Nico Ito illustrator Gucci

The surrealist charm of illustrator Nico Ito’s artworks

After switching from design to illustration during the pandemic, the Japanese artist’s otherworldly aesthetic has caught the attention of big name brands including Gucci and Nike

Growing up as an only child in Tokyo in the 90s, Nico Ito’s most frequent companion was her own imagination, which used to run wild with fantastical stories. “I used to draw the world of those fantasies. I loved the creatures and motifs that appeared in those drawings, and the process of creating settings for each one,” she tells CR.

A keen interest in art eventually led her to study at Tokyo’s Musashino Art University and, after graduating, she began working part-time as a designer. But after losing her job during the pandemic, and having much more time on her hands as a result, she started creating more illustrations and sharing them on her Instagram account.

Nico Ito illustrator
Top image: Gucci Bamboo 1947 campaign
Nico Ito illustrator

“The attraction [of illustration] is that I can express the imaginary world I loved since my childhood,” says Ito. “What I do is the same as before, but now I enjoy it because I can express it in more detail, more vividly, and with more atmosphere.”

Ito describes his approach to translating his myriad imaginings into illustrations as “a scene cut out of a scene”, adding: “I want to express in a single picture what is happening before and after the scene, the atmosphere of the place, and so on.”

Her illustrations have an otherworldly quality to them, often drawing on both retro as well as futuristic visual cues to create a sense of timelessness. It’s an approach that is fast earning her fans in the brand world, including WePresent and Nike, who commissioned her as part of this year’s Air Max Day celebrations.

Ito’s favourite commission to date came from Gucci creative director Alessandro Michele. To mark the recent launch of the Gucci Bamboo 1947 handbag, the brand asked nine creatives to create artworks that featured the distinctive bamboo handle bag design.

Nico Ito illustrator
Nico Ito illustrator Vans
Vans Off the Wall Art Harajuku

Ito’s interpretation of the theme transported the bag into a surreal imaginary world, which the illustrator achieved using soft airbrushing.

While Ito would love continuing making work in the same vein as the Gucci project, she says she would also like to focus more on his personal work in the future. “Someday, I would like to make a large three-dimensional version of a character that appears in my work,” she adds.