In Japan, Balloons Are Elevated to an Art Form

Three designs that took the stage at this year’s So-En Awards (sponsored by Tokyo’s renowned Bunka fashion school) were not especially unique, inasmuch as you could, conceivably, see brightly colored harem pants paired with strapless tops on a fashion runway. But these elicited dropped jaws from the crowd nevertheless. That’s because they were made entirely out of balloons, the kind circus clowns twist into animal shapes and join together like sausage links.

The balloon work is the latest in the impressive repertoire of Rie Hosokai, an artist and world-renowned expert in balloon fashion who fell for the medium long ago, while working at a flower shop. “I was reassigned from working on flower arrangements to making balloon decorations,” she told me recently, “and I became smitten.”

Hosokai has won balloon art competitions in Japan, the U.S. and Belgium, and has exhibited her latex masterpieces throughout Asia and the U.S. Now a master of the delicate material, she’s even created a defense system to protect against the elements or a wayward fingernail. “The dresses are made so that if one balloon pops, it won’t affect the others,” she explains. “But it’s still extremely difficult and stressful to work with.”

Through September 5, new pieces of Hosokai’s work are on display at Sunday Issue, a trendy new gallery space in Shibuya, Tokyo. They include a balloon mohawk and headdresses that mimic poodle ears. In one corner stands a mannequin wearing an inflated black “dress” that looks as if a tattered Rodarte piece had been re-imagined in balloons. Hosokai looks at it sadly. “It will lose its shape in two days,” she laments, “just like flowers.”

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