The influence of Japanese brands and designers on the global fashion industry is immeasurable. The success of such designers as Virgil Abloh and Kim Jones shows the prolonged embrace of the Urahara cultural movement, and the cross-reference of domestic and foreign culture has led many to reevaluate Japan’s fashion scene. One of the brands that represent this widespread sensation is EYEFUNNY.
EYEFUNNY is a Tokyo based jewelry label, established in 2003 by designer Jury Kawamura. Revolutionizing the jewelry industry with its own whimsical twist, the brand creates diamond encrusted pop-like motifs that perfectly blend in with streetwear culture. The pieces’ thoughtful aesthetics and high quality have caught the eye of a global audience. In order to learn about the inspiration and philosophy that goes behind EYEFUNNY, HYPEBEAST JP spoke with Kawamura at his studio in Tokyo and his shop in Omotesando.
Can you tell me about back in 2003 when you established your brand?
I used to work at a thrift store. I was not planning to work at a company like others around me after graduation. I simply liked fashion. During my student years, there were no branch stores in Japan for brands like Gucci, Prada, Dolce & Gabbana, so I was doing a part-time job for parallel import. After officially graduating, I started off as a buyer for a company, run by my senior (senpai) and at the same time, as a co-owner of a thrift store called YANKS, located behind Goro’s in Urahara. I was originally a customer there and the owner approached me to run the shop together, so that’s how it all happened. He would import brands from the States, so I was able to import brands in Europe. Especially vintage Saint Laurent, Dior, dresses and shirts. For fashion lovers, having their own shop is like a dream, right? But, when you actually do, for someone like me, I get super bored standing in the shop, so that’s when I started designing and making things. In 2003, at the same time as the shop was closing, I established EYEFUNNY.
At that time, there were jewelry and apparel right?
Yes. Obviously, I did not earn as much back then because I was still 24 or 25, so I focused on how to bring my creativity to life. Now looking back at it, there may have been some marketing perspectives I considered. Not just making what I want, but looking into ways to gain exposure in the public. Belt was the first item that came to mind. Back then, there were so many varieties of apparel and jewelry brands, but you didn’t have much choice for belts. You were narrowed down to Hermès, which had the best quality, and others that were also high-end brands. Studded belts sold in thrift stores were cool, but most of the time, the measurement of the waist was too small, the leather was deteriorating, or even if it was good to look at, it couldn’t be worn. I started off looking through the town page, going out to Asakusabashi, asking around how to make my ideal studs. Not plastic, but using actual stones like rose quartz, smokey quartz and amethyst. Placing diamonds onto the silver buckle, and designing studded belts that go with jewelry.
Was the brand called EYEFUNNY since its establishment?
Yes, from back then. When establishing EYEFUNNY, my friend connected me to brands like wjk, run by junhashimoto’s designer Jun Hashimoto and TMT, which I offered product designs as an OEM. While an OEM, I did not put the brand’s name out, but EYEFUNNY has been there from back then. The belts and jewelry that were hand-made by me from TMT, were made to order for famous Japanese actors like Takuya Kimura and rock bands like GLAY. That’s when I was also using the name EYEFUNNY. In terms of apparel, I went by EYEFUNNY back then.
Can you tell me how you came up with the brand’s signature motif, the smiley face?
You can see that our brand also uses such motifs as cross, stars, hearts, designs that are widely used by any other brands. Though the smiley face is a universal symbol, I realized that it was not used in other brands. As a motif that brings happiness and renders visual communication, which was not yet used, I followed my gut, and pushed it out as one of our icons.
I have an impression of a lot of pop motifs being used in EYEFUNNY, but can you tell me about your first design?
At first, it was a very simple design. As I mentioned before, the three carat diamond earrings that I was wearing. Not round, but a rhombus-shaped four claw diamond setting with diamond cuts. The width of the claw setting is one millimeter and the length is less than two millimeters. So it’s pretty small. Rhombus shaped, with diamond cuts, the surface shines, but even if you look at it from here, you wouldn’ t be able to recognize the shape of the claw. I put emphasis on such small details as the evening out the shape, polishing of the surface. Seems simple, but when you look into the details, you come to realize the value of it. I wanted to create things that couldn’t be perceived at first glance, but if you look close you come to realize the details. At the beginning. But, that’s pretty difficult isn’t it? No one would know. To be honest, no one would be looking for such things. So not trying to go back to the marketing perspective, but I came to a conclusion that there was a need for an obvious differentiation among other brands and the creation of an icon was the only way to gain exposure in public. Then, I began creating more motifs, including the iconic smiley face, which represented the current EYEFUNNY. People tell that EYEFUNNY uses a lot of motifs that are cute and interesting, but it’s simply because I liked it and those factors were needed for the differentiation with other brands.
So for a while you were producing jewelry, apparel and belts?
Well, I stopped producing belts immediately. It was because I was doing it all by myself and I couldn’ t manage it. Couldn’t concentrate on my role as a designer because of the orders.
So you basically became the craftsman?
Exactly. That’s why I stopped doing it after two years from the establishment of the brand. Halted all orders, dedicating myself to designing. Luckily, I was able to meet splendid craftsmen, who facilitated the production process as a team. I continued designing apparels, but I ceased doing so about 10 years ago, after the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011.
Jewelry can bring your ideas to life. Of course I can not do it by myself, but with the help of the team and skilled craftsmen, I am able to create something that I can be fully satisfied with.
“I came to realize that it’s important to specialize in what I really want to do and what I am really good at, not doing whatever I want, but sticking to one thing and pursuing it.”
What was the reason you focused on jewelry?
It was mostly because I simply had so much fun designing jewelry. I had an aspiration for becoming an artist and was drawing pictures, but was not able to paint what I had in mind. But when it comes to jewelry, I am able to depict what I have in mind. Of course I cannot do it by myself, but with the help of the team and skilled craftsmen, I am able to create something that I can be fully satisfied with. The success has naturally led me to focus on it.
So while trying out many things, you ended up with what suits you the most.
I originally longed for things like art and jewelry that exist forever. I still love clothes, I have fun making them, but I realized that I get bored of it. My passion doesn’t last. Initially, EYEFUNNY released dyed T-shirts with diamond motif glitter print, and diamonds with rivet details. Thousands of shirts were sold just in a six-month period. Then, I started wanting to design something totally different, designing camel-like suvin gold colored cotton cashmere hoodie and plain unbleached or black dyed organic cotton T-shirt. This did not sell most of the time. The store told me to create something that’s more glamorous and not like what I was designing, which became stressful for me. Going through the dilemma of designing clothes, I experienced the Great East Japan Earthquake, which gave me the opportunity to reflect on myself. I came to realize that it’s important to specialize in what I really want to do and what I am really good at, not doing whatever I want, but sticking to one thing and pursuing it.
This style of using diamonds has been there from the beginning?
Yes, from the beginning. I feel that diamonds are the most beautiful and tough material on earth, so using them to create jewelry was my initial plan. However, I was not able to do a full range of diamond jewelry because I wasn’t some sort of kid from a wealthy family and I didn’t have money.
When you launched your brand in 2003, what kind of items did you release?
The “33” motif diamond pendant that we still produce and as I mentioned before, the “brilliant” earrings with the distinct claws and the “EYEFUNNY CROSS” pendant. There are some models out of production now, but back then, we released six models only made up of diamond jewelry. After 2005, we released our signature full diamond smiley face pendant.
So the smiley face motifs were there from the early days. Silver accessories were a huge trend in the late 1990s, but were you interested in diamonds from then?
Yes, I was. When I was a student, the first earrings I bought were from Cartier, which was about a million yen. I worked my butt off as a part-timer at a moving company. I liked Cartier the most, but I also had jewelry from Tiffany & Co. I’m such a twisted person, so when everyone is wearing silver accessories, I would have been like “That trend is over, everyone should wear diamonds instead.” I guess from an early stage, men’s accessories shifted towards diamonds. Having this mixed style of Goro’s and diamond earrings.
When designing your jewelry, where do you get your inspirations from?
I feel it’s the same for everyone, but your own experiences, the things you feel are the main sources for creation. In my own studio, I have works by Daniel Arsham, a stool created by Charlotte Perriand, artworks from Africa displayed, and by surrounding myself with things I love, I don’t feel stressed at all. Rather than getting a direct stimulation from them, it is important for me whether the whole space is casual and relaxing. It’s not about meditation or anything but, being in an environment where I don’t feel stressful, my experiences I have gained bloom as colors. When ruminating or reflecting on events in my daily life that moved my emotions, I sometimes take notes or record it on a voice message. By doing so I gather ideas, sometimes shaping it and with the team, expanding the ideas. Most of the time, I would freehand a rough draft of the jewerly’s design and we start from there. It’s pretty analog. It’s always a must for me to carry around graph paper, mechanical pencils and erasers.
“Once it sparked popularity, it didn’t just end in the blink of an eye like a one hit wonder, because there was an established background and a stable business basis.”
Many international celebrities are wearing your jewelry, but when was the turning point for the brand in gaining attention from the global market?
I guess many incidents added up, but one of them was starting to use Instagram properly. Also, being able to work with Kogi “Poggy” Motofumi was a huge turning point for me. To add on, Daniel Arsham has offered huge support for EYEFUNNY. Though he may not have realized, he simply found our brand intriguing and introduced it to his own clients like Travis Scott and J Balvin. J Balvin contacted me and we started messaging each other. We met in Paris, where everything started. From then on, I would always deliver new products to him. So in that sense, I believe that Daniel was the one who initiated it.
So the basis is the connections between people, which spreads word.
Also, Poggy was saying that we were doing business for 15 years even back then, which became the basis of the brand. Once it sparked popularity, it didn’t just end in the blink of an eye like a one hit wonder, because there was an established background and a stable business basis, and there were products and those kinds of qualities enabled the brand to prepare to expand overseas. Those factors and timing all added up and I’m able to be in the environment I am in now.
Why do you think the brand gained the attention of celebrities and artists from different industries?
Probably because it’s new. I think if it’s something similar to others or the trend, no one would actually want it. That was my marketing perspective since I established the brand, always taking in consideration what isn’t on the market and what people would actually want. In terms of the smiley face I mentioned before, there was no one using it, so I thought this was a chance for me. EYEFUNNY is also doing such semi-customization as combining the past design and making name or lettered chains. But like Goro’s, many high-end jewelry brands in the past were not doing the adding, subtracting and combining jewelry into a customized item. By bringing the essence that I was fond of, even before designing jewelry, to life through such different genres as diamond jewelry, caught the attention of many people. Continuing to bring new perspectives in the way of showcasing or simply a new item or design to the market, is necessary in order to gain support.
Can you tell us about your routine at work?
I would usually get up at 7 a.m. and spend some time with my kid. Leave the house between 9 and 10a.m. and go to meetings, look at diamonds, go to the office to check the quality of the products before launching it in store, and draw the designs I had in mind the day before. If there’s nothing else, I would stay till 5:30 p.m. at the office and go to the gym or pool, and be home by around 7:00 p.m. If there is some business related dinner, I would go out after that or if there isn’t, stay at home and eat dinner with my wife. My kid goes to sleep around 8:00 p.m., thenI go back to my studio and design or contemplate on things. That’s my routine.
It seems like you don’t really take a whole day off.
Yeah, I don’t. But I do try to take a day off on Sundays if there aren’t anything. Usually I have business trips once a month, for as long as a week to 10 days or even two weeks. So in those months, I’m only in Japan for two or three weeks and I usually don’t try to take a day off. I’m kind of a workaholic, so if there’s things to be done, I want to do it.
Lastly, can you tell us about your vision for the future?
Doing what I want has not changed since I started. From the establishment of the brand, I always wanted to become the world’s famous Tokyo based diamond jeweller as such diamond jewelry brands as Cartier and Harry Winston did not exist in Japan. It would be great if in the next five or 10 years, or even 20 years, EYEFUNNY would be acknowledged by people as one of the categories. But for now, keeping in mind that wherever you are, whether it’s Tokyo or Paris, it doesn’t really matter as it is all becoming borderless, I simply wish that the brand is desired and wanted by many people and it brings joys to them. I felt that maybe I did not have to focus on being Tokyo based so much, though I do want to be acknowledged and be needed by people from all over the world. That’s more fun isn’t it? Doing what you want and continuing to surround yourself in an atmosphere and keep creating what many people look up to.