Yoshiko Ikoma, an independent fashion journalist, had been editor in chief of Japanese edition of marie claire for four years. After leaving the position, she is working as a freelance journalist and an editor by giving lectures and creating projects centered on fashion, art and lifestyle. She launched a new project called “WAO” to introduce traditional Japanese crafts. In our interview, we asked her about her unique idea to revive Japanese traditional craft business.
Interview with Yoshiko Ikoma
– You succeeded in holding an exhibition of WAO to introduce Japanese crafts in New York and Paris in 2012. What made you to be the founder of “WAO”?”
“WAO” is a new movement by a group of Japanese craftsmen and artists to introduce Japanese beauty to the world. “WAO” is the combination of two Japanese words; “WA(和)” (Japanese) and “O（生）”(birth), which stands for the rebirth of Japan. “WAO” also represents “WOW” in English. This name implies our wish to revive and innovate Japanese tradition that has been descended for centuries and also to fascinate people through Japanese crafts.
The fashion industry has entered into a new era since the 21st century when people wear items from casual and luxurious brands at the same time. It is also time at which handmade items started to be evaluated more than before. I gained confidence in this idea when I had a chance to produce traditional Japanese pieces from Ishikawa in a new style by collaborating with an Italian luxurious brand.
Although Japanese products have exceptional quality, they are struggling to run their business they used to due to a shrinking market and less demand, lack of money, and changing lifestyles. I believe Japanese craftsmen can revive their business by accepting ideas from different areas such as fashion, design and luxurious life style. This is the basic concept of my project “WAO.”
–It is a unique idea to produce Japanese traditional crafts by collaborating with foreign luxurious brands.
I got the idea of creating a new movement to Japanese traditional crafts from what foreign luxurious brands have been doing so far in their business. Many luxurious brands including Louis Vuitton, Baccarat, and Fendi know the necessity of keeping their tradition up-to-date to create future tradition. The origin of these companies is craftsmanship in Europe. What they are doing now is the result of the development of this craftsmanship, which has been preserved and innovated for centuries.
I have seen the innovation from a substantial network with foreign luxurious brands through my career as an editor of fashion magazines such as VOGUE Japan, Elle Japan and Marie Claire Japan. I realized that I could apply this idea to Japanese craftsmanship to sustain their business. Some Japanese craftsmen had already started to innovate their products to fit to our daily lives along with still keeping the tradition and techniques that have been handed down from their ancestors.
– Can you tell us about the definition of these two words, “Ecolux” and “Cool Japan”, which represent your current activities?
“Ecolux” is a combination of two words, which are “Eco friendly lifestyle” and “Luxurious lifestyle.” I used this word in 2005 for the first time for the title of an article that I wrote about Environmental Charter by Louis Vuitton. Louis Vuitton emphasized the importance of environmental protection in their business, and embarked on a voluntarily environmental program such as the increase of portion of transportation by sea from airplane to 50% to reduce the emission of CO2.
Until then, it was considered that luxurious lifestyle was completely opposite from eco friendly lifestyle, and you could not have both at the same time. Therefore, the Environmental Charter by Louis Vuitton shocked many people, and it made me think that the way in which luxurious brands do their business would be changed in the future. It was an epoch making event in that the idea of eco friendly lifestyle and corporate social responsibility was introduced to the concept of luxury.
“Cool Japan” is a project promoted by Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry to introduce Japanese culture overseas. It includes varieties of Japanese culture such as animation, comic books, art, fashion, traditional crafts and food. Japan is rich in traditional crafts, but it is on the verge of being distinguished due to less professional craftsmen and the shortage of money to keep their business. I want to expand its market by collaborating with the idea of fashion and art.
–What do you think fascinates people about Japan through your career as editors of fashion magazines?
There are many things to list. For example, it is subtleness, how people treat others, avant-garde, praise of shadows, tradition and innovation, sophistication.
– You chose to work for publishing companies as an editor to look for more opportunities from a freelance writer. However, you eventually came back to be a freelance writer. What made you come back to this field?
Freelance writers have less opportunity to transmit information than editors inside publishing companies. I realized it when I was working a freelance writer, and decided to work for publishing companies, such as VOGUE, ELLE, and marie Claire. However, as time goes by I started to think that I could not as much information as I wanted to as an editor within the company due to the change surrounding publishing companies. Therefore, I became an independence fashion journalist in 2008 to pursue chances to transmit my messages more effectively. I am actively working in various areas by using social network, writing articles in magazines, giving lectures, and initiating some projects.
–Please give some tips to people who want to work abroad from your experience working with people from other countries.
The more that I go abroad and talk with non Japanese people, the more I realize that how much I do not know about my country. It is important to have basic knowledge of Japanese history and current situation as Japanese to work abroad, which will lead you to connect with people all over the world.
LOUIS VUITTON x Wajima lacquer (c)LOUIS VUITTON
These accessory cases were created by the idea of LOUIS VUITTON to support the rebuilding of Wajima city. The city was damaged by the Noto Peninsula Earthquake in 2007. Lacquer from Wajima was used for these boxes, and al the proceeds went to the Wajima City Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Mast by Kiso Hinoki Cypress
The humidifier is the perfect example of Japanese spirits that love nature and preserve the minutiae in their lives. The amazing part of this product is that it is made of wood shavings which were left from producing other crafts, and does not require electricity.
Profile of Yoshiko Ikoma
Yoshiko Ikoma is an independent fashion journalist. After graduating from Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, she wrote articles to Japanese fashion magazines and also news papers. Her interest in fashion let her become one of the members of initial edition of Japanese version VOGUE, deputy editor in chief of ELLE Japan and editor in chief of marie claire. She became an independent fashion journalist in 2008, and is actively working as a freelance journalist and an editor by giving lectures and creating projects centered on fashion, art and lifestyle. She launched a new project called “WAO” to introduce traditional Japanese crafts as a part of project of Cool Japan promoted by Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. The exhibition of “WAO” in New York and Paris in 2002 had great success.