Kunio Kohzaki has always been enamoured with fashion. Over the course of his career, he has worked his way up through the industry as a hairstylist and has since branched out into other creative fields, such as mask design and NFT art, with his brilliance remaining unrestricted by medium or dimension. Kohzaki constructs dynamic pieces, brought to life by the models he styles. His work also impresses on its own, having been displayed in exhibitions, online and sold at the renowned Parisian boutique, Colette.
Could you start by introducing yourself and telling us a bit about what you do?
I'm Japanese with six dreadlocks. I was born in an architectural household. As a kid, I used to play a lot in the forest. After living in London and New York, I am currently a Tokyo-based hair stylist.
How did you begin your career as a hairstylist? What was it about the art form that made you want to pursue work in it?
I have loved fashion ever since I was a kid. When I was in high school, I saw the staff from the hair salon that I often visited in a club having a good time. Seeing their cool style and seeing them just being themselves (having fun) inspired me to be a hairdresser like them.
After I graduated from school, I worked in a hair salon in Tokyo but I resigned within 6 months. During that time, the manager of the salon showed me Vogue Italia and introduced me to hair stylists, along with the passion they bring to this world. He told me I should be one and that’s how it all began. After that, I worked as an assistant and got to work for Junya Watanabe's Comme des Garçons Paris collection within a month – which pulled me towards the fashion world.
After exactly 20 years this year, I did the hair direction for this year’s Tao Comme des Garçons show.
You have just mentioned that you have been working as a hairstylist for around 20 years. How do you think you’ve evolved as an artist over the decades?
After working as an assistant for 3 years in Tokyo, I went to London in 2006 and worked a lot on creative editorials. Then in 2012, I moved to New York. I was represented by See Management and mainly worked for commercial ads. In 2016, I moved back to Tokyo. My experience abroad has definitely recreated my approach to my artistry/craftsmanship. I am also actively working on my personal art unrelated to hair styling which I believe has a tremendous influence on my growth as an artist.
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You also describe yourself as a mask artist. What inspired you to branch out into this artistic field?
Ever since I was a child, there were traditional tribal masks in my parents’ house. If you look at the front of a face – the hair takes up a really small space compared to the faces. I am not sure if it is the reason but sometimes, I have this urge to cover the model’s face with their hair. I always create the hair styling in three dimensions, the makeup in two dimensions and the mask is also three-dimensional.
The feeling of creating a mask – starting the design from the neck to the upper part, is probably a natural way of doing it.
I love creating in a three-dimensional form – I think somehow there is a connection between creating three-dimensional work with architecture.
In August, you held your second solo exhibition, Side by Side Effect, in which you displayed various psychedelic-style masks of Mickey Mouse. Why did you choose Mickey Mouse as the subject of this particular collection of work? What was the exhibition all about?
The only reason is: my 6-year-old son loves Mickey Mouse. Last year, I had an exhibition of tribal masks from around the world with similar concept, Destruction and Recreation. The absolute difference with the usual photoshoots that I work at is that the visitors who love my work were able to have this sense of ownership.
I do exhibitions because especially here in Japan, there is a negative impression when it comes to reaching out to something you are not professionally inclined to – I think that certain approaches are inadequate and wrong. So I don’t think I will limit myself to only having exhibitions of hair styling and head-pieces.
Most job offers I receive are for hair styling – it can be unexciting sometimes. I wish to have more non-genre-specific job offers here in Japan. Even through my latest exhibition, I got a lot of acknowledgements from non-Japanese people. I would appreciate it if you can check my work from my latest exhibition here.
Your work has also been featured in shows for Tao Comme des Garçons and Christian Dada but also in magazines such as Vogue Japan and GQ Korea. Is there a difference in the work you produce to be photographed compared to the work that is exhibited in-person events?
There is a complete difference – my exhibitions and personal work were all done just by myself.
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You’ve also worked with artists such as Babymetal, BiSH, and Chai on pieces for their music videos and promotional content. What is the collaborative creative process like compared to working independently on a project?
Idol groups are part of Japanese culture – I find it very amusing to work with them. Mainly because they have a very different perspective. Maybe there is this mysterious chemistry, making us compatible with each other.
I’m also interested in the fact that you’ve recently started producing NFT art, such as your project Beyondy. Could you explain what the idea behind that particular project is?
When staying at home during the start of Covid, I was making art with emojis. At first, I made it by using the top models’ and actresses’ faces. Beyondy is a series made from the visions that I have when I meditate, it also comes from the emoji ����‍♂️ itself.
NFT art is quite a diversion from your work as a hairstylist and mask artist. What does digital art offer you that physical art doesn’t?
I am actually bad with computers since I am very old school. While thinking about the virtual world that has been going on lately, I made an NFT out of curiosity – thinking about what I could do, I was already making art with emojis, so I did research about NFTs and eventually started doing it by trial-and-error. My emojis are very handmade. What I like about digital is I can play with my iPad whenever, wherever I can.
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Are there any other art forms that you would like to try?
Land art, pottery, bonsai, interior design.
Is there anyone or anything that you feel especially influences your work? Where do you look for inspiration?
My architect father, trees and plants, my London life, psychedelic culture, and my nature walks.
What else can we look forward to seeing from you?
I will create a series of enormous tribal masks and have an exhibition titled Beyondy. Hopefully, I will bring all the series with me and have an exhibition outside Japan. To all the people from around the world whose reading this – I will be waiting for your DMs! Let us collaborate and create something together.
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