By Lucy Birmingham
"Affordable Chic: Accessories from a Master of Materials"
It's no wonder that Masako Ban's acrylic and sponge designs garnered Wallpaper magazine's prestigious 2007 Design Award for jewelry. Her use of synthetic material twists the very definition of jewelry. More like wearable art, her necklaces, bracelets, rings, and earrings are fun, environmentally conscious, reasonably priced, and whisper "contemporary cool."
Laser-cut shapes define Ban's eye-catching style. Acrylic pieces are lacquered, sandblasted, dyed or left clear. Some are embedded with silver or gold leaf or decorated with imitation gems. For her colorful sponge designs she produces single-sheet sets that include a necklace, bracelet, earrings and a ring — all cut from one piece of foam to eliminate waste.
Some of Ban's acrylic pieces (Acrylic is the name of her shop) have been selected for sale at New York's Museum of Modern Art and Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, Los Angeles's Museum of Contemporary Art, Victoria and Albert Museum in London, Musee des Arts Decoratifs in Paris, among other places.
Ban's repertoire also includes bags. Here, too, her choice of materials defies expectations: foam, colored mesh, aluminum, imitation fur, 3D holographic material, and more. Elements of her jewelry designs add decorative, practical touches to her bags. In fact, handles shaped like her Dial Bracelet are the symbol of her line.
"I'm interested in strong industrial materials made for a purpose, not just for fashion," Ban says. For her popular shoulder bags she uses imitation fur that she discovered at a fabric fair. "It's such a practical material. You don't have to worry about getting it wet in the rain and you don't have the animal smell of leather."
After university, Ban worked for three years in the office of her future husband, now-famous architect Shigeru Ban, whom she cites as her first teacher and a real inspiration. "When I have a new design, I always ask his opinion. He really understand the importance of space and shape."
She went into graphic design work, moved to London, and began designing accessories. After returning to Tokyo she established her "acrylic" line in 2003. In 2005 she discovered the unique building that now houses her shop. The sliver of a structure, by Klein Dytham Architecture, already had a lime green interior, her favorite color. It appears in her logo and some products.
Ban will continue to work with collaborators such as t.c.k.w., the design group that oversees her lacquerware production. "Now I want to create a line called 'acrylic and earth' with colorful minerals like those use in nihonga (traditional Japanese painting)."
Since exhibiting her designs in a juried show at Tokyo's National Museum of Modern Art last October, Ban says, "I am starting to think of my work as art now. But artists' work is so expensive. I want to keep my prices in check, to create wearable art that's also affordable."