For the Italians, the Venetian mask is synonymous with masquerade balls, used to conceal the faces of guests and create an aura of mystery. In contrast, the Japanese have traditionally used the mask for the theatre, to transform themselves into different characters.
It is fascinating how the mask has a totally different connotation in different parts of the world.
The question is how does one find middle ground and strike a balance that would sit well with both the East and the West?
This was the task set before jewellery designer Joji Kojima, and one which he said, was made all the more challenging as the theme had already been decided by prestige brand Cle de Peau Beaute, the luxury arm of Shiseido.
“It was interesting to form a collaboration using someone’s else idea. It gave me a chance to work with creative make-up director Lucia Pieroni who had chosen the colours for the collection. I redesigned the colour concept in terms of how I perceived my own idea,” said the New York-based Joji, 28, through an interpreter.
Unveiled at the luxurious hotel Aman Canal Grande Venice to international media members last spring, Cle de Peau’s holiday collection is themed Collection Bal Masque and evokes images of a masquerade ball where guests dress in noble medieval splendour and don ornate masks. The whole notion is playfully operatic and dreamy, offering a magical escapade into a different world.
So far, his work has mostly been shown at exhibitions. Although his forte is designing jewellery, Joji said it was not hard to make the transition from 3D to 2D designing.
“The designs are not a diluted version of my work; it was a good opportunity to do something different. There was an active discussion (with Lucia) and it is 100% what I wanted to convey,” he said, adding that it was his first experience working with a beauty brand.
“I knew that Shiseido was a top global company focused on beauty. When I talked to Cle de Peau’s design team, I was impressed how precise they were. For example, for the colour red, they even went into the different percentage of red in the hue!
“The collection is not meant to be a distinctive difference between my past and present work, but it’s my personal interpretation of something beautiful.”
Born in California, Joji spent his early years in Japan and Thailand, and learnt to make jewellery at the age of 15. He majored in advertising, photography and typography at the Tama Art University in Tokyo, and in 2010, launched his eponymous label. Today, his jewellery collections are sold at select upmarket stores in Tokyo, Paris and Hong Kong.
There are four different masks for the collection, and each of them reflect a different personality.
Gemma, seen on the make-up coffret, has scattered jewels which accent the spread of a peacock’s plumage. This mask signifies the dignity of a queen, and the green feathers are evocative of the coffret’s eyeshadow palette which contrasts with the vibrant red lipstick and Bordeaux mascara.
For the body powder, Violetta has vibrant red flower petals blooming atop a suede mask, intricately trimmed in braided gold. The mask represents a dynamic, captivating personality and mirrors how the graduated colours of the body powder create a glamorous aura.
Elena represents the nail lacquer trio, with golden interlaced strands overlapping brilliant crystals to evoke a rhythmic geometry. Starkly sophisticated, the decoration conjures the image of a dignified noble lady.
Lastly, the serum is represented by Rosalie, in which crystalline shapes of ruby red jewels become the symbol of a flawless and freely liberated woman. This beautiful design expresses the crystal-like radiance of skin achieved by the serum.
“The green mask is like the protagonist, the main character of the party and the queen of masquerade with a strong personality. The red denotes a free spirit, one who plays around men, while the gold mask is a refined person; someone difficult and beautiful to approach.
“The red crystal mask is special, she has a particular personality and is capricious in nature,” Joji explained.
The collection offers four rich metallic shadows to accentuate eyes – eye colour quad 314 – a palette of lustrously luxurious antique shades; perfect lash mascara 3, a deep, glossy Bordeaux that lengthens, lifts and defines lashes; extra rich lipstick 314, an intense crimson with a velvety texture and the limited edition body powder. Fingers are clothed in dark red, black gold, metallic silver while the serum, with the moisture-rich benefits of Illuminating Complex, comes packaged in the exclusive Collection Bal Masque motif.
When asked to name his favourite, Joji said it was like asking a parent to choose among his children – he loves all of them equally, he jested. But if he had to make a choice, the red crystal mask appealed to him the most, he admitted.
Inspiration comes in many forms and for Joji, much of it is derived from the sights and sounds he discovers along the way, which he often jots down in a notepad.
“Venice is very different from Japan and New York. I had time to walk around city and everywhere I go, I came across something picturesque. Every scene tells its own story.
“I have no experience with the Venetian masquerade as I’m not Italian, but I knew I wanted to create a Venetian ball ambience, one that only a Japanese could visualise. I knew I could come up with something that had never been seen before, ” explained Joji, who took two months to come up with the mask designs.
For his jewellery, he doesn’t focus on a particular type of material as image is more important to him.
“It’s about creating something refined and different. When I see contemporary art, it’s a lot of conceptual art. That’s not me; I’m more into visual shock which I try to achieve through colours, shapes and textures.
“It’s difficult to describe something that you can only sense. Beauty can’t be expressed in theory, but has to be something that can be perceived with the eyes,” he concluded.