NEW YORK — As her name suggests, the accessories designer Kazuko was far from ordinary.
Photographer Robert Frank, Vanity Fair’s Maureen Orth, Barneys New York’s Simon Doonan and actor Matthew Modine were among the hundreds of friends who extolled her many talents last week at Carnegie Hall’s Zankel Hall. The Tokyo-born designer died of esophageal cancer in October. She was 65.
Images of Kazuko’s wire-wrapped, heart-shaped stones, which were said to have healing powers, were flashed on a screen throughout the tribute. But what really grabbed the crowd’s attention were the video clips of her cameo in the 1993 film “Six Degrees of Separation,” her role as a not-to-be-questioned visitor in one of Frank’s short films and the “Like a Virgin” music video in which Madonna writhes around with one of Kazuko’s free-flowing scarves.
Flanked by floral displays designed by Olivier Giugni, pianist Mitsuko Uchida played pieces by Mozart and Schubert. Before doing so, she apologized to the fashion-heavy crowd for her not-so-elegant footwear because of a broken toe. Howard Socol, Julie Gilhart, Isabel and Ruben Toledo, Yeohlee Teng, Amy Fine Collins, Bill Blass’ Jean-Claude Huon, filmmaker Albert Maysles and publicist Rados Protic were among the guests.
Many remembered Kazuko, who arrived in New York as a Fulbright scholar in the Sixties, as a consummate networker who would routinely send friends a blizzard of e-mails about random happenings — and from the sound of it, there were many — in her life. Orth recalled that when she started dating her husband, Tim Russert, he was convinced Kazuko was a Japanese agent — so much so that he took to calling her “Agent One-of-One,” a nickname in which she delighted.
Born Kazuko Oshima in Tokyo in 1942, the designer was raised in a family that was “basically in charge of managing her country’s money,” Orth noted. And she opted out of any prearranged marriages proposed by her parents.
Speaking without notes, Frank said, “She was optimistic at all times. You could only have incredible admiration for the way she made her life, alone, most of the time. She was a woman who had to persevere.”
Going to the max with the request to wear something white, Doonan, who was all in white, noted that “postwar Japan was no picnic.” But growing up amidst such melancholy did not deter Kazuko from being a self-made optimist. Her quest to ease the stresses of others may have been rooted in her own desire to find peace and calm within herself. “If that were the case, her life was a sacrifice — a sacrifice that benefited so many people,” Doonan said.