Akiko Shinzato. The Other You

What is the role of jewelry? For some people, it's a superficial pleasure, and for others, it’s a means to convey status and hierarchy. However, for contemporary jewelry designer Akiko Shinzato, the purpose of her work is twofold: boldness and excitement. We caught up with the designer at her studio in Okinawa to learn more about her practice.

Cotonoha While researching for this interview, I read that you were initially interested in fashion design. What is your relationship with fashion design?

Akiko Shinzato I've always wanted to work as a fashion designer. My interest in fashion arose from the joy I felt coordinating my clothes into different outfits. Though I didn’t have a lot of clothes, people would say that each time they see me, I'm wearing something new. This experience was exciting.

But I heard that one couldn't make a living working as a fashion designer, so I figured that I'd work a day job at a major company and do fashion design as a hobby. Later, I realized that I wanted to have a career that I liked, so I decided to try to be a top designer and make a good living doing the type of work that I genuinely enjoy. Perhaps I was overconfident, but I was entirely focused on achieving that goal. After finishing university in Tokyo, I went to London to study fashion design.  

Cotonoha Let's talk about your conceptual jewelry work. What type of person do you have in mind when designing?

Akiko Shinzato I don't have anyone in mind when creating my work. Once I complete a piece, I begin to imagine its wearer. I match the wearer with the piece.

Cotonoha What are your favorite materials to work with?

Akiko Shinzato The material is not important. I usually begin with a concept, then create the design, and finally select the materials. While in school, I realized that I didn't need to limit myself to a particular type of material. I wanted to broaden my horizons.

Cotonoha Your work is also very conceptual. What’s the relationship between Conceptual Art and your style of contemporary jewelry?

Akiko Shinzato For me, jewelry that in one way or another connects with the human body is more than just ordinary jewelry. You can touch it and enjoy it as conceptual art, or you can wear it as you would an ordinary piece of jewelry. This kind of jewelry is not merely placed on the body, but rather, becomes one with its wearer. Its conceptual jewelry. Its contemporary jewelry.  

Recently, I've been thinking about how jewelry, depending on how it adorns the body, causes something akin to a chemical change that alters its appearance and that of its wearer. I'm curious about this process.

Cotonoha Could you speak a little more about this process?

Akiko Shinzato I'm especially interested in how this phenomenon alters the look of the wearer. Of course, wearing jewelry can't change one's body features, but it can change one's look. I don't mean to say that the role of the viewer is not essential, because I hope everyone can feel what my work expresses.

Cotonoha At the beginning of this interview, you mentioned that you enjoyed making your clothes appear new by wearing them in different outfits. Would you say that your interest in change rather than of materials was the catalyst for your transition from fashion to jewelry design? Is the concept of transformation a central concern of your work?

Akiko Shinzato Yes, that’s right. When making jewelry, I always think about how a piece could be designed to have different configurations. Actually, I have never made a piece that changes into various shapes, but that's a goal of mine.

Cotonoha I've read that the idea of an “alternative veil” was the inspiration for your Another Skin collection. Veils simultaneously create and destroy and identities. What identity does Another Skin destroy? And what identity do you imagine Another Skin creates?  

Akiko Shinzato
If one were to place a crystal over their face and make themselves up like a clown, they'd be hidden –  not destroyed, but hidden. Once hidden, they'd become embolden.

Cotonoha What is hidden?

Akiko Shinzato While researching for my graduation thesis, I found that most people who are not comfortable with the appearance of their face lack the confidence to express themselves truly. Perhaps by concealing some of their facial features, in a sense playing a different a person, these people could feel empowered to unveil their true feelings. This idea was the inspiration for the Another Skin collection.  

Cotonoha Does contemporary jewelry have a role beyond being an accessory of clothing?

Akiko Shinzato I think that it does. While studying in London, I participated in a jewelry fashion show. The showpiece that I created featured large jewelry pieces that were punctuated with a simple one-piece dress worn by the model. I’m always trying to expand the possibilities of jewelry.

Daryl Mitchell | Naoko Uchima
Daryl Mitchell
Satoru Yoshikawa