What our Frame Awards 2020 Lifetime Achievement Awardee has taught the industry

Every year, amid our Frame Awards longlist and shortlist selection process, our in-house editorial team huddles to make another important decision: who the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award will be. The distinction honours a designer who has been visionary in their field, one who sets the precedent for innovation in the industry. We are proud to announce that Masamichi Katayama, the principal and founder of Japanese interior design firm Wonderwall, joins alumni Philippe Starck and Sevil Peach as the recipient of our Frame Awards 2020 Lifetime Achievement Award.

In the mid-90s, a boutique design agency based in Tokyo made waves with small retail boutiques for streetwear. Founded by Masamichi Katayama and Tsutomu Kurokawa, H Design Associates infused the youth culture scene with slightly alienating, often spaceship-inspired, interiors. Fashion store Nowhere, for example, didn’t have any windows and part of the merchandise was presented in a delicatessen-like counter. Another boutique, No Concept But Good Sense featured glass displays on oversized wheels and giant streetlamps. Quirkiness, however, was not a goal in itself. In an interview with Frame in 1998, Katayama said: ‘There’s a need to balance between novelty and utility. We don’t want weirdness that will make people say “Hey, look, it’s funny”.’

As so often happens, the lifespan of the talented duo came to an end when they discovered their interests and ideas were no longer aligned. With his own studio, Wonderwall, Katayama continued along the lines that were already visible. Especially in the projects he designed with and for Japanese DJ, producer, fashion designer and entrepreneur Nigo, he broke with conventions and explored new horizons for retail. For Nigo’s A Bathing Ape (a.k.a. Bape) brand Katayama put shoes on conveyor belts, displayed apparel like a gallery would and covered walls with white bathroom tiles. Long before the rest of the world would talk about experiential retail, Katayama was already inventing it.

Having made a name for himself working with Nigo, big-name brands like A.P.C., Fred Perry and Uniqlo followed suit in the early 2000s. Katayama showed that weirdness, indeed, wasn’t his end goal. On the contrary, he gave evidence of a deep interest in his clients and translated the essence of their brands into stores that felt as fresh and sharp as his first ones without being quirky. As a matter of fact, explore Wonderwall’s online project archive and be surprised by how contemporary most of its projects from the 2000s still look and feel.

In the past decade, Katayama matured and refined his approach to retail. A light form of nostalgia, looking back at the Mad Men era, entered his work. Comfort came into being. He mastered bigger spaces, like the two-storey food court IAPM in Shanghai. He followed his bigger clients, like Uniqlo and Lexus, around the world. Did he approach any project in a routinely fashion? Absolutely not. Although all of his works to date share bold colour and material contrasts, show a clear organization of space and can be called masculine, the world of Wonderwall lacks a strong signature style.

Deep down, Masamichi Katayama has always stayed the curious, playful young man that he was when he opened shop some 25 years ago. His work is and will stay fresh, always offers a surprise or two and provides both staff and consumer with a degree of comfort. Even more important: the true Katayama store marries artistry with economics.

No wonder that pop celebrities like Pharrell and Drake want to go in business with him.

Katayama will receive the Lifetime Achievement accolade during this year’s Frame Awards, which will take place at B. Amsterdam on 19 and 20 February 2020. You can purchase tickets here.

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