We caught up with Anna Kostina, designer and Shibari enthusiast, who shared how the aesthetics of Japanese-inspired rope bondage led to the creation of her fashion business, Figure of A.
Who are you?
I am Anna Kostina- a rope artist and designer/maker. I have created a fashion brand – Figure of A - out of my enthusiasm for Shibari rope bondage. In Shibari there is a certain way of doing things but there is always space for creativity and, although I am not the best technical rigger in the world, I have good hands for creating something different. What I make is not Shibari but the knots and the way it looks on the body are very similar to the real thing.
How did you come to being doing this?
I had seen Shibari for a long time but didn't have any connection with it until I was asked to be a model for a workshop with Miumi-U, a Japanese teacher - I was fascinated. At this time a studio dedicated to rope bondage, Anatomie Studio in London, was just starting up. This is a very lovely space, very inclusive and body and sex positive. The focus of the studio is very much on education and that suited me as I am very private about my sexuality, so I started going to classes and became involved. For me it was about learning how to tie but I also came to know about a whole world of Shibari. Around this time I went to Japan and I became fascinated with the country and I began to understand where Shibari comes from. It was a type of martial art, hundreds of years ago, and then it became sexual/pornographic. Now artists take it to another level - modern and experimental. I've always been creatively exploring costume and graphic design and I sensed that this was what I wanted to do - I wanted to create something inspired by Shibari. I gave up my work and went for it.
What is the message you are hoping to convey using your art?
To spread the word about Shibari - that it is not something dirty or horrible or for perverts in cellars. In Japan it is always considered pornographic, however, it is also an intricate and beautiful art form, very aesthetically pleasing. That's what I especially want to show and to introduce to those who are judgemental or scared by it. Shibari is not necessarily sexual for me - I just like to do it for the pleasure of using my skill and then to look at it. When I'm tying my model I don't necessarily have any sexual relationship with them.
What is the meaning behind your pieces?
The pieces carry the huge story of Shibari. You would not be able to say that a jumper has a huge story - it has a story - it is a jumper made of wool and the wool comes from somewhere but Shibari is huge. When you wear a piece from my collection you carry a little secret with you, you carry the story of Shibari. It might make you feel part of the story - you might feel submissive while wearing it or experience other feelings that you associate with rope bondage - whatever Shibari does for you. Some people get turned on by exploring Shibari in a dominant way, others like to submit. They like the feeling, they like the restriction, the roughness of the rope. Often it is the connection they particularly like - you are not tying bar stools, you are tying people.
If you could take just one of your pieces with you on an aesthetic voyage which would it be?
Having been in Japan in modern times I've become fascinated about the history, particularly the history of Geishas. I would love to go back in time and tie up all the Geishas - the real ones in history, not the pretend ones of today - I would take one of my harness pieces and place it on top of their kimonos.
If we look at that piece can you describe the design process for this piece?
I look at loads of real Shibari images - traditional and contemporary - then I just see what will work. I have my dummy and my rope - special rope made for me - and I play on my dummy with it and see what works. The point of my pieces is that you can take it off whereas with Shibari it is tied. Actually, that’s part of the beauty of Shibari - it is so time restricted. After a while the ropes have to be untied so then all the beautiful work is gone. I thought I could capture that beauty in a way that you can wear at any time. floor work. With the harness the rope makes a cross in front of the chest. This is a common way to tie the chest for suspension or for restriction during floor work.
How do your customers like to adorn themselves with your pieces?
Most of my customers are not necessarily into rope but they do appreciate the art. They are often kinky or interested in Shabari and admire the work, but they can't do it for themselves because it is so hard to do. Some like to wear it to fetish parties. Others, like me, wear it on top of casual things, like over a jumper, and there is no nudity and it isn’t jumping out at you so you have to look twice to see what it is. Mostly I get very positive feedback. It is important that I am a lady rigging. Shibari is very male dominated in Japan - always a man tying a woman. Recently this is changing but no one wants to look at it - it is very hidden and kept private.. When a woman is tying a woman it is very poetic, sensual, erotic. It is erotic but on a different level - it has a female touch and people, when they look at me working or tying, they say ‘she’s like an elegant spider lady, weaving nets around these butterflies’. I get many bookings from women because I am a woman and they don’t like being tied by a man. Shibari is all about consent and willingness to do it and enjoy it. The people being tied often go into a trance-like state called subspace - they love it when they do this. They like being tied by a woman because it brings something different to their experience.
Do you sense that your pieces educate and expand people in the way that your tying does?
I would love to bring it more into the wider world - I never wanted it to be only a fetish brand. When I wear it in the world, among people who would never come across Shibari normally, many people wonder what it is and then I get to explain the piece. The reactions are mostly positive, however, there are people who don’t agree with a woman being tied up. Some hard core feminist might hear that and not understand the concensuality of it. Mostly my pieces make people curious to know more.
What do your customers like most about your pieces and what sort of comments do you get back?
They admire the knot-work and they see how labour intensive it is. It takes a long time to tie it and the leather is all hand made as well. Quality is important to me and they see that and admire the artistry and the craftsmanship of it. It is a hard skill to learn- it takes a lot of time and is very fiddly. My customers tell me that they find the work beautiful, elegant, erotic and powerful.
How can we find you?
Photography credit: Dimitri Djuric