Tomihiro Kono is fashion’s favourite hair artist. A close eye to magazines, album covers, and all things pop culture reveals his presence everywhere. Kono is able to use a wig to elevate an outfit, a moment, or a character to the status of art. Now, he has curated a collection of his works for a brand-new book project, Fancy Creatures. It is hair as fine art, a genre that Kono himself has pioneered.
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He works exclusively with real human hair, but his final products often look nothing like their original material. Kono is inspired by the most fantastic creatures this planet has to offer; his wigs make as much sense photographed upon a person’s head as they do a beachside boulder. Kono is a favourite collaborator of Björk, his works is the perfect complement to her avant-garde fashion and boundary pushing music.

Since the last time we caught up with Tomihiro Kono the artist has released a series of books, and has pushed his craft further than ever. Fancy Creatures brings human expression to the limits, “this time Tomihiro's avant-garde vision has upgraded humans to a whole new level of hybrids which we call Fancy Creatures - imaginary hybrid creatures inspired by various organisms on the Earth, ranging from deep sea creatures and furry moss, to endangered moths.” The fantastic, otherworldly, and imagined converge in a dazzling array of new work by the artist.

His work has appeared in museum collections as well as the runway. At its heart, Kono’s wigs bring a fine art mode to a genre that has so often gone overlooked as a mere accessory. When his pieces appear, they are often the star of the show. Instead of merely covering the hair, Kono’s wigs are often also engaged as masks. In our interview, Tomihiro Kono describes his hope that his work can help a person express their identity and allow others to see them as they see themselves. Kono’s new book will be launching at East East Tokyo, 2023, where his work will be accompanied by a slate of exciting artists and programming. The event opens February 17 and will run until February 19, so make sure to stop by if you find yourself in Tokyo then.
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Hello Tomihiro, could you introduce yourself and tell us a bit about your recent work?
I’m a wig maker. Recently I’ve worked with Björk for her newest album Fossora. I’m back from NY and am now based in Tokyo. I work remotely with international clients and artists such as Björk, Yeah-Yeah-Yeahs, Marc Jacobs, Heaven, Martin Margiela, Yueqi Qi, Instagram, etc.  Now I’m exhibiting my wig at Wereld Museum Rotterdam and next year I’m exhibiting at Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam. Along with my wig work, I’m also a director of konomad, a new creative platform I’ve created with my partner Sayaka Maruyama. We curates pop-up events and started our own publications.
You have said that childhood experiences at your town’s salon provided as your first creative hair memories. What reference photos did you show for your haircuts? Did you have any favourite styles you received?
Ryota Miyagi Slam Dunk. I loved it but it was against school rules.
Tell me a bit about the Heaven collaboration. What references were you working with here? How did this project differ from others you have done for Marc Jacobs?
Firstly, I worked with Marc Jacobs for their Instagram post consisting of 3 images. Then I got another offer from Heaven to create and sell our collaborative fancy wigs. I came up with 3 designs of hair extensions that they launched on their website. We also created images with models of our choice in Tokyo which we shared with them. For the first time ever, we made a collaborative piece which we sold to Marc Jacobs customers.
Tell me a bit about your Ha!r Power exhibition with Wereldmuseum Rotterdam. Where do you see your work as fitting into the show’s curatorial focus?
My piece was in the contemporary section in the history of hair. I’m very happy with how they categorised my work along with the historical pieces I’ve admired.
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You often pull aesthetic queues from London’s youth culture and the Harajuku movement. These are DIY movements with an eye for imperfection and roughness. Your hair seems to borrow from these trends, but you make artisanal products. How do you balance these impulses –DIY inspiration and fine art methods?
Maybe it’s the combination of colours, textures and styles (or forms) that makes my work eye-catching and, in some sense, young and new. I have a variety of techniques and ideas I’ve gained in my long career that makes my work uncopiable.
Tell me a bit about your creative partnership with Sayaka Maruyama.
Sayaka is a visual artist who traverses the mediums of photography, drawing and graphic design. We’ve worked together for a long time. She takes almost all of the photos of my work on my Instagram. We also publish books together. We are currently working on our new book Fancy Creatures which we will publish February of this year.
You often post references alongside your work on Instagram? How do you manage and gather work references personally?
I have a bunch of inspiration archives in my brain, so I pull out select ones for each post. Sometimes I search for new ones.
What is a film everyone should see?
The Goonies.
How do you approach a bespoke project with someone?
Mostly I get a great deal of creative freedom, so I come up with my own ideas inspired by clients and artists.
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Often hair and makeup are components of one-off looks, used once for an event or photoshoot. Yet your wigs are pieces of art. What kind of life do you hope your wigs have? What kind of life do they usually have?
At the beginning of my career, I was simply happy to make a hairstyle for a photo shoot or editorial. But then I started questioning how a life of hairstyle can be extended longer than just a one-off usage.  I started making wigs for mainly 3 reasons. First, I can change the model’s character completely. If the model has black hair, I can instantly change it into any other colour with a wig, avoiding damage to their real hair. Second, the wig can be used again and again. I can upgrade them by re-colouring or changing the hairstyles (cutting or curling). I can keep them all my life if I want to. And third, the wig can be exhibited in a gallery without models.  At some point, I noticed a fourth option, that I can work with international clients remotely.
If my wig has a musician as its owner, I hope it will enjoy gigs along with them.
Hair is personal as well as political. So often in the United States, as well as elsewhere, people who have hair that breaks from white beauty standards receive undue attention. How does your work navigate racialised conceptions of hair?
I propose different hairstyles with my wigs, but I don’t suggest or regulate who wear them. Anyone who likes my wig can wear in their own style. I know it’s sometimes controversial who wears what kind of hair, but I want wearers to be happy anyway.
Your hair has been described as mask, a “mask-thrix” more precisely. How do you see your work as revealing invisible, internal traits, and also transforming materially real exterior traits?
When we talk about personality and character, the wearer is the main subject, not the wig. So, the person can select the wig by considering what they want, how they want to change, how they want to present themselves, and how they want to be looked at by others.
You released your latest book project, Personas 111: The Art of Wig Making 2017-2020, during the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. This was a time in which many people were rethinking their identities and self-presentation, and yet, had far less of an ability to express themselves socially. How did your work change during this period? What was the experience of releasing a retrospective project during this period of the pandemic like?
I published Personas 111 coincidentally in the beginning of Covid-19, which I was totally not expecting.
In some sense it matched with the social background. The way I suggest hairstyles with wigs can be related to searching for new identity. I started to post one or two images a day on Instagram because I couldn’t do the book launch because of the lockdown in NY, and I got so much feedback and reactions from people. It was when people were staying at home worldwide, so they were looking out for something inspiring. I made AR filters of my wigs from the book, and I got so many reactions from many people.
What are you working on now? Do you have any dream projects or collaborators you have yet to undertake?
As I mentioned above, Sayaka and I am now working on a new book Fancy Creatures : The Art of Wig Making 2020-2022 featuring new wigs. It will be published this February! We've been working on this book for a year now, and this project contains the new wigs that I designed for Björk too.
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