Anyone passing by the Q-Pot store set to open tomorrow at Ala Moana Center will see a cute, trendy jewelry store. But creator and designer Tadaaki Wakamatsu, in town for the opening, thinks otherwise.
The jewelry is just the surface, as it wends its way from bodies to hearts. It’s really a tool for his larger ambitions, and if you ask him what he’s doing, he’ll say he’s in the business of communication.
His message? No less than world peace, which starts with getting people to talk to each other, and for that, jewelry can be a great conversation starter.
In Japan, Wakamatsu is known as "The Sweet King," but he didn’t imagine any of this 15 years ago when he was modeling for Non, a trendy men’s magazine in Japan.
While many would have enjoyed the experience, he said he never felt comfortable in front of the cameras. Shy and introverted, he said through an interpreter, "I felt modeling didn’t fit with my personality."
Meanwhile, he watched and studied the swirl of activity around him, and the designers, photographers and stylists he worked with always seemed to glow, he said.
"They were shining because they were confident and loved what they were doing. I wanted to be like them. I wanted to find something I could do to be creative and express myself, so my personality might be shining like them," he said.
In 1995, Wakamatsu began studying under accessories designer Kazumasa Seima, and from there he found his proper place in the world as the creator of Q-Pot. The accessory brand features whimsical jewelry and objects crafted from resins, woods, metals and enamels — whatever approximates the texture of the object being created, whether a strawberry or macaroon made of a soft, spongy material. Q-Pot formally launched in Tokyo in 2002, and the Ala Moana store is its first U.S. outlet.
Rather than cater to market tastes, Seima advised Wakamatsu to always design things he loves, and what he loves happens to be food. His first pieces reflected his love of cheese and hamburgers.
That first collection debuted in 2000, a time when people had been on edge due to Y2K computer fears and uncertainty over what the new millennium would bring. Wakamatsu noted that popular images at the time included skulls and skeletons that he deemed negative and frightening.
"I wanted to change the message to be positive and wanted to use some of my favorite things, like cheese first, then hamburgers."
He still wears a cheese-design ring from that inaugural collection, and what he noticed immediately was that it was a great conversation starter.
Even though his first collection was designed for men, he realized it was women who loved his work.
"They always say ‘kawaii’ when they see it. They say it makes them feel better, and they’re happy and smiling. And women are always talking to other women, telling each other what they find. It feels contagious, and that’s what I wanted, to make the world a happy, joyful place and communicate this joy and happiness person to person. Then my work is meaningful."
And, just as he loves food, he’s realized that a love of food and recognition of various items is universal.
"With food there’s no borders. I feel this can go around the world."
RECENTLY, he’s branched out into a Caviar line of products made with precious metals and stones, earning him a new title, "Caviar King." He’s also worked on collaborations with other artists and companies, including Docomo, for which he came up with a cell phone that looks like a chocolate bar; Fauchon, a specialty macaroon; Blythe dolls; and Apple iPod wraps and earbuds tucked into a cookie design in which the cord wrapped around the center resembles a layer of frosting.
More recently he worked with film director Tim Burton on a jewelry collaboration for his recent "Alice in Wonderland."
Offers for collaborations pour in every day, he said, but Wakamatsu tries to choose companies who link their sales with philanthropic endeavors.
One of his first collaborations was with the Japan-based clothing brand Uniqlo, for which he created a line of T-shirts. A portion of proceeds from the sales was donated to a project to build and maintain wells in Ethiopia, administered through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Another was with the chocolatier Jean-Paul Hevin, for which proceeds benefited a project to improve the quality of life of women in Bangladesh.
On the lighter side, Wakamatsu’s love of food continues unabated, and he’s found plenty to like about Hawaii, where one of his first discoveries was rainbow shave ice, which he’s turned into a Hawaii-exclusive commemorative necklace ($100), ring ($50), cell phone strap ($52) and hair elastic ($50).
He gave his first daughter the unusual name of Nikori, which incorporates the Japanese word meaning rainbow, and when pronounced in Japanese sounds like "smile." A second daughter is named Karen, comprising two Japanese words that translate as "elegant lotus."
In Wakamatsu’s mind, rainbows always follow storms, and lotuses are beautiful flowers that spring out of muddy ponds. In the morning, driving in from Waikiki for his interview, he said he was elated to have spotted a double rainbow.