“I’M ALWAYS FIGHTING TO FIND THE RIGHT BALANCE BETWEEN THE BRAND’S IDENTITY AND MY OWN IDENTITY.”
For world-renowned Italian architect and designer Piero Lissoni, Kensaku Oshiro’s work bridges “the gap between the Japanese and Western perspectives on simplicity and complexity”.
Having worked at the highly regarded Lissoni Associati studio in Milan from 2004 to 2012, the young Japanese designer impressed founder Piero so much that he selected him for the Rising Talents Awards at the Maison&Objet furniture and home decoration fair in Paris last January. The awards were a tribute to six of the most promising Italian or Italy-based designers. Having spent more time living in Italy than in Japan, Kensaku chose to make Milan his base. He opened his eponymous studio in the city in 2015, having discovered Italian design at the age of 15, and been attracted to this country for the variety of ideas and the freedom it embodies.
IN HIS OWN WORLD
Turning convention on its head, unlike other designers who may work on dozens of projects at a time at a frenzied pace, Kensaku is not the least bit in a hurry. He believes in gradual growth, progressing slowly step by step, tackling not more than five projects at once.
However, that didn’t stop many prestigious brands from spotting his talent early on, as he collaborated with companies like De Padova, Kristalia, Poltrona Frau, Zanotta and Gan within the first year of launching his practice, which boosted his confidence.
Working alone in his studio, he occasionally takes on a collaborator or an intern, preferring to stay small and agile. Taking a hands-on approach with every product from start to finish, he’s constantly in search of the ideal solution: sketching, creating mock-ups, doing 3-D modelling on the computer and 3-D printing, before moving on to the manufacturing side. He says: “I like to work on a very small number of projects, but working deeply, making a difference.”
TOUCH OF CLASS
Combining elegance and simplicity, his design is instinctual, essential and harmonious, and he works cohesively with material, form and technology. When starting on a project, he begins by thoroughly understanding the client’s vision, philosophy, history and limits in terms of production, technology and budget to create an original product adapted to the company’s DNA. He constantly shares his ideas and discusses freely with them, showing flexibility in his designs.
If the brand’s identity isn’t clear, he won’t work with that client. “I’m always fighting to find the right balance between the brand’s identity and my own identity,” he notes. Among his principal successes is the Holo dining table he designed for Kristalia, which required almost two months for him to understand the brief and to develop his first idea.
Characterised by its sculptural form with a large oval hole in the middle that gives it a strong personality and a beautiful, stark Asian aesthetic, it adopts car industry technology to deform a single sheet of metal for the base, using the least material possible in an intelligent way, and is crowned by a laminate or solid wood top.
Although born in 1977 in Okinawa, Kensaku was raised in Osaka. “I was born on an island surrounded by nature, but I grew up in a concrete city – my childhood was always these two realities,” he recalls. “At school, I was always waiting to spend my summer holidays amid nature in Okinawa. At that time, Japan was a functional, one-clear path society: You went to school, you went to university, you worked for a big company and you retired. But I didn’t want to follow this path; I wanted to be original. I wanted to decide my own future, not have someone decide it for me. I was frustrated during my childhood, but when I discovered design, I saw that it was a world where you could be different.”
He graduated with a master’s degree in industrial design from the Scuola Politecnica di Design (postgraduate school of design) in Milan in 1999, but his interest in the field had been sparked at the age of 12 by a man he practically considered his father. “I certainly chose this career as a result of the relationship I had with my childhood friends’ father, Mr Kobayashi, who was an architect,” he discloses. “His office was located very close to where my family lived, so I would spend whole days chatting with him. Somehow, he passed his curiosity and passion for architecture on to me. It was very important because from young, he talked with me and his son seriously about culture, history and beauty and how everything is connected. In time, of course other mentors have had a constructive influence on me, and each of them has taught me to apply myself to my work and has made me grow as a human being.”
Of his eight years on the design team of Lissoni Associati, he says: “With Piero Lissoni, I learnt everything from A to Z – how to interpret a company’s vision, how to propose your idea, how to communicate with people. It was a big team with people specialising in graphics, styling, design, architecture, etc., and I could see in all directions, so for me it was a great school.”
Then he moved to London for a three-year stint with celebrated British design duo Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby. “This was another type of design, more focused on innovation, new languages, new technologies and new ideas,” he relates. “They always focused on the details to make something better. We could work on details for months; it was very tough but the result was very qualitative. I learnt to never give up and to always challenge myself to do something new.”
Now he is working alongside the Muji design team, studying materials and processes, and recently presented new chairs for Poltrona Frau and Japanese brand E’Interiors.
He has also launched his namesake label, Oshiro, designing and manufacturing furniture combining history and innovation. His first piece was the CC01 chair – his take on the lightweight, wooden Chiavari icon created in 1807 by Giuseppe Gaetano Descalzi. He was a cabinet maker from Chiavari on the north-western Italian coast, and he entrusted the production of his chair to Ligurian artisans. He states: “I met a world from the past that continues to live in the present. Working with those craftsmen was a profound, constructive experience and the CC01 is its natural outcome.”
The seat has been widened, armrests lowered, and backrest revised in height and shape – no longer oval but semi-circular – and embellishments have been eliminated to highlight the smoothness of the cherry wood. This new endeavour honouring a rich craft heritage is perfectly in line with his vision, where he “would like to see more handmade craftsmanship products because we are living with more technology”.
He adds: “We need more of the human touch, while new materials and technologies can be used in a sustainable way to improve society.”
Poltrona Frau Leplì Collection
The padded stool, bench and footrest in leather or textile are inﬂuenced by traditional Poltrona Frau production processes and decorations, and feature tailoring concepts from the fashion world such as classic stitching, soft folds and a slender belt highlighting the “waist”.
Boffi Iko Towel Rack
Echoing the traditional Japanese kimono stand, the freestanding, minimalist rack for hanging bathroom towels elegantly balances a weighted stone base and an ultra thin, brushed- stainless steel rod.
Kristalia Holo Table
Featuring an unconventional base with an oval hole, created by innovatively moulding and bending a piece of sheet metal, the table comes with a thin laminate or solid wood top.
Zanotta Nuno Stool
Referencing the work of saddlers, the sculpture/ stool covered in soft cowhide doubles as a pouf/storage, with carefully considered stitching and straps.
De Padova Sen Table
This set of versatile, geometric coffee tables with round tops and skinny legs is available in varied heights, sizes, ﬁnishes (marble, oak), and even a nanotechnology option for “soft touch treatment”.
Ligne Roset Belize Mirror
The mirror framed in satin-varnished natural American solid walnut or matt-varnished black-stained solid ash can be mounted on the wall either horizontally or vertically.
Gan Grapy Easy Chair
Inspired by the image of a farmer sitting on a jute sack, the comfortable, ﬂexible and ergonomic easy chair in ﬁve colour choices with semi formed silhouette is meant for spending long relaxing hours in.
Oshiro CC01 Chair
The proportions, form and decoration of the Ligurian Chiavari have been reworked to produce a contemporary reinterpretation of a 19th-century icon that bridges East and West and comes in three styles.
text Y-JEAN MUN-DELSALLE