Tsuki on Creating Vivid and Sculptural Hair

Behind the Image is an ongoing MODELS.com series taking a more personal look at both established and emerging creative talent.

Tsuki | Image courtesy of Streeters

Tsuki, Hairstylist

Hometown: Saitama, Japan
Based: New York
Representation: Streeters

How would you describe your work? What’s your trademark?
As a hair stylist, I have worked for many years on many different projects, including editorial and advertising across a variety of categories and markets, red carpet, and fashion shows. My work requires the ability to be agile and have a distinct point of view to work quickly and effectively at a high level. I enjoy creating hairstyles that are sculptural and shape-forward.

How did you first discover your passion for hair, and what led you specifically into the world of hair?
I was born and raised in a small town in rural Japan. It was a beautiful town surrounded by nature, but no hair salon existed. I started cutting my hair, then my friends’ hair, and I discovered how much I enjoyed it. Eventually, I began to be heavily influenced by the fashion magazines that would come in from overseas.

What other jobs have you had?
I’ve worked as a hairstylist since I was nineteen years old and worked in a salon setting in Japan for nine years.

What led you to open your salon, and how has that process been?
My wife and I, Ritsuko Hotaka, are both hair stylists and have worked in salons for many years, along with our editorial and advertising session work and shows. There are clear differences in style and technique between the two settings, and we wanted to create a space where we could blend the best of our experiences from both worlds. The process was challenging – the contracts, construction, overhead costs, and state licenses. Everything was much more difficult than we had expected, and we quickly realized we knew very little about anything other than hair. Thanks to some excellent friends’ help, we opened On-Session in New York’s Flatiron district in January 2024.

What inspires your creative process and influences your artistic vision?
Unlike Tokyo, New Yorkers have a strong sense of individual style. Whether walking down the street or riding the train, I see everyone’s inspiring hairstyles. Apart from that, I’m inspired by photo books that look at past lives and show me something that I don’t see in my daily life. Also, animals, insects, and Japanese anime. I spend a lot of time on random research, but I try not to think about style. I believe a lot of research will mix in your head and allow organic ideas to flow. It’s better than overthinking an idea or concept.

What have you watched/heard/read lately that has inspired you?
I’ve been reading about Kintsugi, the traditional Japanese art form where broken porcelain or earthenware is repaired using resin or lacquer mixed with powdered and liquid gold, silver, or platinum. This technique allows broken items to be reborn into something more beautiful. I’m trying it out, and I think it can also be applied to hair styling.

What do you love about what you do?
I love creating wigs and hair pieces. My life is a lot more colorful through my work in hair.

What have been the biggest challenges you have faced professionally?
The biggest challenge was learning to work with and honor the intricacies of various hair types. When I worked at a salon in Tokyo, 99.9% of the customers were Japanese, so I had never touched anything other than Japanese hair until I came to New York. I learned a lot as an assistant and worked on many personal projects to develop the techniques I needed to master through trial and error. It was a challenge, but it was fun and rewarding for my hands to understand more, little by little.

What’s one thing outside of your work that you would like people to know about you?
I’m the father of a soon-to-be two-year-old boy, and I love spending all my free time playing with my son.

Who do you think is one to watch?
Lorna Simpson, Ed Maximus, Cho Gi-Seok, Zhong Lin, and AI (artificial intelligence) are the ones to watch.

Selected Work

By Zoey Grossman | Image courtesy of Streeters

Vogue China March 2024 Cover
FeiFei Sun has always been a dream model of mine. The hair was made with the help of my long-time assistant, Michael, using three afro wigs as a base to give us the volume we needed and then stitching together four more wigs to achieve the final look. It felt like an impactful hair moment for a Vogue China cover, and I’m happy to have been able to be a part of it.

By Jordan Hemingway | Image courtesy of Streeters

Marina Abramovic for AnOther Magazine, 2023
This was my first cover for AnOther Magazine. The energy on set was great, and everyone, including Marina Abramovic, was focused on creating strong images. The hair was simple but matched well with the photography and Marina’s personality.

Lulu Wood by Heji Shin | Image courtesy of Streeters

Tom Ford Spring 2024 Eyewear
Working with Tom Ford is always an exciting challenge. Lulu actually has short hair, but I was tasked with transforming her into a big hair moment, and I think we achieved it in a way that looks natural and suits the model well.

Tashi Cheodak by James Bee | Image courtesy of Streeters

Vogue China, April 2024
This story featured seven models from different countries, each with different backgrounds. We wanted to express this through braids representative of their unique cultures. Tashi is wearing Tibetan braids here. I’m always grateful to be given opportunities like this that require me to think about hair more deeply.

Jordan Daniels by Sam Nixon + by Jai Odell | Image courtesy of Streeters

CR Fashion Book, 2022 + Personal Project, 20222
Many of my jobs involve styling models using their natural hair, and after working in salons for many years, it’s exciting to design hair through classic cut and color techniques that make me feel like I’m back at my roots while still pushing the envelope to achieve an unexpected final look.

Luca Biggs by Drew Vickers | Image courtesy of Streeters

Calvin Klein Chapter 2 Campaign: Denim
Calvin Klein campaigns have always been iconic and have always been created by amazing photographers and models. I grew up seeing them in the 90s, so simply being involved in this advertising job was a large milestone for my career.

By Sam Nixon | Image courtesy of Streeters

Personal Project, 2022
The process of creating these hair pieces was a practice of sculpture for me and became meditative. I’m so happy with the texture and shape we were able to accomplish.

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