Fashion Industry Profile: Akira Isogawa, celebrating over 21 years in fashion

You first notice his infectious smile. After a few words, his genuine warmth shines through. There is nothing haughty or standoffish about Akira Isogawa, the Kyoto-born fashion designer who has made Australia his home for more than two decades and continues to inspire and impress.

I first met Akira when we were both judging amongst a panel of others, the eveningwear collections of the students at the Fashion Design Studio, courtesy of Nicholas Huxley and then again for another industry panel discussion we were both on. We just seemed to click and got along like a house on fire.

Judges of the 2013 Fashion Design Studio evening wear competition. Tim Chappel (Academy Award Winner, Best Costume Design for Priscilla Queen of the Desert), Kirsten Galliott (Editor – Instyle Magazine), Phoebes Garland (Garland & Garland Fashion + Fashion Initiative), Joshua Heath (Joshua Heath Stylist), Akira Isogawa (Akira Isogawa), Naomi Wiilson (Designer Oroton), Nicholas Huxley (Head of Fashion Design – Fashion Design Studio)

A year later and I then caught up with him again at the end-of-year collections of the third-year students. I was greeted by a long hug reminiscent of an old friend, and a promise of red socks.

10341853_10152548280838721_8261407252787869497_n

Akira Isogawa with Phoebes Garland at the 2104 Graduate show of Fashion Design Studio

True to his word, a few days later a beautiful pair of red knitted socks arrived. The socks represent more than just hosiery. They celebrated Akira’s 21 years in fashion in 2014, and were a reminder of his first runway show at Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Australia when the emerging designer couldn’t afford shoes for his models. So instead of shoes, Akira sent models down the runway in red socks. Those days are well past.

10636011_10152565697098721_5928941250934674690_n

Akira Isogawa was born in Kyoto in 1964 to parents who both worked in the public service. In 1986 at the age of 21, he left Japan for a holiday in Australia to visit his cousin. He soon fell in love with the freedom and the relaxed lifestyle Australia had to offer, a stark contrast to the demanding working life of Japan. After a brief return to Japan he obtained a working visa and set about furthering his career by studying fashion design in Australia.

“I felt more accustomed to the Australian way of living and missed my friends and the weather and environment here”, says Akira over lunch on a hot steamy summer day in Sydney.

“In Tokyo you have a purely work-driven life. You quite often work till 1.00 AM and then you’re up again working at 7.00 AM. A lot of friends of mine live their life like that.”

He began his career wholesaling, including stocking his collections into the highly popular (now defunct) Black Vanity store in the 1990s and also Nice Things, which was owned by rag trader, Michael Bracewell. Setting up his first store in Woollahra in 1993, he worked the shop floor by day and manned the sewing machine by night, constructing his own designs.

Akira SS15 Look 29

Akira SS15

 

Entering Akira’s studio today, you are greeted by the entire archive of his self-titled collection hanging in rows. The archive takes up almost an entire floor and gives the industrial warehouse an ethereal feel: beautiful fabrics and exquisite hand-crafted designs peek from underneath garment bags. It’s a testament to his passion. Even after all these years he has kept his business small so he can still design his own collections as he envisions them, without a team operating under his name. The business model works – he’s still here – and the industry can’t help but applaud his vision.

Despite being incredibly modest and humble, he is no stranger to awards and accolades. Designer of the Year and Womenswear Designer of the Year were highlights in 1999. Akira was awarded the inaugural Australian Fashion Laureate Award for his contribution to the Australian Fashion Industry in 2007, one year after he received the Award for Fashion Excellence.

Akira Isogawa SS15

Akira SS15

The year 2003 was a standout for Akira and Australian fashion as a whole. He joined fashion royalty Jenny Bannister, Collette Dinnigan, Prue Acton, Joe Saba and Carla Zampatti in being honoured by Australia Post with the release of the ‘Australian Legend’ commemorative postage stamp. He was also featured in David Jones marketing campaign to support Australian fashion, amongst other prominent Australian fashion designers.

Despite his success, Akira hasn’t forgotten the challenges and struggles he faced as he entered the industry: the difficulties of producing ranges and endless meetings with bank managers to fund production of his line. Reflecting on his 21 years of his business, he notes how price points has come to dominate purchasing decisions and has changed the customer to expect fashion – even designer wear – to hit mass-production price points.

According to Akira, the industry needs to educate customers about the value of unique labels so they can understand and appreciate the work, which goes into piece like an Akira Isogawa original. Aside from his main collection there is also successful bridalware line and bespoke pieces, and a diffusion label, which ran from 2003 to 2005 called Akira Red. Akira Red was stocked in David Jones and while sell through was good, it wasn’t well received in Paris where he shows annually. The experience proved pivotal.

Akira Isogawa SS15

Akira SS15

On returning from Paris, and in consultation with David Jones, he changed tack. He closed the diffusion line and lowered the wholesale price of his core collections by 10-15 per cent, compromising for the loss of the diffusion line. The strategy paid off; his main collection became more popular. He has been stocked in David Jones since the late 1990’s.

“I realised Akira Red was not something my stockists were looking for; globally, the stockists were looking for something a bit more special and it didn’t really matter if it was a bit more expensive. I was more motivated by making and designing high end.” says Akira reflectively.

The world of trends and cheap disposable fashion are a world away from his classic feminine style and his Japanese heritage – the signature Akira look. He does drop fortnightly collections into his own stores, a commercial decision most vertical operators have adapted to and is aware of designing for his core customers, many of whom have been loyal since the beginning.

“My customer is a 35 to 55 year old, usually from a creative background and self-assured. She wants very simple shapes and for the fabric to speak for itself.”

The timelessness of his designs and quality of each piece is evident in their longevity.

“I find it so rewarding that I have customers who are wearing something they bought from me in 1998 or 2000, and they mix and match it with something new.”

Akira’s fabrics are mainly sourced from Japan and he develops his own prints by screen-printing on silk. He also works with a textile weaver to produce his own fabrics and he chooses his colours and threads in Japan, all custom made.

Akira Isogawa SS15

Akira SS15

 

“I used to use a lot of authentic vintage kimono fabrics for my shops and make them into dresses, but they are getting rare and harder to find as there are not that many left.”

At the other end of the spectrum are the licensed products, which allows for creativity “without worrying about the manufacturing side”, an observation learned from hard experience which most designers would well understand.

His collaboration with Designer Rugs has included three collections over the last eight years. He also has a licensing agreement with Woven Image, which produces furnishing textiles. In addition to Akira’s designs they have also worked with Dinosaur Designs and Mambo. He feels his designs translates well into homewares, and considers this an area of interest for further possible licensing opportunities.

Akira Isogawa SS15

Akira SS15

Despite his success he remains cautious of ensuring licensing partners fits with his creative direction. As befits his position in Australian fashion, he turns away more offers than he accepts.

It’s been over two hours since we meet for lunch which consisted of a lot of laughter and jokes in between interview questions.  I ask about what the next 21 years may hold. He laughs his infectious laugh and says he still hopes to still be motivated and inspired to be doing the thing he still loves: designing.

One thing for sure, many will be looking forward to the next 21 years of Akira.

Visit http://www.akira.com.au/

Akira Isogawa Timeline (source: Akira.com.au)

 

1993

Akira Isogawa boutique opens in Woollahra, Sydney

1994

Autumn/Winter 1994/95 Not Made In Japan presentation at Hogarth Galleries, Sydney

1995

Autumn/Winter 1995/96 Premier of The Pillowbook presentation at the Dendy Cinema, Sydney

1996

Spring/Summer 1996/97 New Generation Collection presented at Australian Fashion Week, Sydney

1997

Spring/Summer/Resort 1997/98 Satori presented at Australian Fashion Week, Sydney

1998

Fashion of the Year retrospective presented at the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney

Collaboration with Sydney Dance Company designing costumes for Salome

Spring/Summer/Resort Botanica 1998/99 shown at Australian Fashion Week, Sydney and at the Royal Saint Honore, Paris

Seppelt Contemporary Art Award

Exhibitor at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney

1999

Autumn/Winter Etheric Zest 1999/2000 presented at Tranoi, Paris

Spring/Summer/Resort High Spirit 1999/2000 presented at Australian Fashion Week, Sydney and Rue Danielle Casanova, Paris

Australian Designer of the Year, Australian Fashion Industry Awards

Womenswear Designer of the Year, Australian Fashion Industry Awards

Collaboration with Sydney Dance Company designing costumes for Air and Other Invisible Forces

Fashion of the Year retrospective exhibited at the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney

Tokyo Vogue Exhibition exhibitor at the Brisbane City Gallery, Brisbane

Premiere of Anna and the King at The Dome, Fox Studios, Sydney

2000

Autumn/Winter Collection 2000/01 presented at Espace Commines, Paris

Melbourne Fashion Festival at the Royal Plaza Ballroom, Melbourne

Spring/Summer/Resort Metamorphosis 2000/01 presented at Australian Fashion Week, Sydney

Spring/Summer Collection 2001 presented at Rue Rambuteau, Paris

2001

Desire exhibitor at the Royal Melbourne Institute of the Arts for the Melbourne Fashion Festival, Melbourne

Autumn/Winter Collection 2001/02 presented at Rue Danielle Casanova, Paris

MCA Unpacked exhibitor at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney

Australian Designers Collection at the Crown Casino, Melbourne

Melbourne Fashion Festival at the Royal Plaza Ballroom, Melbourne

Spring/Summer/Resort Light and Night 2001/02 presented at Australian Fashion Week, Sydney

Designed the performance outfits for the Australian Chamber Orchestra

Spring/Summer Collection Water Star 2002 presented at Rue Danielle Casanova, Paris

Akira Isogawa Exhibition, Object Gallery, Customs House, Sydney

2002

Autumn/Winter Collection 2002/03 presented at Rue Danielle Casanova, Paris

Melbourne Fashion Festival at the Royal Plaza Ballroom, Melbourne

Akira Isogawa Exhibition, Royal Melbourne Institute Technology, Melbourne

Sourcing The Muse Exhibition at the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney

Dressing & Dreaming Exhibition at Sherman Gallery, Sydney

Collaboration with Sydney Dance Company designing costumes for Ellipse

Spring/Summer/Resort Photo Session 2002/03 presented at Australian Fashion Week, Sydney

Australian Fashion & Textile Exhibition in Seoul, Korea

Spring/Summer Collection 2003 presented at Rue Danielle Casanova, Paris

2003

Honoured by Australia Post, Akira’s image appeared on a commemorative Australian Legend postage stamp

Contribution of outfit to the Stratton Foundation

Salvador Dali Exhibition at Beacon Southgate, Melbourne

MAC Deck of Cards Exhibition at the Gagosian Gallery, New York and the Art Gallery of NSW, Sydney

Autumn/Winter Collection 2003/04 presented at Rue Danielle Casanova, Paris

Melbourne Fashion Festival at the Royal Plaza Ballroom, Melbourne

Spring/Summer/Resort Collection 2003/04 presented at the Art Gallery of NSW, Sydney

Akira Customised Bonds T-shirts Exhibition at Bookstore Kinokuniya, Galleries Victoria, Sydney

Akira at Home exhibition at Orson & Blake, Surry Hills, Sydney

Contribution of outfit to the Australian Ballet Tutu Exhibition shown at the Sydney Opera House, Sydney

Un Wrapped Exhibition at the Bendigo Art Gallery, Victoria

Twister Exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

Spring/Summer Collection 2004 presented at Rue Danielle Casanova, Paris

10th Anniversary Japan Foundation Cultural Centre at the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney

Designed new performance outfits for the Australian Chamber Orchestra

2004

Autumn/Winter Collection 2004/05 presented at Rue Danielle Casanova, Paris

Spring/Summer/Resort Collection 2004/05 presented at the University of Sydney, Sydney

Spring/Summer Collection 2005 presented at Rue Danielle Casanova, Paris

Gang of Five Event, Australian Embassy, Paris

Australian Ballet Tutu Exhibition travels to the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

Akira Boutique opens in GPO Melbourne

Akira Printemps Été 2005 Exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

2005

Autumn/Winter Collection 2005/06 presented at Rue Danielle Casanova, Paris

Akira and Sydney Dance Company present a Special Event at Australian Fashion Week, Sydney

Collaboration with Sydney Dance Company designing costumes for Grand

Presentation in Australian Pavilion at World Expo 2005 in Nagoya, Japan

Akira Printemps Été 2005 Exhibition at the Singapore Arts House, Singapore

Best Australian Designer Prix De Marie Claire

Designer Rugs launch in Sydney, Melbourne

Spring/Summer Collection 2006 presented at Rue Danielle Casanova, Paris

Akira Boutique opens in The Strand Arcade, Sydney

2006

Akira becomes Honda Ambassador

Akira Printemps Été 2005 Exhibition at Ayala Museum in Manila, Philippines and The Queen’s Gallery in Bangkok, Thailand

Autumn/Winter Collection 2006/07 presented at Rue Danielle Casanova, Paris

Melbourne Fashion Festival show with Australian Ballet School, Docklands, Melbourne

Spring/Summer/Resort Collection 2006/07 presented at the Jow Ga Kung Fu Academy, Sydney

Spring/Summer 2007 presented at Rue Danielle Casanova, Paris

Akira receives Award for Fashion Excellence at the National Retail Association Fashion Design Awards

Closet Tales of Australian Fashion Akira airs on SBS TV, Australia

 

2007

Autumn/Winter Collection 2006/07 presented at Rue Danielle Casanova, Paris

Cara&Co Presentation in Moscow, Russia

Akira Printemps Été 2005 Exhibition at Lalit Kala Academy in Delhi, India and Prince of Wales Museum Mumbai, India

Spring/Summer/Resort Collection 2007/08 presented at Akira Design Studio, Sydney

Art In Reverse – Akira airs on ABC TV, Australia

Spring/Summer 2008 presented at Rue Danielle Casanova, Paris

Akira awarded inaugural Australian Fashion Laureate Award for his contribution to the Australian fashion industry

2008

Autumn/Winter Collection 2007/08 presented at Rue Danielle Casanova, Paris

Spring/Summer/Resort Collection 2008/09 presented at Australian Fashion Week, Sydney

Contribution of outfit to the exhibition celebrating the Little Black Dress shown at the Fashion and Textile Museum, London

Seamless: Where Costume Meets Dance Exhibition at the Arts Centre, Melbourne, includes costumes from Air and other Invisible ForcesSalome, Ellipse and Grand

Spring/Summer/Resort Collection 2008/09 presented at the Indonesian Fashion Festival, Jakarta Fashion Week, hosted by Femina Group, Indonesia

Akira’s sequin gown worn by Rose Bryne for Jonathan Ogilvie’s stylised vision of the 1920s, The Tender Hook

Freestyle Exhibition presented at The Object Gallery and National Art School, Sydney; Melbourne Museum; Art Gallery of South Australia; QUT Art Museum, Brisbane; and Triennale, Milan

Spring/Summer 2009 presented at Rue Danielle Casanova, Paris

Some of Akira’s works included as a part of the Shibori Exhibition, held at L’Elaireur Boutique Paris

 

2009

As the new patron, Akira officially opens the premier fashion design institute, ESMOD Australia

Akira presented his Autumn/Winter 2009 Collection at Rue Danielle Casanova, Paris

Akira officially opens the Contemporary Japanese Fashion: Gene Sherman Collection, at the Powerhouse Museum

New Akira Boutique opens in Fortitude Valley, Brisbane

Printemps Été 2009 Collection launched at The Strand, Sydney

Hands that Shape Humanity Ambassador, Akira Isogawa creates an exquisite piece for the Limited Edition Artisan Collection launched at Rosemount Australian Fashion Week

A one-off cover is designed for the IKEA Kipplan, later auctioned for charity

Akira shows in Brisbane’s fashion festival at City Hall

Akira shows in Melbourne’s fashion festival at Town Hall

Akira designs new performance outfits for the Australian Chamber Orchestra

2010

Akira announced as an Australia Day Ambassador for the Opinion Peace Campaign

Akira presented his Automne Hiver 2010 Collection at Rue Danielle Casanova, Paris

Akira announced as an Ambassador for the Protect our Coral Sea campaign.

A one-off dress is designed for Being Born Again in collaboration with artist Lindy Lee.

Akira presented his Resort 11 Collection at The Sherman Contemporary Art Gallery.

Akira Automne Hiver 2010 exhibited at The Japan Foundation

A one-off art piece is designed for the Synergy of Art and Fashion project / exhibition in collaboration with Cara & Co

Akira Meets Mr Johnston exhibition opens at The Johnston Collection in Melbourne.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Share on FacebookShare on Twitter+1Share on LinkedInPin it on PinterestShare via email

Related Posts

Comments are closed.

f6f61bd5ba82b2cd52f0dde56e3790c9AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA