Junya Watanbe, Rei Kawakubo’s protégé, first summoned Tomihiro Kono to collaborate on his Autumn/Winter 2014 runway collection. Years later, Kono, a master of experimental coiffure-making, has evolved from stylist to artist-at-large, creating an oeuvre of multidimensional head forms that display logic order in the most beautiful fashion. On the release of his self-published research monograph, “Head Prop: Studies 2013 - 2016,” Kono reveals his fascinating appetite for mathematical discovery, a practice he realized at the start of this period in order to craft beauty from form.
Michael Beshara—What emotion best describes your work?
Tomihiro Kono—Surprise: I hope my work is surprising for people; ideally, I want to be surprised by what I have made, too.
Michael—How have you embraced hair specifically as an artistic practice?
Tomihiro—I have worked as a hairstylist for over 20 years. Hair is such a mysterious material to work with. The fact that it is living—meaning it is part of nature—is something I cannot control enough. Different types of hair and textures keep me sharp! Its condition is easily affected by the weather. I have also started making wigs, which keeps me busy—to make them from scratch is my next challenge. I need to acquire new techniques such as sewing and knitting. I've always consider myself a hairstylist rather than a head prop artist.
Layers of Polyplopylene sheets from Tomihiro Kono’s "Head Prop: Studies 2013 - 2016.” Images courtesy of the artist.
Michael—How has ascribing to mathematical orders given dimension to your artistry?
Tomihiro—Most of the designs I make are based on the mathematical process that is revealed inside the book. [The idea] was a transformative one, because it changed how I selected materials and developed structure. The final product, as a result, can be closely related to that of graphic design. Thinking back to my time as a hairdresser, we used mathematical sequences such as 3D haircut diagrams to understand how to divide and pull out panels in the creation of particular styles. The head props that I have created [since 2013] are based on planning. As mentioned in “Head Prop,” there are mainly two types of creative processes: planned and artistic. Hair design is counted as the latter. To meet accidental design is the exciting part of it. I first start with research, which leads to the initial design and selection of materials; then a redesign for resize and quality improvement before completion. This way is practical. When you work as a team, you have to make head props size-adjustable.
Michael—Tell me about your experience collaborating with Junya Watanabe?
Tomihiro—I had dreamed of working with Comme des Garçons for a long time: It was in the beginning of 2014 when [Watanabe] asked me to collaborate for his then-upcoming Autumn/Winter 2014 collection. I felt so honored.
Michael—What is required of you to create your “characters”?
Tomihiro—Making a character for me means making a concept, which I find the most exciting in the whole process. I do a lot of research for inspirations, mostly found pictures. Nowadays you can search for any sort of images online. Amazing! I also visit libraries; I tend to read books from genres that normally disinterest me. For example, I was not so into Pop art, Minimal art, or graphic design-related books before 2014, but since then I have started to adopt their essences into my work. American art was quite new to me after moving to [New York] from London and Paris.
Beshara—London was where you first began making head props?
Tomihiro—London was influential in so many ways. I loved the antiques that I rarely encountered in Japan. I used to make head props inspired by found materials in those days. I once made feather pieces with real feathers of birds I picked up from park grounds.
Michael—Your work is almost gothic; religious in its control, conceptual, yet you create with a childlike freedom, making pieces with a lot of wit and humor at the same time. How do you achieve that?
Tomihiro—The most essential thing is to be curious. It’s good to be easily influenced if you can reflect the influence in your style, in your work. I like to have both childlike freedom of imagination and professionalism at the same time.
Paper prototype that Kono describes as a search “for a design method to create unlimited design variation.” Image courtesy of artist.
Michael—To what extent do you self-edit? Is it important in your creative process and how this book reveals your way of artistry?
Tomihiro—For this book, I wanted to unveil my working process and works that have not yet been seen—the things that are not usually exposed to the public and my creative process of making them. My partner, Sayaka, and I are self-publishing it [under the nomenclature] Konomad Editions. We discussed making this book look educative, design-related. The format is so important to visualize our ideas and she did most of its design. It was important for me to take the responsibility of my work and be in the position to oversee and direct how the archive was compiled. It was a new challenge as we had so much to edit—pictures, texts, archives—it took us one full year to complete, but we feel [now] that we have done a good job. I’ve always liked books. I like going to secondhand bookshops in whatever cities I visit. You can feel the textures and taste in books, which I love.
Michael—“Head Prop” is easy to read, highly informative, pictorially driven, and methodical in its flow. In what ways is it a reflection of your own work?
Tomihiro—You might ask why I exposed so much in the book: I thought it would be interesting for people not only in the fashion industry to see how a single hairstylist could venture into creation as an individual. At first glance, it does not really seem like a hairstylist’s work, which is actually what I do as a job. The book fully reflects my history, archive, and trial and errors. It is my personal research that I’m sharing with the world.
Michael—How do you maintain the integrity of your work, which you refer to as “anonymous design” in the book?
Tomihiro—I came across this idea through the amazing graphic and product designer Sori Yanagi in Japan. When I discovered his work, I realized that I wanted to share his thought: It is what I wanted to achieve with my head design practice. But I cannot describe my design as “anonymous design” until people say that it is. For work to be considered “anonymous design” people need to render it timeless, high quality, and beautiful. That can take over a generation.