R.I.P. Eiko Ishioka, July 1939 – January 21, 2012


Eiko Ishioka, Motoko Narsue, Kyoko Inui, poster 1979. Photographed by Kazumi Kurigami.

One of the world’s greatest costume designers, Eiko Ishioka, died today at age 73. Ishioka’s work spanned genres and continents; she is best known for her costume design on Dracula, The Fall and The Cell, as well as her collaborations with Bjork, Grace Jones and Cirque du Soleil. From the New York Times:

Ms. Ishioka won an Academy Award for costume design in 1992 for “Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula,’ ” directed by Francis Ford Coppola. Her outfits for the film included a suit of full body armor for the title character (played by Gary Oldman), whose glistening red color and all-over corrugation made it look like exposed musculature, and a voluminous wedding dress worn by the actress Sadie Frost, with a stiff, round, aggressive lace collar inspired by the ruffs of frill-necked lizards.

These typified Ms. Ishioka’s aesthetic. A deliberate marriage of East and West — she had lived in Manhattan for many years — it simultaneously embraced the gothic, the otherworldly, the dramatic and the unsettling and was suffused with a powerful, dark eroticism. Her work, whose outsize stylization dazzled some critics and discomforted others, was provocative in every possible sense of the word, and it was meant to be.

Ms. Ishioka was closely associated with the director Tarsem Singh, for whom she designed costumes for four films. In the first, “The Cell” (2000), she encased Jennifer Lopez, who plays a psychologist trapped by a serial killer, in a headpiece that resembled a cross between a rigid neck brace and a forbidding bird cage.

“Jennifer asked me if I could make it more comfortable,” Ms. Ishioka told The Ottawa Citizen in 2000, “but I said, ‘No, you’re supposed to be tortured.’ ”

Eiko Ishioka worked until the very end of her life. Her latest works can be seen in Tarsem Signh’s Immortals (2011) and Mirror Mirror (2012). After the cut, more images of Ishioka’s work throughout the ages, as well as recent video of her talking about her work on Immortals.


Costume design from The Fall


Costume design from The Cell


Costume design from The Fall


Costume design from The Fall


Costume design from Dracula


Costume design from Dracula


Costume design from The Fall


Costume design from The Cell


Costume design for Grace Jones

14 Responses to “R.I.P. Eiko Ishioka, July 1939 – January 21, 2012”

  1. stephanie Says:

    sooo incredible and influential. <3

  2. Angela Says:

    The costume design was my favorite thing about The Cell. :( RIP to a fascinating lady.

  3. Kambriel Says:

    Eiko was such a visionary, and I love that she also drew inspiration from the organic silhouettes of the natural world. She knew when to hold back too though, as her original concept for the three brides in “Dracula” was to simply have them be naked, painted green ~ in homage to the infamous la Fee Verte of Absinthe.

    (Just a note: The photo with the white fitted gown with the long, flared sleeves and headdress with cascading beaded fringe (shown above the sepia Gary Oldman/Winona Ryder Dracula photo) should be credited as being from “The Fall”, rather than “Dracula”.)

  4. david Says:

    i don’t tend to notice costumes much- or directors for that matter- but i’ve been in love with singh’s costumes without knowing they were the work of the same woman. what at loss at her death.

    “I said, ‘No, you’re supposed to be tortured.’ ” priceless.

  5. Nadya Says:

    @Kambriel: Whoops! Right you are.

    I’m kind of wondering what Tarsem is going to do now. As my friend was saying last night, “clearly he wasn’t the director of those films…”

  6. RIP Eiko Ishioka, Surreal Design Icon « Anagnorisis Fine Arts Says:

    [...] just learned from Coilhouse that the iconic Eiko Ishioka, known for her dark, surreal and powerful costume and stage designs, [...]

  7. R.I.P. Eiko Ishioka, Surreal Design Icon | Samantha Levin Fine Art Says:

    [...] just learned from Coilhouse that the iconic Eiko Ishioka, known for her dark, surreal and powerful costume and stage designs, [...]

  8. Albert Says:

    As the chorus all over has said…a great loss for all. Maybe a proper retrospective of her work will be put together for all to appreciate just how varied her vision was. A bit like that Dracula book that came out ages ago…now that was a beauty.

    @Nadya – Your friends comment misses the key point that it was Tarsem who allowed Ishioka to have such freedom on his productions and encouraged her vision. Few costume designers get that privilege on films let alone big Hollywood productions. So it was a great partnership and while many do focus on the styling of his films, they are still carried by his storytelling and pacing (for better or worse). He just knows to make the costumes another layer of that. While his films will never look the same I’m sure he’ll honor his longtime collaborator in future films well.

  9. Nadya Says:

    Al, that’s a really good point. I hope he’s able to find another great costume designer and give him or her a similar chance to flourish! But Eiko Ishioka is irreplaceable.

  10. Amanda S. Says:

    Never heard of her, but I’ve seen her work (the feat. pics ring many bells)- Beautiful images. She was a gem.

  11. Required Reading 2.3.2012 | Luke Copping Photography - Blog Says:

    [...] • Eiko Ishioka recently passed away, she was a monumentally talented and Academy Award winning costume designer who is responsible for unforgettable outfits in the films of Tarsem Singh, Bjork videos, Cirque du Soleil performances. I love the work she created for Singh’s The Fall (one of the most visually intriguing films I have ever seen) | R.I.P. Eiko Ishioka [...]

  12. tyhliet Says:

    where can i learn to make such things

  13. fortheloveofthestars Says:

    I fall off the internet for awhile and this happens? This woman has had so much influence on how I view design. She’s been a part of my world for the better part of almost 20 years. What a wonderful mind we’ve lost in her, but she left so many delicious gifts!

  14. Rafaella Says:

    She’s a vivid, bright inspiration to me when related to costume design since ever. I remember how I felt when saw any image showing her work in Dracula when I was a child. Her work will be an influence to me forever.