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Costumer of Dark Dreams, Eiko Ishioka Dies at 73

Reflections on the passing of a gifted and unique voice in costume design


Costumer of Dark Dreams, Eiko Ishioka Dies at 73

Eiko Ishioka's stunning costumes for Francis Ford Coppola film "Bram Stoker's Dracula" won her a well-deserved Academy Award for Best Costume Design in 1992.

Dracula (1992), Courtesy of Columbia Pictures
Updated January 31, 2012

I was saddened to hear about the passing of brilliant costume designer Eiko Ishioka to pancreatic cancer. She was an artist whose work moved fluidly from medium to medium, and her work was consistently exciting, florid, erotic and unforgettable. Her work could turn a movie I found uneven, such as Bram Stoker's Dracula, into a work I adored simply for its status as a visual feast, thanks to Ishioka's incredible costumes (and for which she won a well-deserved Academy Award). (Seriously. Stop worrying and learn to love Keanu's English accent. You won't be sorry. You could watch that film from beginning to end with the sound turned down and it would still be completely visually mesmerizing.)

Ishioka also memorably designed the costumes for the films of Tarsem Singh, most notably including The Cell, for which Jennifer Lopez's provocative dream-world catsuit and "caged headpiece" became the single most recognizable image from the film.

Life and Influences
Born in Tokyo in 1938, Ishioka came up through the ranks of Japanese graphic designers at a time when women were not welcome or taken seriously. She became a sensation in the advertising world for such international brands as Shiseido and Parco, and went on to design for film, stage, and even the Olympic Games (both the 2002 Winter Olympics, and the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing).

Body of Work
Ishioka's costumes were almost always provocative and visually arresting, often with a Gothic, sensual, and fierce edge that blurred the lines between East and West. She was nominated for two Tony Awards for her designs for M. Butterfly, and most recently designed the costumes for Spider-Man, Turn Off the Dark. After Mishima, Ishioka won a Grammy in 1986 for the album cover she designed for Miles Davis, for "Tutu." She traveled comfortably between the worlds of stage, music, screen and back again, working with artists like Bjork and Grace Jones, as well as designing for Cirque du Soleil's Varekai and illusionist David Copperfield's Broadway show.

In 1985, Ishoka received a special Cannes Film Festival prize for her artistic contributions as art director for Paul Schrader's film Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters. For this film, Ishioka's delicate yet vivid setpieces are a beautiful match to Philip Glass's equally sumptuous score. She also designed the costumes and production for the film Closetland (1991), as well as for an episode of TV's "Faerie Tale Theatre," deftly bringing her trademark theatricality and deliacy to the large and small screens in both efforts.

Bram Stoker's Dracula
However, for me, and perhaps for many, Ishioka's crowning achievement was her sumptuous work for Francis Ford Coppola for the film Bram Stoker's Dracula in 1992.

Forget the occasionally shaky English accents by Keanu or Winona (who nevertheless give it their all, and in their favor, who are certainly gorgeous to look at in the film's period dress), and simply look at the screen. The film itself is heaven for any costume-design aficionado. The Asian-influenced look of the "Old Count" with his Kimono-like robes and twin-buns, as well as the courtly Eastern-Victorian look of the "Young Count" with his frock coat, long hair, sculpted mustache and blue-bottle glasses, are still popular Halloween costumes many years later, and have become iconic in their own rights.

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