“Shall we do the interview in my shop around noon? The sun will be lovely in there,” is what Masako Ban – the brand founder of acrylic – kindly offered. However, the day of the interview turned out to be rainy and gray. Feeling a little bit disappointed by the weather, Masako’s friendly smile and her sweet strawberries just blew our gloomy mood away. “Let’s finish the strawberries first and then I can answer your questions!” By then, we were already fascinated by her character.
Interview by Uleshka & Kyoko
Very delicious strawberries waiting for us!!
…and which tasted even better together with Masako Ban’s smile
Masako, can you tell us little bit about your background? I heard that you were a successful graphic designer originally!?
the first graphic design job: identity for a Chinese restaurant
After I graduated from university, I started to work at an architecture firm. I learned a lot about three-dimensional thinking, but I wasn’t really convinced about being architect in the future myself. I was looking for something I could really get into from the bottom of my heart (smiles). I started collaborating with some other people and moved into graphic-design. When I then moved to London, I continued to work as a freelance designer, until I had to come up with a design for a jewelry store. That finally made me realize how much I loved jewelry and that I really wanted to start creating accessories myself. When I finally moved back to Japan, I started looking for collaborators to create acrylic jewelry with. I founded “acrylic” in 2003.
Where did this interest in acrylic jewelry come from, then?
A while back, my co-worker gave me a big acrylic piece of jewelry as a gift. I’ve always been fond of big jewelry and wore it since I was a teenager, but this gift was the first time for me to experience acrylic jewelry.
The beauty of this material really struck me and I then started to collect specific acrylic jewelry. I really love it as a material, I even like the sound of saying “a-cry-lic.” It is a light, clear and elegant material, ever changing according to the angle and light.
Is that enough to name your own label “acrylic” though?
I now use all sorts of materials next to acrylic. For me, “acrylic” is rather a symbol of “materials” or a certain “care for materials.” It is one of my priorities, that I only collaborate with people who also focus on the texture and quality of materials.
materials: matt, stripey polished acrylic
And who buys your jewelry?
I have female and male customers coming to my shop and when it comes to rings, I really sell my pieces 50-50. Most people who like my jewelry are interested in high-quality goods, often artists or designers themselves and many pieces are sold at galleries or museum shops such as MoMa.
Tell us a little bit about the designing and production process when making jewelry?
My part lies in designing a motif, having the idea of how the final product should look like. I then make a hand drawing and quite directly after that, create an Illustrator file which is then ready to be sent off to the laser-cutter. Since most of my products are based on a shape cut out of an acrylic plate, the process really is that easy. Only when I try something totally new, I work with paper models.
New Moon – acrylic ring, bracelets and necklace
Bridge – uni-sex acrylic rings
The acrylic shapes I then get from the laser-cutter are pretty rough. They are far from beautiful pieces. So then I need someone, who can file them down, make them smooth, polish them, die them, etc. My main collaborator here is model maker Gen Kagawa. He built his own machines to match specific needs (e.g. for changing the texture even on the inside of a ring). Our taste and understanding of texture and shape is very close, so it is great to work with him. However, since he is a real craftsmen, each ring is an art-piece and therefore takes quite a long time to be finished.
Well, it is not really new to combine acrylic with lacquer. You can find lacquer accessories such as hair pins, brooches…. but I guess it is quite rare for a ring design.
Beautiful, how the lacquer rings change their impression according to the angle you look at them. Would you consider yourself to be influenced by traditional Japanese arts in general, since you chose Urushi for your design in particular?
I wouldn’t necessarily say so, but the traditional Japanese style is quite minimum and I can very much relate to that particular simplicity. I like the scent and the texture of Urushi: Look at this beautiful brush stroke of lacquer! You’ll never get this fine nuance with any other paint. I tried car paint before, but it just wasn’t as sexy as this. (smiles)
For these silver rings, I collaborated with Tomoko Murata. The silver she produces has some kind of significant Asian texture. Very unique. As always, the shapes are very simple, therefore texture gains importance and gives the jewelry a special warmth.
Despite their elegance, some or your pieces have an almost industrial character to them. In particular the acrylic versions of Dial (title image) and Octopus.
You also started utilizing sponge as an additional material to produce an alternative, cheaper variation of the Dial and Octopus-series, entirely different in their haptics.
My designs are often inspired by graphic design or industrial products. The sponge products come in one sheet of sponge. The factory punches out the shapes of the jewelry with such a sharp tool that you almost can’t make out any shapes until you pop them out.
Octopus sponge sheet
Octopus – sponge jewelry slowly revealing
When you try out a new and unique materials, it is hard to predict what kind of problems will occur. Sponge is soft and light and luckily it works very well.
What about colors? Your first products were almost entirely black and white, but recently I notice some changes.
They were, but I actually wanted to make colored products right from the start, too. Unfortunately, it is not so easy to have lots of color variation in my acrylic series. I use clear acrylic and dye them. But it is hard to make clear acrylic into vivid colors, which is what I would want. Of course, I could use colored acrylic, but they don’t produce the colors I want yet…..
I have more color in my bag series, which I produce together with my sister. I’m actually constantly looking for other creators to collaborate with. I really hope that this place will act more as a place for creators to meet, share our skills and produce more together in the future.
Your products are actually quite chunky, big, eye-catchers! You said in a recent interview that people would often start talking to you because of your unusual jewelry….. Is that an ambition when designing, to get noticed more?
Well, it is not my first goal to be approached by people….I have to admit that I enjoy talking to people, though. Even before I designed my own jewelry, I was often approached by people when wearing acrylic jewelries.
Other than graphic or product design, jewelry design has no real assigned function, but to decorate and be expressive. How would you define the purpose of your jewelry?
This is a very good question.
My first intuitive answer is that I cannot imagine my life without jewelry. It is a part of my identity, a way to express myself. Putting flowers on a desk or wearing jewelry – that is clear expression for me. But to think about why I am doing this…why people are still wearing jewelries even though they lack of real function!??
I guess I use jewelry as a sensor to find people who click to it and can share same values.
I noticed two lines in your products: the exclusive, hand-crafted, high-quality line and then the attempt to produce things for bigger masses selling at little costs. Where will acrylic be going?
I am very happy about each customer who can cherish my exclusive products for what they are. I would, however, also like to try and establish a range which is not just for other designers and artists, but more a bit more mass appeal.
Now that I own my shop I have a chance to talk customers every day. It is interesting to see their different reactions from: “Wow, these are amazing!” to: “What is this for?” (smiles) I keep studying from my guests everyday!
We had a lot of fun talking to you! Thank you very much for your time and again – the delicious strawberries!