BIGGER THAN FASHION
Two new exhibits explore the whimsical designs of Alaïa’s Hideki Seo.
The Paris-based native of Japan works by day as first design assistant for Azzedine Alaïa, who’s arguably the most gifted fashion designer in the world today. At night, Seo designs for himself, striving to create tufted, riveted, rounded and colorfully wearable sculptures. It’s a Herculean effort that often keeps him up until 2:00 A.M.
“I don’t have time to go shopping because I always have to work,” the 41-year-old says. “So it’s simple: I buy what I like. It has to fit my body.”
He grew up in Hiroshima, influenced by his mother’s love of knitting and impressed by his father’s work ethic. “When I was four or five years old I was always seeing my mother’s work and it stayed in my mind,” he says. “My father worked for a big electric company – he taught me that you have to work a lot.”
Suburban Hiroshima, with views of distant mountains and a river, guided young Seo toward the freedom of travel. By the time he’d trained as a graphic artist, he was touring Tibet, India, Africa and Europe. The native clothes and costumes caught his eye, then sparked his imagination, and finally directed him to a new career.
“Travel inspired me a lot to see the different cultures in each country, and how the differences appear on the clothes,” he explains. “I decided to quit my graphic design job and started looking for a school to study and learn fashion, and found three good schools – in New York, London and Antwerp.”
He conducted his due diligence in each then ruled out New York and London as too big. Instead, he decided on Antwerp and its Royal Academy of Fine Arts.
“That was almost 15 years ago,” he says. “That’s where I studied fashion.” It’s also where he met his destiny, in the shape of Alaïa, whose designs are coveted by nearly every celebrity on the planet, and worn by international figures like Michelle Obama. “He was on a jury in Belgium, and when I finished my course, he liked my work and invited me to work with him in Paris,” Seo says.
Speculation suggests that Alaïa hand-picked Seo for his one-of-a-kind talent, as well as his imagination, sensibility and work ethic – not to mention his hyperrhythmic ability to design quickly and correctly. “I’ve been working with Alaïa for ten years now, and I’m always making drawings,” he says. “He gives me direction and then I make the drawings. His brand is quite important – it’s a legend in Paris.”
Seo continuously pushes the design envelope, stretching the boundaries of fashion and art as he moves also into artistic lighting design. “Now, the form I want to create is bigger than fashion,” he says. “The form I want sometimes cannot be wearable. I’m also making sculptures.”
He’ll be easy to spot at the openings of his upcoming shows in Stockholm and New York as the one who’s wearing the least sculptural clothing, though he does add his own touch to a simple wardrobe. “Whatever I buy, I come home and make a fashion show of it,” he says. “Then I can change the neck line or form and cut it to fit me.”
Chances are, it’s still a work of art.
Seo’s work is on display with two exhibits; “Utopian Bodies” runs until February 7 at the Liljevalchs Museum, Djurgårdsvägen 60, 115 21 Stockholm, tel. 46.850.831.330, www.liljevalchs.se/ and “Fairy Tale” runs from January 15 – April 16 at FIT Museum, 227 W 27th St, New York, tel. 21.217.7999, fitnyc.edu/museum.asp