Behind the Scenes with Atelier Rion VK Designer Chikako Miyake
Sequins and tinsel, PVC and feathers–the elaborate costumes bands don are a major part of what separates visual kei from other music genres. These elaborate creations don’t come out of nowhere: Many bands entrust this vital part of their image to professional visual kei designers. One of the most prominent of these is designer, Atelier Rion, headed by one Chikako Miyake, who has created costumes for dozens of artists such as DuelJewel, UnsraW, Kiryu, and DIR EN GREY just to name a few. Recently Ms. Miyake invited us to her studio for a chat about her designing background and the process involved in giving a band their signature look over a delightful cup of tea.
69: Thanks for meeting with us today. Please introduce yourself.
Miyake: I’m visual kei costume maker Chikako Miyake. Nice to meet you!
69: When did you become interested in fashion and design?
Miykae: I actually started out studying music, but I always put a lot of thought into what I was wearing in performances. I actually didn’t go to design school until I was 27! But ever since I was young, elementary school age, I loved painting and dolls, like Barbie and things, and I would always make clothes for my dolls.
69: How did you become connected to the VK scene?
Miyake: Way before, when I was living in Osaka and thought I might like to enter the fashion world, I looked on my computer and saw an atelier who was looking for a patterner so I applied. I ended up moving to Tokyo to go to school and working at the atelier during long weekends and holidays for about two years. At the time Oshio Manabu was doing a movie and they had a collaboration with an acquaintance of mine, a doll maker, who was making 120 cm dolls. They were running behind on making the clothing for the dolls, so I was helping out. After the premier of the movie there were many receptions, and I ended up going to the very last one. I was kind of nervous about being there, because I wasn’t the doll maker and really didn’t have much to do with it–I felt like a party crasher–but I happened to be sitting next to a friend of Kyo from DIR EN GREY, and it turned out they were looking for a costume designer at that very moment! Completely out of the blue, he asked if I would do it. So my very first visual kei costume was for DIR EN GREY. If I hadn’t gone to that party, it never would have happened.
69: So it was destiny?
Miyake: [laughs] Exactly! This is my destiny.
69: When you’re designing an outfit for a band, how does the process work?
Miyake: It all depends on the band–some come to me with a very detailed idea and even photos and explain how they want it to move, what kind of pants they want, and so on, but some of them–most of them, actually, can I say that? Most of them don’t think at all! They know about visual kei, but absolutely nothing about clothes. So we go from basic key words- they may have some preference as to whether their look is “cool” or “creepy” or “sparkly”, or if there’s four of five members there’s a classic characterset, you know, “the manly one”, “the glasses boy”, “the girly one.” Then we have to take into account things like, is it easy to move in, and how much skin do they want to show, who is comfortable showing his stomach, who wants to show his thighs. I take a sketchbook and samples when we consult and we work through it together. Usually we start with a black base, then decide where to add color and sparkle.
69: Which band has been the most challenging?
Miyake: If we’re talking about what took the most time, definitely Mix Speakers’ Inc. There were just so many parts, ears, tails, paws, no matter how much I did I felt like I’d never be done! S-san, the drummer looks big, so we made it like a character-costume. Seek-san wasn’t too much trouble, but Miki had that Elizabethan collar and that was really difficult. [She mimes shaping the fabric].
Really, though, the only thing that causes me a big problem is when it’s a new band who hasn’t thought about it at all. They want costumes but they haven’t even decided their concept or what they want to wear and they don’t have music, and since they’re new I can’t go to a live to get a sense of the band. That’s…difficult.
69: What’s the most fun part of your job?
Miyake: I love it when I see my outfits in photographs or go to a show and see the audience gasp when they see my outfits onstage. Those Mix Speakers’ Inc. outfits, time-consuming as they were, got a huge reaction. I was touched.
69: You also do other types of clothes, as well as hair and makeup, tell us about that.
Miyake: Starting from two years ago, I’ve done some lolita. There was a fashion event, and Kaya participated, amber gris as well, and they asked if I would try to make some lolita-style dresses. So I made a corset and pannier-style lolita outfit, since those are elements I’ve always liked. Then I thought, maybe I should make some lolita to sell! But since then I’ve gotten so busy I just haven’t had time. I’ve done other events though, for example, I presented lolita along with a designer from Putamayo at a fashion school in New York, and at an event with Sizna (Moran) and Kaya, where I explained about the making of the clothing. I’ve dressed Misako Aoki, the lolita model, and MYM(Gagagaaling) has acted as a model for me in shows as well.
For hair and makeup, that’s mostly still visual and also more recent. Especially with newer bands who don’t have money but want so badly to have well-done costumes they commission me, we’ll sometimes do their hair and makeup for them as a bonus. It’s necessary, even if they have my outfits, because with visual kei, you can’t have just the clothes, or just the makeup, or just the music. You have to have everything.
69: What do you personally like to wear?
Miyake: Recently? [laughs] I love Dolce. I usually wear black, loose clothing, but recently, I don’t particularly like anything! I used to wear Moi Meme Moitie actually–I loved Malice Mizer and would come to Tokyo to buy it. But unfortunately since starting to work in making clothing I’ve lost interest in wearing it! I’m more concerned with things like how small the backstage area is at shows and what I should wear so I’m not in people’s way! It’s work. And when I think about possibly making something for myself, I think I’d rather just buy it. I really just need something that’s easy to work in.
69: You mentioned going to New York. What is your concept of Japanese subculture fashion overseas?
Miyake: It’s unfortunate, but because anime is so popular, people overseas have made anime, lolita, cosplay and visual kei all the same thing. Japan has taken a lot from Europe, and I think in the same way foreign countries are now taking back from Japan, but I’d really love to see more influence on the everyday (as opposed to the anime culture). I also saw in Germany, the goth there is so popular, but it’s so different from Japanese. It would be nice if Japanese subculture could also meld with the European goth.
69: We have a lot of readers who do cosplay of bands, can you give any styling secrets to get an authentic look?
Miyake: But a lot of cosplayers are already so good! What kind of advice can I give? Maybe fabric, it’s always really important to find the same fabric and match it. I go to Okadaya [a large Japanese fabric store] a lot to buy, and sometimes I even go back to find the same fabric again and it’s not there, so you have to make sure you have enough! And bring your samples; so many times you think you chose the same fabric but when you put them together it’s different! Looking at the band is important too, the whole outfit. A lot of professional shots and pictures in magazines only show the top halves of the outfit, so make sure you find full-body shots, for that it’s best to go to lives and really look closely. Oh, and the Cure makeup tutorials are amazing. Try to look at those if you can find the magazines. Sometimes fans come up to me at shows to ask my advice, so if you see me at a live, feel free! But I’m really blown away by a lot of the cosplayers I see, they’re already really good, just like the real thing. It makes me want to try even harder.
After the interview, Miyake took us on a tour of her atelier where she works with her two assistants, and we were given a sneak peak at the new looks of DuelJewel and ViviD. Unfortunately, fans will have to wait until the costumes debut, so as not to spoil the surprise, but in the meantime, please look at Atelier Rion’s homepage for some gorgeous pictures of both her visual and original works!
There are 9 photos in this visual kei exclusive.