Your background is in fashion. What sparked the shift to lighting design?

CHIHIRO TANAKA: I thought that if I could apply my knowledge and background in textiles and fashion to a different creative discipline – something entirely new to me – I might come up with some innovative ideas. A lighting designer needs enough technical insight to ensure the safety and durability of the objects he’d like to make. A lamp that’s unsafe will never make it in the real world. The challenge posed was irresistible. I had to give it a go. 

What does it take to make something innovative?

Innovation involves looking back at history and transforming the past into something new and meaningful. In my own practice, I study the products, materials and processing techniques that defined a period and compare them with current ideas and experiences. Through this process of exploration and learning, new principles and unexpected forms emerge.

Fashion design moves a lot faster than product design. What are the benefits of slowing things down?

The advantage of product design is that things stay fresh for a relatively long period of time, unlike fashion trends, which are more or less seasonal and last but a mere moment.

Will product design ever catch up with the fashion industry? Should it even bother trying?

I don’t think product design will catch up to fashion. It doesn’t needs to. That said, I think things are slowing down in the fashion world, especially in terms of consumption and production. When it comes to products, we maintain our own pace as designers. We work through a process of trial and error in an effort to reach a personal vision of perfection.

A number of your designs derive from nature. Why are natural forms so attractive?

The vitality of nature, with all its colours and forms, stimulates our senses and stirs our deepest human emotions. My creativity is often triggered by nature. There are a number of festivals in Japan that celebrate the natural world; examples are hanami, the cherry blossom festival, and tsukimi, a mid-autumn festival that honours the harvest moon. These are great sources of inspiration for me.

Photo Rohichi Kanata

This project was featured in Frame 111. Find your copy in the Frame Store.