THE 7 RABBIT LIVES OF MR. KAWAHARA
Shinsuke Kawahara, wearing a vintage top hat, with his 7 rabbits.
We won’t say how long ago, but it started the moment he landed.
On the Charles De Gaulle runway, white rabbits.
From that precise moment on, Shinsuke Kawahara’s obsession was set in motion.
Conducted by Antoine Asseraf, René Habermacher, and Suzanne von Aichinger.
Transcribed and edited by Edward Siddons.
Photography by René Habermacher.
Illustration by Shinsuke Kawahara.
Creative direction by Antoine Asseraf.
Shinsuke wears a black Haori kimono on top of a white silk Shiro-Oshima kimono.
Rabbit drawing, rabbit paintings, rabbit medieval tapestries, rabbit haute joaillerie, rabbit restaurant — wherever Shinsuke applied himself, rabbits appeared.
And apply himself he did:
illustrator, animator, art director, decorator, restaurateur…
Every month brings new projects to Shinsuke, and each project brings new rabbits.
Left: Shinsuke Kawahara at his window, wearing vintage Undercover shorts. Right: Tank top by Brutals.
Did you choose Paris or did Paris choose you?
I chose Paris. My family is a very traditionally Japanese, which I now really appreciate, but when I was a kid, I can’t say I hated it, but I wanted to discover other cultures. Foreign cultures inspired me, French and otherwise. I was interested in cinema, particularly the work of [Jean-Luc] Godard, the poetry of Jacques Prévert, and the music of [Serge] Gainsbourg.
In high school I had already decided to move to Europe. I didn’t want to go to university, but my parents said that I had to. So I said, “Well, if I pass the exam, please let me study in Europe.” Finally, I ended up going to art school in Japan, and in my third year, when I was twenty or twenty-one, I came to Paris for a year.
When I got here, there were no cellphones, no fax machines, nothing. So I’d go into a public telephone box with the yellow pages, and bring a dictionary to write down set phrases in French, such as “I’m Japanese, I’m a painter and illustrator”. Then I’d have an appointment, and I’d go along with these set phrases written down. It was really manual. I showed Le Figaro my drawings, they liked them, and I quickly got a job illustrating for them every week. Afterwards, I found an agent which is when everything really started for me. I worked for Hermes, Baccarat, and others, which then lead to more international work.
“I’ve been living here for almost thirty years, but the people still aren’t kind.”
How does somebody become a Parisian? How did you become a Parisian?
I like Paris and I’ve been living here for almost thirty years, but the people still aren’t kind. [Laughs.] It’s kind of shocking whenever I leave the country and come back, I really can’t understand it, but maybe that is part of being Parisian.
Part of me is Parisian. Part of me is still Japanese. But maybe I don’t feel Parisian… At the moment I don’t feel Parisian: I don’t have that really “quotidian” feeling. For example, my friends come from Japan, and everything’s a surprise for them. I’m always surprised by Paris andI always like Paris. But now that’s quelque chose de quotidien too… Something common.
I have an apartment in Paris now, so when I go to Tokyo and talk in Japanese, I say the equivalent of “I’m going to Japan,” not, “I’m coming back.”
Left: Vintage bowler hat. Right: Shinsuke, his rabbits, and the kids from the 11th arrondissement.
Do you imagine dying a Parisian?
I don’t think so. I didn’t always feel that way but for a while now I’ve been thinking that I can’t completely go back to Japan either, though I do want to discover more of it. So maybe I’ll make that choice later: to die a Parisian, or to die Japanese.
Finish the sentence: “A Parisian is…”
Something to do with “joie de vivre.” And being selfish. Maybe they are full of a selfish joie de vivre! [Laughs.]
At the beginning it was really difficult to make meaningful friendships, but having made some, I think that’s quite Parisian. When I first came here it was much more closed, but Parisians now are much more cosmopolitan than in the past. That’s why I can make the choice to die Parisian or Japanese, because maybe they’re sort of the same. The world is much smaller now.
“Maybe they are full of a selfish joie de vivre!”
Left: The courtyard of Shinsuke's pied-à-terre. Right: Umbrella by Bangasa.
Where is the center of Paris?
The center of Paris always changes. As a foreigner, especially when I first came to Paris, it really was Saint-German-des-Prés; that was kind of my fantasy. But finally, in the eighties when I moved here, it was Les Halles—it was so strong—and then, and maybe still today, the Marais.
Today, though, I don’t know… but it’s not the Champs Elysées! I like the Faubourg Saint-Honoré, the Tuileries, and Concorde, so maybe that’s the center of Paris, but there aren’t many Parisians around there—maybe for foreigners it is. Now I’m in the 11th because there are a lot more “local” people there. Even though it’s starting to change, there are still little ateliers.
Maybe the real center of the Paris is the Seine.
Where do you see Paris in five years?
I don’t want to see Paris become a museum because it’s a really beautiful city, one of the most beautiful, in fact. I want it to be active. Always.
A silver rabbit designed by Shinsuke Kawahara for Christofle.
What do you think was the golden age or the youth of Paris?
Maybe the 1920s. When I started Usagi, I wanted to create something of a private club, a kind of culture. I’m not a restaurateur, and I had no experience of that world, but I really wanted to create something like the art circles of Montparnasse, a cultural mix.
I wanted painters, actresses, photographers, everyone, to come to my place and mix. At that time, Fujita, Diaghilev, Coco Chanel, Picasso, people from all over the world mixed; I just imagine it was a really good time.
How would you dress for Paris’ funeral?
The story begins with my family being so traditional. When I was a kid, my mother wore a kimono every day, and she still does now, which is unusual even in Japan. At the time, I didn’t like it, but now I really appreciate it. That’s why, now, when I go to special occasions I love wearing a kimono. That’s what I’d wear for Paris’ funeral.
“I don’t want to see Paris become a museum”
Do you think Paris is dead?
I don’t want Paris to be dead. I like Paris, even though some of the people are selfish and difficult. I still love it, and for me it’s really important. I don’t think Paris is dead and I don’t think Paris will die. I just hope it evolves.
Left:Shinsuke Kawahara in traditional kimono. Right: The 7 rabbits of Shinsuke Kawahara.
What are your current projects ?
I’ve designed a series of objects for Hermès’ “petit h” collection, including 6 unique “bonsaï” vide poches,
a series of t-shirts for Erotokritos, and have exhibits at Tokyo Ebisu & Marunouchi.