Compared to everything from clouds to fuzzy caterpillars to Kanye West’s insane diamond facemasks, the designs of London-based, Tokyo-born, Maiko Takeda are clearly hard to describe. Made of thousands of printed acetate wedges and acrylic disks, the recent Royal College of Art grad’s obsessive hats, shrugs, and masks have fans almost as diverse as their similes. Last fall, Takeda fielded requests from the British Fashion Council, which commissioned her Spring 2014 collection “Atmospheric Reentry” and erstwhile swan wearer Björk, who donned a spiky yellow mask during her Biophilia tour. Recently, we spoke with the designer about her work, gossip rags, and those inventive comparisons.
How was your move? Are you in Japan permanently now?
It was fine. My family lives here, so I just came back for Christmas and New Year’s. I’m hoping to go back to London in January or February. I’m still saying I’m London-based because I don’t know where I’m going to be next year yet.
Do the Japanese love hats as much as the British?
Japan is surprisingly quite a big market for hat makers in general. Japanese people love wearing hats and there are a lot of shops and brands, but they’re mainly soft hats like knitted caps. We don’t have a tradition to wear something couture like the British to weddings and stuff like that.
Did you always want to design hats?
I always wanted to do something for the head because the head is a really interesting part of the body to design for because it’s really powerful. If you cover the eyes or the face, it changes someone’s personality quite dramatically. I liked the transformation.
What do you think of Kanye West’s Maison Martin Margiela masks?
One of my friends posted this article on my facebook and it was quite interesting. I think it was The Daily Mail. I made a headpiece that covers the whole face and Björk wore it during her tour in July or August and The Daily Mail basically compared Kanye West wearing those face-covering masks to Bjork wearing my similar thing.
What do you think of that comparison?
It’s quite nice to be referred in a way by such a website. When I finished my MA, the day before our graduate fashion show at the college, The Daily Mail actually wrote an article about the whole show and they wrote about my work. They said, “Maiko’s hats must be inspired by hedgehogs and caterpillars…” It was completely not correct, but a few months later they came back and actually remembered my work and used it as a reference. It was interesting. I don’t actually know how Kanye West sang in those masks though.
If your masks aren’t inspired by caterpillars and hedgehogs, where did the initial idea come from?
My starting point was quite vague. I thought it would be quite cool if someone was wearing a hat that has blurred boundaries. I wanted to make something like a cloud or smoke. I also happened to go see this opera called Einstein on the Beach. It’s called opera, but it’s almost like going to a techno party for four-and-a-half hours. It was revived in 2012 and was touring in different countries and I went to see it in Amsterdam. The whole aesthetic and the repetition of the sounds and lights was really inspiring.
How long does it take to create one of your pieces?
They’re really labor intensive. If I do [the smallish headpiece that covers the whole head] it’s probably going to take me three solid days. It takes longer if I ask somebody to help.
So how did you get in touch with Björk?
She was actually on my mood board when I was making the pieces, but I didn’t really think it would actually happen. The day after the fashion show at the Royal College, this design blog called Dezeen wrote about my work. Björk and her manager happened to see the website. Her manager sent me an email and was like, “Hey I work with a musician called Björk and she thinks your work is really beautiful. Congratulations.” I thought this could be spam. He used his gmail account and it doesn’t have bjork.com or anything.
She’d probably be a .org.
Yeah, I thought it was way too nice to be true. A few days later he actually emailed me again and that’s how it all started. I lent her four pieces and she actually invited me to come to one of the concerts in Ireland and I got to fit the hats on her.
Did she make a color request?
The specific color she liked was a soft neon yellow.
What are you currently working on?
I’m working on different things. I making a new collection to show in Paris this March.
What can you tell us about the new collection?
I don’t really see myself as an accessory or hats designer who mass produces designs two seasons a year. My brain doesn’t work that way. I’m still trying to find where I stand as a designer or as an artist. …But yeah, it’s going to be something spiky.
Photos by Bryan Huynh @ MBK London.