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Top 25 Art Blog - Creative Tourist

Shu Okada: If the Shu Fits..

Illustration, Interview

Written by Alice Watson

Recently discussing with a fellow fashion blogger the growing interest in the Scandinavian fashion world, information pills treatment she quipped that it was very easy for Scandinavians to be fashionable; after all, link each and every one of them seem to be all long legs and white blonde hair. Her remark seemed to suggest that perhaps the Scandinavians have no street style genius or imaginative flair when it comes to dressing. Indeed, sale the stereotype of beautiful dumb models hailing from the North of Europe is far from rare – but there’s something going on over there that’s worth a bit of investigating.

Taking just one look at street style websites Lookbook or the Face Hunter confronts us with the fresh new faces of Scandinavian fashion. The majority of the most ‘hyped’ looks on Lookbook come from sassy, fashionable (and often very young) North Europeans, hailing from Stockholm, Helsinki and beyond. Indeed, for a clear picture of Swedish success on Lookbook, just look at “Shelley M, 18 year old art student and blogger from Sweden,” with her knack of combining little girl cuteness (headbands and bows) with serious sex appeal (short black skirts and lace) topped off with crazy heels and splashes of kitsch accessories straight out of Tatty Devine.

And she’s not a lone phenomenon. Sporting brave and bold urban prints in vivid colours, these bright young things from Scandinavian meccas of style exude a perfect blend of 90s skate culture with CluelessCher Horowitz, with her high school polished, blonde doll-faced perfection. See Amelia’s Magazine’s recent articles on Daniel Palillo and CTRL for examples of this kind of styling, something that appears to be truly specific to the Scandinavians. The 90s, it seems, are the nostalgic wardrobe reference du jour here, embodying past positivity and youth in a pre-doom and gloom world of the new millennium.

Ever since the Swedish Institute’s exhibition – ‘Swedish Fashion: Exploring a New Identity’ – launched at London’s Fashion and Textile Museum this February, Scandinavian fashion has seen a markedly rising profile in the fashion world. Celebrating a new wave of Swedish design talent, the exhibition questioned the static view that fashion blooms only in the eponymous fashion capitals of Paris, London, New York and Milan. In fact, this collection instead raised the debate over whether globally, we neglect fashion from all four corners of the globe at the cost of fresher and more interesting approaches to design, simply because they have traditionally been ignored by the industry.

Ann-Sofie Back must be considered one of the most influential and successful of these designers, with her place at London Fashion Week and her capsule collection for Topshop, not to mention her collaboration with that uber-successful Swedish brand, Cheap Monday. As seen at her s/s 09 collection, Back is unafraid to incorporate social comment into her shows, holding celebrity obsession with plastic surgery up to ridicule with her bandaged and felt-tipped models.

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But then, there are also the clothes. Back’s most recent collection sported ripped and distressed pieces supposedly representing ‘Ann-Sofie Back goes to Hell’. Striking the balance can be near-impossible, yet she really knows how to shock whilst also providing wearable fashion pieces.

And Back’s not the only one causing a stir. Joining her from the recent exhibition for particular note are Sandra Backlund, Helena Horstedt and Martin Bergström, who showcased similarly effortless Scandinavian cool.

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If you saw our feature on Backlund’s knitwear in recent weeks, you’ll know that it is really something special; with oversize knotting and draping, with the designs exude wooly coziness whilst remaining edgy and thoroughly modern. Alongside Backlund stands Horstedt whose work focuses on intricacy of shape in order to create highly fascinating designs that swirl and envelope the body with draping and fringing detail, all in solid black.

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Indeed, for both designers, it seems that the human body is paramount to their designs, with Backlund quoted as saying the it is her chief inspiration. Finally we have Bergström, who once again predominantly centres on futuristic shapes enveloping the body with volume, but in a more vivid aquamarine colour palette.

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It seems then, that the Finns and the Swedes are well and truly indulging in some kind of sartorial breakthrough at the moment. Whatever it is that’s doing it, there is undoubtedly something linking these North European designers spurring them into a fashion frenzy. Hopefully, the fashion world will take notice, and we will be joining the likes of Shelley M in her fashion credentials all too soon.

What I find so fascinating, search bewildering and ultimately beautiful about Japan can all be found in Shu Okada, site and her stunning watercolour illustrations. Perfectly and carefully rendered, aesthetically desirable but with undertones of the dark and unspoken, her work is enchanting and haunting in equal measures. Okada is true to her Japanese roots though she now chooses to reside in the more artistically liberal city of New York from where she not only illustrates, but blogs, photographs and produces animation.

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One of the most important things I think for an artist to do is to take themselves out of their comfort zones and immerse their entire beings in different worlds, different cities, different cultures, and that is exactly what Okada has achieved and she’s still only in her early twenties. Her creative passion has taken her around the globe in search of inspiration; schooling in Switzerland, a spell at St Martins, some time at Parsons New School for Design, and already her work has been recognised and awarded by Bologna Book Fair, New Ink Cover Design and New York Times.

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We talked about Kimonos, moving around the world and where to find inspiration, our conversation follows below.

Hello, how are you today?

Good! August is my birth month, so I am very excited now.

What have you been doing recently?

I just finished my college life this summer, so now I have a lot of time to paint and draw anything I want.

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What materials or mediums do you like to work with best?

I like to experiment with different media such as watercolour, ink, and oil paint. Recently I’ve been using watercolour and colour pencil the most. I like how watercolour shows differently when it is wet and dry.

How is the New York art scene different from the Tokyo art scene? What made you decide to leave Japan?

New York is mix of many different cultures and nationalities. I feel that New York art has more variety than in Japan. Also, the attitude of illustrators is slightly different in New York. Before I came here, I thought illustration was about comics (manga) or animations for young kids. I decided to come to New York to see how other cultures see art.

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What inspires your work?

Knowledge is very important, not just for art, but also for living. So now I am trying to read books and watch different kinds of movies when I have time. It doesn’t necessarily need to connect to my art directly, but I believe it helps my way of thinking. Also, I get inspiration from architecture and I sometimes travel to other countries and like to imagine people’s lives there.

How long do the illustrations usually take you to do?

Watercolour has to be quick, because when it is dry, I can’t fix it. So when I start putting watercolour, it doesn’t take a long time to paint at all…but if I make any mistakes, I have to repaint it all over again.

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At what age did you realise you were creative?

My dream was always related to art. When I was in 2nd grade, I wanted to be a fashion designer, and when I was in junior high school, my dream was to be a trumpeter. However, I knew these dreams were just dreams. The time I decided to follow my creativity was in high school. I went to a high school in Switzerland and the way they thought was different from Japan. After we made something in art class, we had a critique time, which was unusual for a Japanese high school. At that time, I realized how I love to show my art to other people and decided to study art more.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years time?

I have no idea where I will be living because I am constantly moving around the world; such as Switzerland, New York, London, Tokyo, and Kanazawa. What I am sure about is that I will have a cute dog and I will name it “Maru the 6th” (my family’s dog is always named “Maru”), and painting everyday.

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Besides art and photography, what are you passions or interests in life?

Kimono is traditional clothing that is still worn in Japan. However, there are many rules about the choice of patterns, colours, and fabric. Because my family works in the Kimono business, I have always wanted to study the Kimono. One of my passions is to study the Kimono and become a Kimono teacher.

Which are your favourite artists/illustrators/photographers?

For now, I like Makoto Aida, a Japanese artist. When I first saw his paintings, I couldn’t move for long time.

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Tell us a secret!

Follow your mind!

Sound advice from a lady who obviously tastes her own medicine.

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