You cannot spend any length of time with Kayoko Shibue without having the word cute cross your mind; inevitably, it enters our conversation. She's a smallish woman whose nose crinkles often and whose hands flit about like nervous birds as she searches for the right word. Cute is something she's come to accept, but not without a certain boiling irritation.
There are wars within Shibue about that word: She embraces it, but she doesn't want it to be her defining attribute. She's obsessed with drawing dog poo, and she tells a hilarious, raunchy story about dirty books she discovered in a used bookstore in Japan. "I like things cute but poisonous," she says, citing Yoshimoto Nara's insidious cartoons as her main influence.
The items that Shibue makes and sells as Pied Nu—French for "barefoot," a name that she took from a comic book—are definitely cute, but first they're compelling, like a pink scarf ($38) knit from mohair yarn with white pompoms at either end. It feels warm but also diaphanous, like it would fall apart in a stiff wind. Probably because the word delicate is the first one out of my mouth, Shibue begins pulling and tugging on it: It's not by any means fragile.
Her crafts—fleece-lined mittens, multi-pocketed checkbook covers, purses made of felt or simple cotton—pile on the table in front of me as Shibue tells me about herself. Growing up in Tokyo, she was a comic-book freak obsessed with pop culture, and that led to her love of the artwork on skateboards—"So funny!"—which, naturally, led to her love of graphic design. And her 12-year career as a professional snowboarder: "My first tournament, I got sixth place in the amateur women's moguls." She moved to Salt Lake City for its mountains and traveled the world on the snowboarding circuit. After she retired from the sport, she earned a degree in graphic design and headed for Seattle, attracted by the significant music scene, which, she says, is often the sign of a strong design community.
Shibue's own impeccable design sense informs everything she does. A denim skirt ($78) has blue and brown circles trailing up one side, perfectly positioned; anyone with any sense of aesthetics wouldn't know whether to wear the thing or frame it. She makes tote bags (unpriced, as of yet) covered in geometric shapes, influenced by the clean sweeping lines of 1920s art-deco furniture—"I like circles, especially. And pompoms!"—and then off to the side there's a cartoon dog face in bright red felt. I'm especially fond of a brown-and-green-plaid wallet with a bright yellow felt star on the front ("$28, I think"). The colors are amazing together, contrasting and warmly complementary on one soft surface, but it looks pleasantly puffy, toylike. It begs to be petted.
Until Pied Nu's website (www.lepiednu.com) is up and running, Shibue only has a few bags at Fancy (1914 Second Ave, 956-2945, www.fancyjewels.com). The one time you'll be able to find her staggering inventory in one spot this year is at the Urban Craft Uprising (www.urbancraftuprising.com, Dec 2 and 3, at Seattle Center). As we talk, Shibue's attention occasionally catches on one of her own items, like a bright yellow and orange scalloped scarf ($38). She begins wrapping it around her arms like a bracelet and bursts out laughing. "It is cute," she says. She notices that she's laughing aloud and swooping her arm through the air, and she looks around the quiet coffee shop we're in. "I'm the only one making any noise," she whispers, and crinkles her nose again, and laughs.