Designer Megumi Ito makes unique light sculptures that illuminate hotels, bars and shops. She grew up in the historic town of Kamakura in Japan, but since completing her studies at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna, it’s here that she now lives and works.
Photo: Hervé Goluza
Interview: Nina Prehofer
To what extent does your heritage shape your way of working?
Megumi Ito: I am never hectic when I work; I’m always very deliberate. What I do is meditative, and I have to create the right meaning behind everything.
I love imperfect perfection.
I try not to push my clients in a particular direction, nor to be too restrained. I always wait for the right moment to come.
The lights you create are all one-off pieces. Would you not like to produce your designs on a larger scale?
Megumi Ito: I’ve never had the opportunity to go into production, and no company has ever approached me to do so. Until recently, that is! I’m currently working on a range called MITO, from the Greek word “mythos”. It’s been like stepping into a new phase of my life, before which I asked myself what my current situation was – am I still really Japanese or have I become a bit more European? I realised that I am both and that my sense of self has evolved.
Both cultures are also expressed in my work, and that’s what I’ve incorporated into the new range.
But the reason I love the individual pieces so much is that I want to create the best light for each specific environment. That’s what I’m good at.
You like to work with Japanese materials like kimono fabrics and paper. What’s so magical about these materials?
Megumi Ito: With kimonos, I’m fascinated by the patterns and colour combinations, and the fact that the quality is so good you can easily reuse the material. But it’s also the way in which we wear the kimono that I like so much. When it’s raining outside, we wear a fish pattern, for example; at a summer party we might have a hare and the moon. Japanese paper, on the other hand, just infuses a room with an unbelievably soft light and also seems to “purify” the air. When I work with bamboo, it makes me think of building a nest, like a bird would for its chicks. So a lamp made out of bamboo gives off a very emotional light. All of these materials are part of my memories of my childhood that I want to carry around with me always.
I experience magical moments when I work with them.
What qualities does a material need to have in order for you to enjoy working with it?
Megumi Ito: It needs to be pure – synthetic materials make us and nature sick and broken. I like trying new things and usually work with something for as long as I need to in order to really know and understand it. That makes it sound as though I’m talking about a partnership …
In the Hotel Sacher in Vienna, a five-metretall chandelier glitters with crystals that you applied individually by hand. How long did that take you?
Megumi Ito: We applied the 4,000 crystals in a couple of days. I started early in the morning and spent the day and most of the night standing on a ladder. But it was a wonderful experience, and I had the best team in BWM Architekten and the Sacher.
How do you work when you’re at home or in your studio?
Megumi Ito: I mostly work in silence. I don’t have the radio or the TV on. It’s only when I’m totally alone that I can hear the stories of the great philosophers. My hands are busy, therefore so is my mind. It’s incredible when I see what can be created in a day.
Which parts of growing up in the town of Kamakura will you never forget?
Megumi Ito: The horizon, the sea, where I always went with my dog, and the fresh fish. I studied kendo for seven years and we all had to clean the dojo, the training room, before we started the class. I often had to spend a long time kneeling on the floor until it was my turn.
Which elements of Japanese culture are also present in your new home in Vienna?
Megumi Ito: Art nouveau has many Japanese influences and was strongly inspired by Japanese art, and I’ve studied and been shaped by both. Vienna is extremely beautiful and fairly small. The music is great and the appreciation of art and culture is just as important in Japan as it is in Vienna. I find that very comforting.