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Quick Confession - Zuzana Osako: Wearing a National Costume to the Office? Why not? In Japan, People Just Have More Fun!

Karolína Lišková
22.Oct 2018
+ Add on Seznam.cz
10 minutes to read

It has never been her dream to become a model; despite that, thanks to her looks, she makes plenty of money to this day. Zuzana Osako is a nice, inconspicuous girl from Moravia, who got married in Japan. Then, after years, she returned with her family and established her own business - she makes national bespoke costumes. Costumes, which you can even wear to work and feel like a goddess in them. In an interview with Luxury Prague Life she talked not only about national costumes, inspired by Moravian traditions, but also about life in Japan.

How did it happen that today you are a globally prominent model, but despite that, the Czechs have never heard of you?

I certainly do not consider myself to be globally prominent. I have been doing advertising for big global brands since I´ve been fifteen, but only for various chocolates, shampoos or for example fabric softeners. Those kind of things that make life enjoyable, when I put on a great smile, which sells. But I have never been a “fashion” model, presenting famous fashion brands on the catwalk.

In which advertisements could we have seen you in the Czech Republic?

I do not know if there are tens, or hundreds. There has been a lot of them…

Just name a few…

The very first was for Disco biscuits and that´s how it all started. I was fourteen and a lot of people remember me from the nineties. In that advert I appeared with in-line skates and on a carousel. Now I am making Dobrá voda (mineral water) campaigns.

Pronájem vily 10+3, 490m2, Praha
Pronájem vily 10+3, 490m2, Praha, Praha 5

Is that really you?

Well, my looks must be terribly versatile, because nobody recognises me from those commercials. (laughter)

So, do you still have engagements like that?

When I get an offer I like, then I am. But on the whole, it is mainly advertising abroad.

How old are you, 36? You have three teenage children, how did you manage that?

I had my children early on. I met my future husband one summer, we got married the second summer and a year after that our first son was born. The other two children were born when we lived in Japan. I could not work very well there, because I was illiterate. I learned to speak the language fluently within one year. I used to teach painting and I myself was learning to paint with ink. But otherwise I could not do anything where I would need to read and write. So I had had plenty of time to have children. I have always wanted - if one is to have a family, then a big one. And my number was five children.

But you still have time...

Well, I think that only grandchildren. (laughter)

It is a quite a few years back, and I dare say that at that time in the Czech Republic, and particularly in Moravia, to have a foreigner for a husband and Japanese at that… It simply had to be a great surprise for your parents!

It was! (laughter) On the other hand, I had lived completely differently and I used to hear a lot about it. When I was fifteen I went for a year to Milan and I kept going a flying somewhere all the time.

And what was it like for you? You were a young girl from a small village and suddenly you were alone in such a big world, you came to Japan. You had to be completely bowled over by it all.

Rather, I was not prepared for it. Because I was not interested in that country and I was not at all interested modelling. It did not attract me and I didn´t feel in my own element. Rather, I kept saying to myself that I am not enough "something". Not tall enough, not thin enough, whatever. So, I was doing it mainly for the money, to enable me to study design abroad. That was my main motivation, for going to castings. When I was ten years old I went for my first casting.

And what did your parents think about that?

Imagine, that this whole thing had been thought up by my mother! She knew that I am interested in fashion, so she wanted to bring me closer to that sphere through modelling.

So, you have been to Milan, where you studied design and did modelling. And then you have found yourself in Japan through work, do I understand correctly? And that is where you met your future husband.

We have been kind of long-distance dating for half a year. About a month after I returned, he moved to Madrid to be closer to me. He did not have any friends here, so he used to fly to meet me. And when I had my 18th birthday, he came to my parents to ask for my hand.

That is so beautiful! And how did they see him?

They had known about him. They knew him from photos, so in my opinion they were not surprised enough. I think that their perception was that he is a man of good family, with great manners and that he is good to me. They simply saw him as a man and did not think about race or culture.

Are you still together?

No, we got divorced this year.

It pains me, because it seemed like a beautiful fairy tale…

We have put a lot of effort into it over many years, but it simply did not work.

Does he live here, or over there?

He lives in Tokyo.

Vila na prodej - Klánovice - 465m
Vila na prodej - Klánovice - 465m, Praha 9

It must be terribly difficult with children. For them to see their father, too.

He visits them once every two months. And the children fly over there about four times per year for a week or two.

How did they actually cope with the move from Japan to the Czech Republic?

We have been here the first four years as a basis. But until the eldest son started school we had been constantly travelling around the world. Then we lived in Japan for five years and now we have been here for nine years. For them these are two homes that they are completely familiar with.

So, they speak Czech completely fluently?

Czech, Japanese, English and Spanish. They are still studying Spanish.

And you can still speak Japanese?

One doesn´t easily forget that.

It must be terribly difficult...

No, it is not. It is not difficult for a Czech, because phonetically we have exactly the same syllables. Many words sound exactly the same, they just have a different meaning. So, if you are learning Japanese, either through listening, or from a book, which is written in Roman alphabet, then that is fine. Only the writing is a problem.

You have returned to the Czech Republic nine years ago. Have you known that you will design and paint? How did you find your way to national costumes?

I have painted since I was little and I have always known that that is what I wanted to do. Actually, around the year 2008 there was a boom of fashion and commercial illustration, so I created a portfolio and it was a success. Soon I was able to illustrate full time and make a good living out of it.

When we lived in Japan, I painted our national costumes, because I wanted to show the Japanese at an exhibition what they look like. The Japanese spectacularly take care of their own traditions and national affairs, so there you can constantly see exhibitions or festivals. They know how to communicate it, take care of it, they have fun with it. This is why I wanted to engage in a dialogue and show them our treasures. Details of our hand-made embroidery or hand-painted fabrics.

I also compared their and our culture. I knew that here it is rather a prerogative of folklorists in certain regions. And there, moreover, only in some families, i.e. just a handful of people. So I told myself: After all, people can enjoy it much more, get together more! Even in the villages people don´t meet as much...

As much?

As much as they used to, because they get into the car, drive to work, come back and are together at home.  In the past, people used to get together much more. So that was the idea, I began to paint our national costumes. Then I joined the Community South-Moravian Foundation and even though I lived in Prague, I used to go there. I liked the projects which connected people. We had a project which we called Live Folklore, and we wanted to revive folklore. For the people to again begin to be interested in it and for all to enjoy it. I for example love the scenes when the Moravian lad rides a horse, jumps off and sings and dances verbuňk - (male folk dance from Slovácko - transl. note). These are in fact sensational and beautiful moments, which a person from Prague doesn´t know anything about, you simply have to experience it!

This was connected to the fact, that I painted old grandmothers, who wear national costume every day throughout their entire life. They have working-day, simpler and very wearable folk costumes. In fact, this is not just about people who dance outdoors at social events in those overly elaborated, festive costumes, which one could hardly wear apart from celebrations.

I used to go to their homes, they were sitting down in a costume, all dressy, just sitting down. I have always chatted to them for two or three hours and I realised that their costumes, which they wear every day are really fantastic clothes, in which they look beautiful, whether they work in the field, or cook in the kitchen. Simply always! When my great-grandmother went at five in the morning to the garden to dig around her vegetable patch, she put into her dress the same effort like a lady politician nowadays when she is to have a public speech. She had a costume of beautiful colours, beautiful fabric and it suited her to perfection.

In Japan, Austria, Germany, but even in America - they all have their own traditions. And I realised that here we have our national costume, that we need to revive and reintroduce.

What does it look like in practice? I cannot imagine that I go to work in a national costume.

The idea of people nowadays is that the costume is decorated by sequins and that there is a lot of lace. But this is simply not true about the ones for everyday use.

Who are your clients?

People who looked at our website and realise that what we are doing are things for everyday life.

This means that I can wear a national costume, go to work and no one will say that I am crazy and that I originally headed to a cymbalo dance?

Not at all. You will simply go in a ladies´ suit, which is a bit more feminine and more embellished than lapels of a jacket which could have been a men’s suit.

If I were you came to your shop, to choose several pieces and I wished to somehow combine them, would you assist me or would you intervene so that I would not breach some tradition?

On the contrary, I find it entertaining that few people buy the top and the bottom from the same fabric, i.e. the skirt and the jacket- “jupka”. “Jupka” - we have to revive that word. Or start to call it a jacket… But perhaps we should just press ahead with jupka, we should get used to it as Czechs! (laughter)

Take for example a Chanel jacket. If you say ´jacket´, you will not automatically imagine one by Chanel, you will think of something with lapels. That is a similar concept like a jupka. It is of waist length, close-fitting and it is decorated by lace or something decorative. But it is far more feminine.

I have noticed that your costumes were worn by Petra Svoboda, too.

I chose Petra myself as a model for my first campaign. Even though I would almost prefer if she were not so well known. But I could not find a woman whom I would visually prefer. I simply terribly like what she looks like, because she has beautiful curves as well as wonderful face.

You said that in Japan you let yourself be inspired by traditions. Did you start sewing there, or did you only paint?

I used to sew for myself and my children.

You are white, beautiful and thin. How did the Japanese react to you? And how did they then respond to your fashion sense? Because I assume that you dressed differently from them...

We lived within a super community there. We lived in the city of Kokura, it is like when you imagine Brno. It is a city for families and older people, it is kind of quiet. And our children went to a Catholic school, something like Waldorf or Montessori. Parents are very much engaged. In the mornings, we, as mothers, when the children were in the kindergarten, spent our time by making things for the children, we sew things for them and for ourselves. So, in that community it was nothing unusual. I did not stand out or feel different from the others. Only in the beginning it was these mothers who had very much helped me learning Japanese.

Were you not then sorry to leave such a beautiful country?

I have terribly enjoyed it. I really immersed myself into their cuisine and flower arrangements, simply everything I have had the opportunity to learn from someone, mainly the ink painting. But even so, I´ve had enough over those five years.

So, you feel at home here?

Yes, definitely.

But why Prague, when you like Moravian traditions so much?

I did first go with children to Moravia. We were having our first marital crisis and I spent a year with the children there. The children tried the elementary school which I attended as a child. And after a year when we gave our marriage a second chance, we told ourselves that the children should be in an environment where both parents understand the language of the school. And since then the children are at an international school and they study in English.

How would you compare this school with a usual Czech school?

I don´t have any problem with Czech education system, quite the contrary. I think that healthcare and education is excellent here, and we have the huge advantage, that at this level it is free for all. What saddens me about Czech schools, is the behaviour of children among themselves. It is really harsh, unnecessarily unkind. And the teachers are usually not a good moral model of how deal with such situations. Oh, I would have wished that the education precisely of those who teach would change. For the teachers to be led to be a moral model.

But perhaps as we all remember from our school years that it is rather an exception. How many teachers can you name about whom you can say: That was an amazing person! One or two. And the rest has favourites, were bossy, failed to resolve any issues fairly, mainly to have the problem quickly dealt with. The nine or eight hours a day in school really shape up the personality of the child. And then they will not be able to in their own lives approach problems within their own team. At the international school this is really far better.

Children can be quite bad and sincere. What about racism, do you have to deal with that, too?

No.

What are you now planning work-wise in future?

Our domain is custom-made tailoring. We are endeavouring to widen the production and in the salon we are constantly trying to improve and extend what we can offer to our customers. In the past year we have also built a ready-made line for adults as well as children and house textiles. Therefore, I simply still work very hard. But that is because I really enjoy it!

Thank you so much for the interview.

Fast confession:

The three most beautiful things about Japan?

Certainly autumn, I love it everywhere in the world, but there it is beautifully colourful.

The most effective diet?

Moderation. Not to overindulge bakery products in the evening.

Now that you live in the Czech Republic, how do you remind yourself of Japan?

The cuisine. At home we cook predominantly Asian dishes.

What is the difference between Czech men and men from other countries?

For a Czech woman it means that she knows them, knows the culture and her father. And I did not date that many men from other countries. (Laughter)

Who do you think is the most beautiful Czech model?

Tereza Maxová.

How much does your most expensive national costume cost?

Around 30 thousand.

Characterise yourself in one sentence.

I am hard-working, family-focused, eternal an idealist.

How did your children surprise you the last time?

They are teenagers. Two are taller by a head than me. And now they invented a kind of group embrace. The oldest me jumps on me, his sister on top of him and the youngest on top of her. It is for us a new fantastic thing.

What does luxury mean to you?

Reliability. That I have a really good quality thing.

How do you keep yourself physically fit?

I run, exercise the Smisek Method for spine regeneration, exercise yoga.

What do you think about women in politics?

That they should always look good. (Laughter)

Your most favourite Moravian tradition?

From Czech traditions I like Christmas.

How long would it take you to draw President Miloš Zeman?

It can be done in ten minutes, but I would like two hours to have a chat.

What do you most enjoy, when you are not painting, not sewing, and don´t need to look after the children?

Look into the nature, the countryside.
Interviewee asks the editor:

How are you?

This morning was quite hectic, but otherwise very well, thank you.
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