Ikko Tanaka

by Paul Smith

Ikko Tanaka is a fantastic Japanese graphic designer whose work I find fascinating. His way of thinking was really interesting and he’s most famous for his style that combines traditional Japanese illustrations with a very graphic, colorful, and modern approach. I am particularly fond of a book he released in the 1980s called Japan Color. It’s over a hundred pages in length but contains nothing but pages filled with blocks of a single color. Amazing!

This book is like a designer’s dream. Each page’s recto and verso have the same color, but as you flick through the book you realize how different a color can appear in relation to the shade that’s sitting on the page opposite it. Put orange next to another hot color and it looks fiery. But put orange next to something more muted and it feels fresh. This makes you realize how powerful color is in determining what you’re trying to say.

One of the fabrics I’ve worked on for Maharam has a pattern called Big Stripe; it’s in two rich, dark colorways that I’ve nicknamed “city colors” and three vibrant colorways that I’ve called “holiday colors.” It’s the same pattern in each but the change in shades makes such a difference.

I’ve always been inspired by color; from the stripes on a beach hut to the gardens at Chelsea Flower Show, you can find inspiration in everything (and if you can’t, look again).

Paul Smith is a London-based fashion designer.

This text is an excerpt from Maharam Stories (Skira Rizzoli, 2015).