EIKO ISHIOKA’s creative genius as a pioneering designer forever found form by cracking through boundaries, as if her ideas were less born than passionately hatched.
The Tokyo-born artist could dwell gloriously on simply piercing a shell, whether she was conceiving a striking commercial featuring Faye Dunaway wordlessly eating a hard-boiled egg against a black background, or creating such Oscar-winning costumes for “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” as Gary Oldman’s vampire, clad and battling in the armadillo-like skin of crimson corrugation.
It was as if sublime inspiration itself could only by achieved through the creative tension of pushing against expectation. And her sense of daring presentation could be realized whether she was wrapping her actors in a saturated-color exoskeleton, such as in Julie Taymor’s “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” on Broadway, or baring the flesh of milky fertility in the video for Bjork’s tune “Cocoon.”
Today, Google celebrates Ishioka’s visionary sense of sensual, oft surreal art and costume with a beautiful home-page Doodle slide show on what would have been her 79th birthday.
Ishioka’s father, himself a graphic designer, warned her about trying to make it in Japan’s male-dominated world of midcentury advertising, yet part of her greatness was to buck tightly swaddled convention, sometimes even using artful nudity to sell products to a “kimono culture.”
Sprung from the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music in the early ’60s, she entered advertising through the cosmetics titan Shiseido before launching out on her own a decade later, deploying an international flair on behalf of such clients as Parco, the shopping complex chain, for which she sometimes advertised by showing no product (or clothing) at all. She was fearless in baring her avant-garde concepts.
Yet she was equally expert at dreaming up clothing design, whether for the Canadian, Japanese, Spanish and Swiss teams at the 2002 Winter Olympics, or the logo for the Houston Rockets.
And it was her eclectic sense of costume design that elevated her to fresh levels of prominence the globe over, whether she was weaving her magic for Cirque du Soleil or filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola.
Coppola had seen her production design work for the 1985 Paul Schrader biographical film “Mishima,” which yielded her a share of a Cannes festival jury award, and had been impressed by her Japanese poster for his classic “Apocalypse Now.”
By the time they collaborated on 1992’s “Dracula,” she had received Tony nominations for her set and costume design for 1988’s “M. Butterfly” by David Henry Hwang, and a Grammy Award for her album design on Miles Davis’s “Tutu” in 1986.
For “Dracula,” Coppola’s vision was to have the costumes be “the jewel of the set.” In Ishioka, he valued a freethinking Hollywood outsider who could look at Gustav Klimt’s “The Kiss” and be inspired to create a symbolist costume.
“When I see Klimt’s painting, I could feel the very Oriental flavor with Western painting,” Ishioka recounted. “I wanted to express hybrid culture, which is East meets West.”
Ishioka also appreciated that costuming could cause discomfort befitting context, reflective of both social strictures and state of mind — whether she was outfitting Winona Ryder in Victorian garb for “Dracula,” or encasing Jennifer Lopez in confining headwear for Tarsem Singh’s “The Cell” in 2000.
Ishioka would collaborate with Singh several times, including on the 2006 film “The Fall,” which directly inspires today’s Doodle.
Eiko Ishioka, who was born July 12, 1938, died of pancreatic cancer in 2012, shortly after marrying “The Fall” and “The Cell” screenwriter Nico Soultanakis. Her design influence hatches eternal.
“When I said the costumes would be the set,” Coppola said with understatement, in hailing Ishioka’s brilliance, “I think that was fulfilled.”