Japanese designer working in London
Born: Osaka, Japan, 1950. Education: Graduated from Bunka Fashion College, Tokyo, 1974. Career: Showed first collection,
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Michiko Koshino has come into her own since a switch in gear in the fashion world that began in the late 1980s. As sportswear became the major imperative of design, Koshino was one of the most successful in responding to customers' new needs, producing tightly thought-out collections that bridged the gap between sportswear and clubwear to appeal to a young streetwise consumer. Indeed, it seems to have been her aim to create a series of uniforms for the various London clubs with which she linked her name, and the logos she emblazoned them with had the same kind of recognizable impact as the established sports companies that were also increasingly popular.
Although Japanese by birth, Koshino eschews the more philosophical approach to fashion favored by her often more prominent counterparts, seeming to lean toward the quirkier modern side of the Japanese national character rather than its solemn traditions of harmony and balance. It was this that led Koshino to produce the infamous and much-copied inflatable rain jacket in the mid-1980s. This was itself based on the thickly quilted B-boy "goose" jackets so popular with clubbers at the time and clearly showed her ability to combine elements of both fun and functionalism.
In the 1990s, however, Koshino showed her design abilities could go much further than the witty garment for which she was most widely known. She consistently showed how closely attuned she was to the shifting sands of London's extensive club scene. Her past collections have responded to the growing wish for clothes reflecting a certain aspect of this scene, making the wearer an instant initiate. They give a kind of streetwise credibility that has as much to do with the tribalism of London's nightlife as with fashion itself. The need to feel and look good is enhanced by Koshino's use of stretch fabrics, comfortable to move in as well as being sexy, clingy but not restrictive.
Although she has embraced London culture as her own, she has not limited the appeal of her clothes. The very English Pukka Clobba tag she borrowed from the rave scene merely gave her designs a kind of brand-name authenticity that sells, albeit quietly, across the world and has enabled her to diversify. She produces funky accessories to complement each collection, from the sequin disco ball earrings to the ubiquitous ski hats so popular with ravers in the winter. There are also Koshino bags, umbrellas, shoes, and towels, all spreading her name by their very presence and adding to the brand-name feel of her very contemporary styles.
Koshino's collections also offer a selection of different types of clothes, to provide a whole wardrobe for her customers. Her flagship store in Covent Garden, London, with its DJ mixing tables providing a direct link with the clubs, always shows her full range, spanning the biker-inspired Motor King collection, its title often emblazoned on the stark contrast leathers, the designer name t-shirts and sweatshirts popular with tourists, the sharp, brightly colored suits, and the sexier, more overtly clubby Lycra, viscose, and leather of the Michiko London range.
Koshino's greatest talent is undoubtedly her ability to absorb changing emphasis in fashion and respond with sexy sports-based clothing targeted at the waiting customers of the club scene through marketing ploys like fashion shows in clubs and promotional wear for companies like Vidal Sassoon. Using her clever eye for striking designs and sexy styles, coupled with the kind of marketing skills that are anathema to many more traditional designers, she has developed an instantly recognizable style and loyal customer base among the often fickle younger fashion customer. And although Koshino has been described as "ultra-hip" and "cutting edge," she often incorporates classic fabrics such as tweed and denim (the latter a favorite) into her jackets, quilted coats, bags, and other items. At the same time, she does not ignore futuristic, high-tech fabrics such as silver reflectives. Her designs integrate her Eastern past with her Western surroundings, as she creates clothing that is oriental-inspired but with a sense of individualism associated more with the West.
Despite her long-time sojourn in London, she is a well-known name throughout Asia, both for her apparel and associated products such as cosmetics, sunglasses, watches, and underwear. Additionally, she claims to be the first designer to market condoms under her own brand name. Some of Koshino's licensees for her main brand umbrella, Michiko London, include Sudo for wool and acrylic scarves, Ta Feng for umbrellas, Shin Myung Mool San for lighters, Chiyoda Bussan for footwear, Mandom for cosmetics, Gunze for tights, and Mitsubishi Rayon for casual apparel.
Koshino's Motor King line of clothes were favored by participants in the London club scene of the early 1990s and are now collectors' items. In the 21st century she has a following among British and American musicians from David Bowie to Moby and is featured in not only fashion publications such as Vogue but in music and graphic design periodicals such as Face, Mixmag, Scene and i-D. In 1999 Koshino was one of the designers chosen to clothe the 40-year-old toy icon Barbie for the traveling exhibit "The Art of Barbie,"—she dressed the doll in one of her trademark puffa coats. She also created an environmentally friendly scooter for the Honda company in the late 1990s.
Koshino's focus in the 2000s has been on three lines: Main Collection, Yen Jeans, and her 100's line. For winter 2000/2001, she took her inspiration from the 1960s (Main Collection), Japanese workwear (100's), and Sumo culture (Yen Jeans); she was influenced by the 1970s' club scene in her fall 2001 men's line. Like much of her work, this collection appealed to both clubbers and aficionados of fashion.
updated by Karen Raugust