When Eri Wakiyama first saw images of Miuccia Prada’s Spring 2016 Miu Miu collection, she was shocked—in the best way possible. Her whimsical, eerie illustrations of lighters and candlesticks were used as prints on several of the garments. The surprise reaction came because before the clothes hit the runway Wakiyama had indeed been contacted by Prada’s Olivier Rizzo about creating several new works of art for the brand, but she didn’t know where or when or how they’d actually be used. “I never thought I would be applying my work to fashion prints,” Wakiyama says. “Print design was the last thing I thought I’d be doing, but the Miu Miu team proved me wrong.”
After her work debuted on the Miu Miu runway, Wakiyama went on to collaborate with more fashion brands, including Supreme, Alyx, and Calvin Klein. But despite the attention she’s receiving from designers and her full-time gig in visual merchandising for a major retailer, Wakiyama is happiest sketching her own art, on her own terms. Tonight she’ll be celebrating it with her first solo gallery show at Procell at 5 Delancey Street in Lower Manhattan. The exhibition features watercolors and acrylic on paper, mostly depicting Wakiyama’s signature unidentified girl in various states of emotion.
In one image the girl has bright blue hair and is eating strawberries. Elsewhere she’s floating in a lily pond or licking a sprinkles ice cream cone wearing heart-printed boxers. Though there isn’t any direct reference to fashion in the solo show, Wakiyama does admit that “fashion has always been part of my illustrations.” She studied fashion design at Parsons after moving to New York from her home in Northern California and adds that she grew up loving anime. “The costumes and outfits are such a vital part of creating a character and personality.”
Wakiyama’s melancholy fairy girls certainly have personality, whether it’s expressed through their posture, gaze, or style. They grab one’s attention, usually on Wakiyama’s Instagram page or printed on a T-shirt or a dress. “I’ve always been more comfortable putting my work on the web or collaborating with people on commissions,” the artist explains. “Although I’m able to reach a much wider audience this way, it still feels very far. Seeing an actual human reaction will always be more real than a like on Instagram.”
Here, a first look at the debut gallery show of one of fashion’s favorite illustrators.