KEI KAGAMI —
I’ve never believed in the notion that individuals are either exclusively creative or hardwired by numbers. I believe we as humans simply process things in different ways and manners, and our perceptions and interactions with each other are probably what differentiates us.
Kei Kagami’s will for creation runs profoundly deep, fortified by a true appreciation for intellectual beauty in all shapes and forms. But with it accompanied is a very deep sense of melancholy.
I first met Kei back in Trieste, Italy, when YKK were sponsoring the International Talent Support competition. Aside from having worked with the Japanese company for over 18 years, Kei is on the ITS judging panel for the accessories division. It was quite challenging to get five minutes with him, as dozens of students were often waiting in line to talk to the humble Japanese designer – an idol in the eyes of budding potential talent. Despite his reputation as a true artisan, Kei is one who blends into the shadows, and one who would probably prefer it this way. Not one for the spotlight or the notion of status, Kei has one simple desire and drive, and that is to create.
When Kei Kagami was in his mid teens, one Saturday his brother brought back a 12″ vinyl of the Sex Pistols.
“He put it on the turn table and I got fucking smashed up. This is great. This is amazing.”
Thus occurred was Kei’s punk awakening – a mentality and attitude that would resonate with him for the rest of his life, and something that would seem to ultimately drive him away from the stereotypical Japanese mindset. Japan is often seen as a strangely conservative culture, and as Kei describes of the time, status was important and superficiality was the norm.
Within the four small white walls at the back of the YKK showroom, we talked through such culture, dwindling Japanese mentalities and how creation was created for Kei himself. Ever since a young age Kei seems to have been fully aware of sacrifice for the sake of creation. Kei left his architecture role with Japanese architect Kenzo Tange to pursue a career in England in fashion. He ended up working with John Galliano for three seasons before the latter packed up and went to Paris, leaving Kei with the decision of attending Central Saint Martins. Kei was in the same class as Lee McQueen, and describes those days as “the good old days”. He enjoyed the UK and has been here 25 years since, founding his label in 1997 and forming a long-standing relationship with YKK the following years. Throughout the conversation with Kei, it was easy to see how intertwined his work and personal life were, as each answer was filled with long pauses and reflective “hmms” and “mmms”. Kei is the definition of the struggling artist – an individual with no interest in money or business yet a bottomless talent and passion for creation. There were parts of our conversation which were particularly solemn, but if anything, all it represented was a sincere devotion to create beauty. Kei Kagami is a rare individual, who balances an unforgettable staunch demeanour with a very rarely seen level of humility.
What was your first creation?
Hmm which one is the first creation… how about the first time I became conscious of creation? I was fourteen/fifteen. One Saturday my brother came back from highschool with the Sex Pistols record – that time it was still the 12″ record. He put it on the table and I got fucking smashed up. This is great – this is amazing. Punk music at that time wasn’t really a high standard – the riffs, the chords, they were quite simple. Nothing skillful was required. If you were bad it was probably better for punk music. I saw that this was creation – no matter how good you are technically in guitar or drums or – this was probably the first time I found the meaning of creation. It really woke me up and changed my life. I’ve still got the punk attitude. For me, punk is a meaning…a belief…in what you truly think is right, and then express it.
Whenever I create anything, in my collection or in my gallery – say this showroom – I really believed that this is something I have to do, and something I have to make happen . I can’t compromise.
I really don’t like compromising…
“You don’t strike me as a guy who likes to conform”. I read that you don’t have respect for the people who try to imitate. Is this an attitude that you’ve always had?
It all comes back from punk music. I just didn’t bother to cope with what others believed or thought in society. At quite a young age I decided that I didn’t mind doing what I wanted to do, and sacrificing for what I wanted to create.
Has YKK influenced your work?
Mmm…I started because I needed financial support. But as I found out more about YKK – though they are traditional and conservative they are actually very creative. Every season there is something new and this is something other zip companies can’t do. It is a huge range. In these 18 years we have developed and built our trust.
Do you balance YKK and your own work?
Well…this project is very important. I have really committed myself as much as I can. Last year I fucked up my own collection a little bit – I sacrificed a little bit. I really wanted to devote my energy and passion into this showroom. So to be honest…looking at my last collection yes it’s still very good and still very creative but I couldn’t do my best.
Do you have a thought process or is it a *snap*?
Everything I design has a meaning – a why – an intellectual meaning. I don’t really explain much….though. I have my intuition. One thing for sure, I always have a subtle context. I try to make a situation or an idea. I know what I want.
What part of your work makes you happiest? When you feel proud.
Say that again??? If you’re asking me to choose one…
How about the happiest time in my life? Apart my private life – well in my private life the happiest time is when I’m skiing with my wife [smiles] – but forget that. Simply when…I am making something. The feeling of creating something – that is the happiest time. Yeah. When I’m creating something. [pause] No matter if I can make money or not.
“The moment when the cherry blossom is most beautiful – most Europeans will say when it is full of flowers. But we say it is the moment when the petals are falling down. Of course the flowers are gorgeous, but this is more of a visual image. Why when the petals are falling down? We see beauty in their life, but now they are facing death. They can only shine for seven days – we feel the beauty of a cherry blossom’s life, not just a visual image. That is more like wabisabi. Something distorted. We can feel something else…In that way I am very Japanese. A Japanese education of the older days.”