Friday, January 27, 2012

In Memoriam . . .

One of my inspirations has died.

You may never have heard of her. I sometimes forget that not everyone is as deeply into film costuming as I am, and I assume my readers have the same familiarities with famous costumers that I do. You may not have known her name, but I guarantee you know her work.

From Dracula

Eiko Ishioka was not a costume designer by trade. She did not sew. She did not construct garments, or even seek to have much understanding of how garment construction worked. But she was an artist, and she designed things in fabric that made you gasp. I first saw her work when I was 12 years old, and it changed the way I looked at film costuming forever. Her designs for Bram Stoker's Dracula were stunning, to say the least: the costumes transcended the historical constraints of the setting and gave life to the darker symbolism in the story. Dracula wore rivers of blood, and seemed to be skinned, his muscles exposed. Lucy, turned into a vampire, was a predatory lizard in white silk. Garments were embroidered with dragons and snakes and leaves, all to give you insight into the characters who wore them. I learned an important lessons from her: costumes are not just what characters wear. Costumes tell you who a character is.

From The Fall

Eiko collaborated several times with Tarsem Singh, designing four of his films, and all visual tour-des-forces: The Cell, The Fall, Immortals, and Mirror, Mirror (yet to be released). Her costumes in each push the boundaries of what film costuming means, almost becoming characters in themselves. She showed Eastern influences in many of her designs, but really her style conforms to no period and no map. It was simply Eiko.

From The Cell

From Varekai

She worked once with Cirque Du Soleil in a partnership that seemed inevitable: the costumes for Varekai were strange blends of lizard and bird, rooted to the ground and flying through the air, a mix that should not have worked. But, the fins and feathers married well, and the results were astonishing.

From Dracula

From The Cell

From Mirror, Mirror

From Spiderman

Her last two efforts, completed while she was battling pancreatic cancer, were collaborations with two demanding directors: once again she worked with Tarsem on Mirror, Mirror, and she designed the costumes for Julie Taymor's Spiderman: Turn off the Dark. You could not find two more different projects, but Eiko's stamp is obvious on each: Spiderman shows her penchant for biological dismorphism and insanely bright colors; the characters sprout spikes and wear their muscles on the outside, terrifying and beautiful. And Mirror, Mirror returns to the territory she walked for Dracula, with garments that bridge the gap between historical and fantasy in richly saturated colors and covered in embroidered motifs.

I am deeply saddened that such a great and visionary artist has been lost. She is one of the reasons I got into this business, and I can honestly say that the business of film costume will not be the same without her.

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