Treading carefully: Designer rugs

By Amanda Linnell

Australian fashion designer Akira Isogawa has relished the opportunity and challenge of creating his own rugs.

Akira Isogawa's work is inspired by a combination of his Japanese roots and his daily life in Sydney. Photo / Greg Bowker
Akira Isogawa's work is inspired by a combination of his Japanese roots and his daily life in Sydney. Photo / Greg Bowker

Most of the time we walk through life with little thought for what is underfoot. Designer Rugs, however, is an Australian company determined to stop us in our tracks with its innovative range of rugs and carpets that are more works of art than something to wipe our shoes on. Working closely with architects and interior designers, the company creates bespoke carpets for leading hotels, office and homes around the world.

Last week in Auckland, the Sydney-based Designer Rugs company announced an exciting new project which will see a group of leading New Zealand creatives given the chance to design their own rugs in a project called the Kiwi Icon Collection.

Artists Dick Frizzell and Max Gimblet along with musician and jewellery designer Boh Runga, actor Karl Urban, fashion designer Kate Sylvester and Kevin Roberts of Saatchi & Saatchi Global will all be given the opportunity to create their own large scale floor rugs which will be launched in a special event at this year's New Zealand Fashion Festival.

The idea for the project has grown from similar collaborations by Designer Rugs with Australian creatives, the most successful being with leading fashion designer Akira Isogawa.

Born in Japan, Isogawa moved to Sydney in 1986 where he studied fashion design. He quickly made his mark on the hard-to-please fashion world with his ethereal garments inspired by vintage kimono fabrics. Since then, he has appeared on an Australian stamp, had his work included in many exhibitions, and designed costumes for the Australian Dance Company.

Isogawa's ready-to-wear fashion collections are sold in leading stores around the world. Here he shares with Viva his passion for design.

Where did your love of fashion and design come from and why?

I believe that my love of fashion comes from my love for textiles which comes, I could say, from my childhood. I remember all the fabrics of the kimonos which were worn by members of my family; my mother wore one up until the early-70s and my grandmother wore kimonos until she died in the late 90s. So I have fond memories of the beautiful patterns and vibrant colours.

I think, as a child, I was unconsciously absorbing all those ideas, and I guess I was really loving it.

How do you think your work has evolved since you began in fashion?

When I started making clothes I was pretty much a one-man show. I didn't employ anyone. I just went and bought a sewing machine and I set up a little workroom in the kitchen. So my work then, when I look back, was I guess very naive and I never thought I would end up designing my own textiles. Back then I was buying already made fabrics designed by someone else. Often, actually, I would go to second-hand shops in Sydney and buy old curtains from the 80s. But now, having a team of people, technically I think my work has advanced.

Now I have the opportunity to visit different countries and work with different artisans and create my own textiles. I often go to cities like Mumbai or Calcutta and also I work with European mills, particularly in Italy. And, occasionally, I get textiles made in Kyoto. There is now a certain complexity in my fabrics. So I think that has been the greatest evolution.

What has been your proudest achievement?

My first runway show at Australian Fashion Week, 15 years ago. To me that was a big achievement because I had never done such a show before - even though it was part of a new generation group show. Once I had the clothes for my 15 models, I remember realising I couldn't afford 15 pairs of shoes. Instead, I decided to dress the models in red thick socks. And people liked it. I was really surprised. People thought it was quirky and funny.

What inspires your work and design process?

The most important thing is to be true to myself. I am always going back to my own roots. Plus, I'm based in Australia, so I guess everyday experience in Sydney also gives me inspiration. I think in Japan you deal with a more singular ethnicity - the Japanese culture - which is very strong still, even though it is such a modern country. Countries like Australia and New Zealand are much more multicultural and that excites me and that's why I enjoy going to different places. So my work is really a result of drawing inspiration from my Japanese roots and the variety and freshness of Australia.

Relaxation is very important and I do this through staying in touch with old friends or going for walks in places that are green and have flowers. This is not difficult in a place like Sydney - I love going to the Botanical Gardens or for walks around the harbour. I really like walking.

When I go home to Kyoto, which is about twice a year, I love to seek out vintage fabrics and kimonos. I often find these at markets. To me this is not work, this is feeding my soul.

I am Japanese and it's very difficult to detach myself from my roots - that is who I am. For me it is about expressing that, but not in a traditional aesthetic.

You're one of Australia's most well-known designers. What do you think has been the secret to success?

It is hard to measure success. It is a lot to do with your state of mind and feeling content every day.

Sometimes I do question why I am in fashion. But I think it's good not to question too much, and to just do it. It's good also, just for a few seconds or a minute, to give myself a positive thought.

And it's also good to give yourself a great rest at the same time, refresh your brain.

Travelling helps a lot. Putting yourself in a different environment. Also, going back to Japan and staying in touch with my family is very refreshing, and catching up with friends who I haven't seen for a long time.

It's good not to have to think about the next collection, because fashion can be ruthless, one season after another. I think it's important to refresh yourself.

Tell us about your collaboration with Designer Rugs?

Five years ago, Designer Rugs approached me to design a rug for a fundraising charity event.

My design actually scored the highest bid. So after that they thought it would be a possibility to make my design commercially.

And that's how it began. Since then I've done two collections, the second 2 years ago.

For both collections I sourced inspiration from my ready-to-wear archives which date back to 1998. Many of the colours and motifs are still relevant today which was a nice discovery. They didn't look dated at all.

It is a very fascinating process working in such a different medium - learning what works and what doesn't.

The main difference is when I am designing garments I am imagine them becoming three-dimensional, whereas for a rug it is two-dimensional - although we can create texture within that. It is a very interesting process as you are dealing with a solid textile, so that was fundamentally a different concept. A rug is usually placed on the floor or it can be hung on a wall, so it's up to the owners how they appreciate it and how they display it.

Personally, I like the idea of having an extreme element in an environment by combining the modern with the old. For example, an old architectural house can be made into a modern environment by introducing contemporary elements like my rugs.

Describe your own home.

I live in a terrace house which reminds me of a stable or somewhere where you'd expect to keep animals. I don't own much. My home is very sparse. It is a little space - I don't need a large house. It is very modest. I have one of my rugs from the first collection and one big couch - that is all it is. Home for me is a place where you can rest your body and your brain. As long as I can do that, then it serves its purpose. I don't need the complication of having a lot of objects.

I can't tell you what my most prized object is because I am not that materialistic. Probably, my collection of vintage fabrics and kimonos are most special because they are important for my work.

* Akira Isogawa's rugs are available from Designer Rugs, 73 The Strand, Parnell, ph (09) 300 6116.

- NZ Herald

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