Thursday, Apr. 23, 2009

Gilt Trip

Best Place to Contemplate the Passing of Wealth

To visit the plush Tokyo atelier of Nobuhiko Akatsuka is to have an almost Buddhist lesson in the fleeting nature of luxury. That's because you'll be paying him up to $2,000 to apply gold to your skin, only to watch it flake off over the next few days.

Borrowing a centuries-old technique once used by artisans to gild the walls of Kyoto's famous golden temple, Kinkakuji, Akatsuka fashions designs in 99.9% pure gold foil — there are about a hundred at Atelier Nudejewelry, ranging from butterflies and pixies to roses and chains. He then applies them to the body part of your choice using hypoallergenic surgical-grade glue. He can also add Swarovski crystals one by one, and concludes with a flourishing brush of glitter powder. Platinum foil is also available, should you wish to brazenly advertise your utter indifference to global recession. But whichever design you choose will last, at the very most, a week.

The work is laborious; Akatsuka says that "matching the curve of the body and the curve of the dress" that the precious metal is meant to set off can be especially difficult. Nonetheless he remains in demand with top models and A-list brides-to-be. Around a thousand clients have been gilded in the past year, and Akatsuka proudly stores a collage of their smiling faces on his laptop. "Japanese tradition needs to be enjoyed to survive," he says — even if this particular tradition has now become a statement of impermanence.