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A new leaf

By Michelle M. Havich
June 03, 2013

Photo: Courtesy of Makoto Azuma
When Isetan department store in Shinjuku, Tokyo, wanted a “wow” factor to draw in shoppers for its reopening after six years of renovations, it turned to Makoto Azuma to create something amazing. Azuma, a botanical artist known for his intricate and beautiful floral and botanical art installations, had worked with the store previously on window displays and arrangements. “This installation for the renewal opening is by far the biggest scale among them,” he says.

The store wanted him to “decorate a building with uniqueness, something outstanding, which matched Isetan’s special grand opening occasion, rather than just an aggregate of massive flowers.” Azuma suggested an installation created with leaves, “like a composition where the leaves were ‘eroding’ the store,” he says.

The result was “Art of Plants,” a juxtaposition of several installations throughout the remodeled floors. The exhibitions went along with Isetan’s new concept—dubbed “Welcome to the Fashion Museum”—featuring museum-like displays and vignettes in the sales departments.

“We wanted people to feel something like, ‘This is Isetan!’ through our creation,” Azuma says. “Our mission was to give an impression and an impact to people by showing them something they have never seen.”

To create the pieces, Azuma and his team folded each leaf by hand. “I am guessing that more than 300 people were involved in the construction,” he says. “It is a huge artwork with a big volume. We needed an enormous number of leaf parts. Since each leaf was folded by hand, it was truly a work of people who supported [my idea].”

The team used several leaves, including cast-iron plant, danae, liriope, dracaena and black leaf, creating patterns by folding them in a multitude of ways. Nearly 20 varieties of leaves were used to create the piece in the main entrance of the store.  

The installations ranged from giant pillars and entire walls covered in leaf patterns to smaller designs arranged within merchandise displays, all integrated beautifully, adding an organic element to Isetan. Azuma also created mandalas of different shades of green, and hung them like chandeliers throughout the store.

Decorating a store with living plants has its challenges, including combating temperature and humidity levels, and maintaining the aesthetic as the leaves begin to wilt and die. Even though the installations were created with sponges as the form bases, the drying out of the leaves was, of course, inevitable—and planned.

“It was actually our intention to show all the process by which leaves slowly decay, as part of the installation,” Azuma says. “We were there every day for maintenance and kept them dry in the end.”

While the installation was meant to be temporary, it still packed a lasting “wow” punch with shoppers, who were amazed by the intricate works of art, and were surprised by the size of the creations and tiny detailed work that went into creating them.