said that: “If someone got inspired by it and make it something more wearable, that’s my purpose. Someone has to create something otherwise culture doesn’t develope. It can be just an idea but people start developing it and they make something practical out of it.
When you’re young and when you’re student, you develop a sense you have in creation, you want to change the world. Your brain is more free, the older you get, your brain gets stiff.”
In 2011 he presented the ZIP Dress made with YKK luminous vision zippers, UV light, a family tree of creation.
InJune 2011, it was time for the Flying V Boat, he poured metal powder on fabric, poured salted water on metal to make it rusty. Like a ghost ship, it was a visual story. He said: “You can actually wear this. It moves.” The story of this dress is here.
Kei ended his presentation with three schemes meant to explain how creativity works from the moment you came up with the idea until it transforms into a way of living.
- Personal effect
creation -> appreciation -> museum -> general public -> cultural or educational value -> influence on creative people – > development in other field
2. Influential effect on fashion field
creation -> hint, idea -> commercial designer – > modifying process -> commercial items -> new trend
3. Business effect for the company
creation -> appreciation – > increase of sales in difusion (commercial) line – > chance to get commercial jobs
If I can contribute something from myself, culturally and educationally, that’s the happiness. I have been chasing all the time, rather than money.
When talking about McQueen, Kagami said: “The main label works more as a promo label. McQueen doesn’t make money from the catwalk collection. McQueen started making money from the moment he started working for Givenchy as a creative director. Before he was poor. And as soon as he started earning money, he poured half the money in his own brand.”
When talking about Hussein Chalayan, Kei added: They did something creative and that’s how you get people’s attention and start marking money. But first, it was the creation and attention.
When talking about Romania, he said that the one strong thing this country has is… good manufacturing. Italy is big also because of the design but the also because of the manufacturing, good manufacturing brings quality.
Be anxious for opening your future. – Kei Kagami
Kei Kagami seems to want to bring to life and make as human and as living as possible things and creations that are not living. He seems to be looking for the thing that technology got out of everyone: humanity, life. He wants to create life, to inspire life and to make technology be more human and less robotic, more about the essential things, about the flow, about what drives us, about emotions. He’s a mix of optimistic creative and somehow dissapointed artist. But it’s a mix of feelings. The kind of mix that drives someone to create. And he’s right. You won’t create something great with being happy. He talked a lot about finding the balance between creativity and making money and how you always need to have some of both. And balance is key.