NEW YORK — Kazuko Oshima, a Japanese jewelry designer and "guardian angel" to Barneys New York, died on Friday of what was believed to be esophageal cancer. She was 65.
Oshima, who went only by Kazuko, sold exclusively to the specialty store in each of its U.S. locations. She got her start in 1986 designing ethereal-looking scarves, the most famous of which adorned Madonna in her video "Like a Virgin." It was recently sold at auction for $15,000.
But Kazuko was best known for her jewelry, her technique involving caging wire around different stones and titling them "One of One Healing Sculptures." Kazuko would affix a handwritten note to each piece detailing the specific healing properties each stone had.
Those who knew her claimed she was just that, a healer.
"I'm the most cynical person in the world, but when I put a Kazuko crystal on, I felt better," said Simon Doonan, creative director of Barneys and a longtime friend of Kazuko. "I definitely don't believe in magic, but if I did, it would be her."
Doonan recalled the first time he met Kazuko and being charmed by her eccentricity.
"When I met her, she was wearing all black," he said. "But she said her acupuncturist told her that the black was shriveling her intestinal organs, so she started wearing white."
Kazuko came to New York as a Fulbright Scholar in the Sixties and soon involved herself in the performance art scene. She befriended such luminaries as Andy Warhol, Robert Frank and Bianca Jagger.
"She had a phenomenal reach in the fashion, art and entertainment industries," Doonan said. "She had this 'Dada' sensibility about her and lived an extraordinary life. She connected to people through her jewelry and had a magical effect on people."
According to Doonan, when Kazuko was diagnosed a year ago, she said that fighting cancer would become her "new art."
Barneys New York is paying tribute to the designer with special shadow-box jewelry windows that will read "Kazuko, Our Guardian Angel, 1942–2007."
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