Inside Kristin Dickson’s store Iko Iko in L.A.’s Echo Park neighborhood, there are polka-dot shirts and wooden knitting needles, zig-zag coathooks and Mexican moccasins, ceramic urns and jars of jam. There are selections from Dickson’s crystal and vintage-book collections — the latter with titles like “On Weaving” or “On Fiberworks” — plus pieces from her boyfriend Shin Okuda’s furniture line Waka Waka. And as of this month, these items were joined by a haul of objects from a three-week trip the couple took to Okuda’s native Japan, where the fare spanned vintage textiles to traditional trivets to novelties like toothpaste and black Q-tips. It’s a credit to the pair’s curating talents that the shop nevertheless feels like the product of a coherent vision. “I focus on work that balances high design with craft and traditional processes,” says Dickson. “I want it to be an exploration of textures, cultural artifacts, utilitarian objects, and beautiful curiosities.”
When she opened Iko Iko a year and a half ago, in the front of the studio from which she designs the clothing line Rowena Sartin, the concept was to keep the focus tight, swapping out the goods every six weeks to make way for a new store-wide theme: still lives, scientific ordering systems, weaving. Dickson would invite friends and local artists like jewelry maker Hanna Keefe and ceramicist Kelly Breslin to contribute works, and she and Okuda would make items, too. But by way of evolution, the themes have since been demoted to smaller assemblages that exist amidst the larger collection, with fall/winter 2010 being devoted to the spoils the couple brought back from Japan.
Dickson left for the trip knowing she wanted to explore her existing interests in Japanese culture. She’d long been a fan of the country’s textiles and ceramics, and having taken ikebana flower-arranging classes, she was partial to objects that had to do with plants — which had always figured heavily among the selection at Iko Iko. “Being there gave me a full frame of reference for the kind of Japanese aesthetic I feel inspired by: simplicity, beauty through imperfection, and nature,” she says. “We wanted to bring back pieces that reflected those ideals and also represented specific traditions or artistic practices, since each city in Japan is known for something different.”
After starting in Tokyo, the pair made their way south through the region where Okuda’s parents live, ending in Fukuoka. They visited artisans’ studios, galleries, and antique stores, asking people along the way for advice on where to find the best examples of the town crafts. “We were at this woman’s weaving studio and asked where we could find indigo-dyed textiles,” recalls Dickson. “She said there was an old lady selling her whole collection over by the museum right now — nice, random things like that would happen to us.” Wherever possible she bought 10 or 15 of each object to bring back to the shop, paying particular mind to how well they’d fit in with its existing aesthetic, as with a series of vintage triangle plates that echo Iko Iko’s logo and the triangular grate on its façade. But she also deviated in small ways, as with the Q-tips and a series of Japanese teen magazines from the ’90s, purchased for their style references.
For this story, Dickson offered us a glimpse into her perspective as a curator by photographing pieces from the new collection alongside existing store offerings. Inspiration shots from the buying trip itself are interspersed, so you can see what she saw.