Kei Kagami has been designing shoes for over 10 years, but most people – even shoe lovers – have probably never heard of him. Kagami’s designs are not created to appeal to a wide audience, they are sold in very few retail outlets, and the designer himself does nothing to court media attention. Still, his footwear is worth knowing because it is awesome.
Kagami knew as a teen he would eventually design shoes after seeing an exhibition by Japanese designer Tokio Kumagai showcasing shoes that were made to look like they were fashioned out of food items. Later on, Kagami simultaneously studied architecture and tailoring. An opportunity to work with John Galliano in the 80s, whom Kagami revered, moved him from his native Japan to London. After three seasons working with Galliano, he enrolled in an MA of design program at Central St. Martins with Alexander McQueen as a classmate.
Where Kagami really excels and what sets him apart as a designer are the themes he draws influence from, and the unique materials from which he crafts his shoes with. His pieces are truly unique as Kagami avoids any forms of imitation.
One of the most dynamic aspects of his designs comes from his interest in the space between the heel of the foot and the floor; this space is shaped, filled, and framed to create original and intriguing silhouettes.
The following three points about Kagami were taken from a Dazed article and perfectly show why anyone who cares about fashion, art, and/or craftsmanship should know about Kagami as a designer.
A LOVE OF CRAFTMANSHIP
Kagami describes his love for handmade and unusual creations as “a matter of craftsmanship. I don’t want to have a boundary between thinking and actual making. Intrinsic, genuine creation is both. I have always had that kind of spirit.” When it comes to this introverted style of production, the designer literally calls his studio home. “I have a favourite area in the back of my studio, surrounded by many machineries, which I love. Usually we work on shoes there. Sometimes when things are busy, I will sleep in my studio upstairs and often go to this space on my own before I go to bed,” he says.
His creation over a corporate way of thinking struck a chord with YKK, who began their collaboration with the designer when he proposed a design to them in 1998. Said piece was a dress constructed entirely of zippers. “The idea was about using zips as a textile but still each piece had a function. I don’t like using things just for decoration. Each part has a meaning. That functional beauty is an important element for me,” Kagami states. Since then, the international manufacturer has continued to work closely with the designer. “I like working for YKK because it has an educational value and is not business-minded,” he says. With the company’s backing, he has been able to create radical designs like resin fibreglass and mechanically constructed metal footwear, but Kagami is quick to admit that his avant-garde ideas don’t come easily. “To do something new in fashion is very, very difficult, so many things have already been done. I do struggle each time, to be honest. That’s why I try to use different materials, I believe it is still possible to create something new,” the designer explains.
DO SOMETHING RADICAL
This concept of the new seems to become all the more difficult in the frantic pace of today’s fashion cycle. “Nowadays things are too mass-produced, too commercial and everyone basically works in fashion as a business for money. To break it, you have to do something extraordinary and extreme. If someone doesn’t do something creative, eventually culture will stop developing. I’m more interested in contributing to culture or education in the end. If I could be an influential designer to someone else, that would make me more than happy,” Kagami notes. His words of advice to young designers starting out? “Do something radical and truly express yourself rather than thinking about what other people are doing. The power of the trend vector in fashion is too strong, new designers should break it to keep their identity.”