Mirror Mirror: Remembering Eiko Ishioka

Curator: Rafael Esquer
date: May 4, 2012
Categories: Entertainment Design
Tags: Costume Design, Film, Grammy, Oscar
Photo: Jan Thijs. © 2012 Relativity Media. All Rights Reserved.
Left to right: Julia Roberts and Nathan Lane star in Relativity Media’s Mirror Mirror.

It was sometime in my first year of design school when I discovered who would become my creative role model. Eiko by Eiko was a book that opened my eyes to how visionary graphic design could be.

Eiko Ishioka died in January 2012 at the age of 73.

This post is a humble celebration not only to her last masterpiece, the costume design for Mirror Mirror, but for a life dedicated to groundbreaking design.

In my professional life, I had the incredible opportunity to work with Eiko, one-on-one, for many years. In fact, I’ve always said that I feel as if I have a master’s degree in the philosophy and design of Eiko-san. Working together, we seldom stopped before midnight, even on weekends. Design was more than work: It was life. And as crazy as it sounds, I enjoyed every second spent with her.

We traveled. We laughed. We argued. And we worked! Many times we ran out of sketch pads, pencils and printer’s ink: Eiko’s demand for perfection was boundless. When designing collections of uniforms for the 2002 Winter Olympics, we presented more than 100 fully rendered sketches. When designing album covers for Bjork, her art direction was simply, “Make it beautiful, make it shockingly beautiful!”

For Parco, the Japanese retail chain, Eiko’s work is as fresh and revolutionary today as it was more than 30 years ago. She essentially invented for Parco what Americans would later come to know as the Benetton ad: a single arresting image instead of a product shot. Similarly, for Miles Davis’s Tutu, her cover design is as current as it was when released in 1985 (she won a Grammy for it). For Coppola’s Dracula, people say that her fantastical and dreamlike costume design is among the most unforgettable in film history (she won an Oscar for it). Coppola himself said, “Beauty itself is her medium.”

I could go on and on, but I’m sure most of you are well familiar with her work.

Eiko was trained as a graphic designer, and throughout her long and unparalleled career her work remained “graphic,” no matter what the canvas. And by “graphic,” I mean memorable, powerful, even ravishing. One of my earliest recollections of the impact of her style is her poster for Apocalypse Now. Such power and immediacy have rarely been transmitted in a movie poster.

Nippon Herald Films, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Poster for Francis Ford Coppola’s film Apocalypse Now. Art director: Eiko Ishioka. Graphic designers: Eiko Ishioka, Kyoko Inui. Illustrator: Haruo Takino.

Photo: Irving Penn. All Rights Reserved.
Miles Davis’s Tutu album. Design and art direction: Eiko Ishioka.

Photo: David Seidner. All Rights Reserved.
Vlad the Impaler’s armour custome from Francis Ford Coppola's Dracula.

Photo: Shinya Fujiwara. All Rights Reserved.
My Dear Superstar (Waga Kokoro no supasuta). Poster for Parco. Creative and art direction: Eiko Ishioka. Graphic designers: Eiko Ishioka, Motoko Naruse, Kyoko Inui.

Left to right: Rafael Esquer, Eiko Ishioka and Tracy Roberts.

Photo: Jan Thijs. © 2012 Relativity Media. All Rights Reserved.
Eiko Ishioka on the set of Relativity Media’s Mirror Mirror.

Callaway Editions and Chronicle Books. All Rights Reserved.
Eiko by Eiko. Original art direction, layout and design by Eiko Ishioka.

Eiko once told me that as a child of five or six years, in wartime Tokyo, she had a precocious moment of personal clarity. She looked around and realized: “I am different from everyone else.” And she recognized a desire to make the world a better place­, a more beautiful place, different from the destruction and hunger of WWII. That’s where she marked her birth as a designer.

Throughout her life and work, Eiko did make the world a better and more beautiful place. Her legacy, I’m sure, will keep its unique power to inspire, shock, challenge, entertain, surprise, and touch people for decades to come.  

My post today is, for me, a bit of healing for the loss of my good friend and ultimate creative role model, Eiko Ishioka. The world’s greatest art director.

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