Representing the creative future

Capturing souls as they float away

Meet Seiran Tsuno, the coconogacco student drawing the spirits that surround us with her 3D-pen

It was only on photographing a section of a piece on her father that Seiran Tsuno first realised the ghostly potential of her work. Noting how acutely the resulting image visually harnessed an out-of-body experience, she “then began to think about how to possibly make pieces that, when worn, maintain this visual effect.” To do so, she turned to the spiritual canon of her native Japan, a tenet of which underlines the fundamental instability of the living human soul. “The Japanese have a conceived image of the spirits of living people: namely, that they are unstable and are prone to suddenly wander away and change form,” she remarks, going on to explain the crucial function of garments in this same space of folkloristic tradition: “Unusual decorations and dresses have a long history of use in Japanese religious rituals, where people communicate with unseen worlds. This ancient desire to communicate with them is something I deeply empathise with, and it’s what I want to channel through my work.”

Her will to capture this sense of the soul floating above and beyond its vessel resulted in the highlighter-fluo ghostly cages seen here: confidently rigid, almost like full-body crinolines, yet invested with such grace and vulnerability, they’re perhaps best thought of as ‘necklace’ dresses, hovering calmly as they hang from the wearer’s neck. The process adopted by Seiran to arrive at these strikingly unorthodox silhouettes, is, no surprise, pretty far from the ordinary itself. “At first, I was thinking to involve 3D printers in the production of my work, as I wanted to incorporate an element of modernity where the materials were concerned. But when I went to Tokyu Hands, a local craft and DIY story, to look further into using 3D printers, I found 3D pens there next to them,” she says. “I noticed that the objects created with the 3D printer were certainly beautiful and stylish, but the objects made by 3D pen looked distorted, frail—even pitiable! Then I thought of the infinite possibilities that creating objects by hand allows you, and realised the potential that using the 3D pen would allow me in creating something that machines never could.”

Working primarily in PLA, a starch-derived, fully biodegradable plastic, Seiran quite literally hand-draws each piece in three dimensions. As you might naturally expect of garments drawn from melted plastic threads, “the works are very delicate and need significant concentration and persistence,” Seiran confirms. “To finish one work, it takes a week with 3 or 4 assistants.” Yet, though the extent of the sustained effort it requires may seem extreme, her material choice has presented far more pros than cons. The pen she uses allows for the plastic to be extruded at a range of temperatures, and by proxy viscosities, enabling the production of frills and other features perhaps better associated with draped fabric. And then there’s the quick-drying property of the material, allowing Seiran to surpass the gravitational limitations that humble cloth can present to create garments that literally float in mid-air.

Just as with her approach to design, Seiran’s route to fashion doesn’t necessarily resemble that of most. First training as a nurse, she then took up a post in a Tokyo psychiatric hospital that she held even after enrolling at Japanese fashion education’s renegade force, coconogacco, in 2016. Helmed by Yoshikazu Yamagata of cult brand WrittenAfterwards, the establishment proposes an alternative to schools like Bunka, which Seiran asserts “focus more on teaching techniques,” hand-stitching the perfect seam, for example, “but not so much on design and creation.” coconogacco’s goal, then, is to offer a balanced blend of the formality of Japanese didacticism and the eccentricity of the creativity-first approach we’re perhaps more familiar with here in Europe. And as you might expect from a school underwritten by a code of hybridity, providing a multi-faceted learning experience is prioritised: “The teachers at coconogacco don’t just come from the field of fashion,” says Seiran, “but there are also professors of physics and linguistics, for example. I was therefore taught to explore myself from various perspectives, and was really able to appreciate the real depths of fashion. Also, I was able to find a means of expression that only I’m capable of, and gained the opportunity to have my works seen by people from all over the world.”

And global attention is certainly something that Seiran’s work has gained, in part thanks to her social media presence, but certainly no less so to her being Japan’s sole representative among the finalists of International Talent Support 2018. Since then, her visibility has grown exponentially, both at home and abroad, having also been selected to produce the costume for the key visual of Amazon Tokyo Fashion Week SS19.

All of this taken into account, however, her approach to fashion remains as spiritually focussed and humble as ever, something that’s evident when you look at those who feature in her imagery—most notably her father and beloved grandmother. “As my designs are only worn on the front, the figure and circumstance of the wearer aren’t important,” she says. “I want to try dressing as many different people as possible in my work, even those who are bedridden!” This is no doubt a reference to the star of Seiran’s Instagram, her grandmother, who has recently been confined to a wheelchair on account of a broken leg. The key to the work of Seiran Tsuno, it would seem, is not the beauty it may have on a hangar, or behind a pane of glass. Instead, it lies in its being worn, in the union of an individual and their floating ghost. After all, obvious as it may be, for a soul to depart, it needs a body to leave from in the first place.