It’s difficult to imagine a more eloquent symbol of Japan than the deceptively simple kimono. This unsurpassably traditional artifact of Japanese culture possesses a curious duality: On the one hand, unquestionably recognizable and millennia-old; and on the other, fluid and ever-changing, shifting from being simply “something to wear”—an umbrella term that covered a range of garments worn by Japanese men and women for centuries—to being the latest sought-after style worn on the streets.
The kimono has evolved dramatically over the past two centuries, and these beautiful garments can take years to perfect and complete: In the past, the choice of weaving and dyeing, and the embroidery that covered the garment in traditional images all affected the social status of the wearer, and even that of political history.
Due to its complexity to wear and the high cost of its constituent materials and workmanship, sales of kimono continue to plummet as Japanese people wear them less and less, whilst traditional fabrics and techniques face extinction as aging artisans pass away without the committed followers
“It’s important to spread the message that modern kimono can be worn every day, and shouldn’t be presented as old-fashioned. This is how I came up with the idea of using recycled kimono fabrics that were handed down for generations, and turning it into a much more modern attire. We introduce alterations of traditional designs into people’s day-to-day lives without losing its traditional appeal: Each pattern is unique and cannot be replicated, and I would like to share that through our brand”, explains Kenji Midorikawa, Director of Sara Cleyz.
As western fashion and design concepts increasingly influenced Japanese kimono; they became bolder and brighter. Patterns are far more abstract and modern, and have become a contemporary inspiration for many artists and designers.
“A kimono is more than just a thing to wear, it’s both a fashion and an art. Nowadays we don’t see a lot of people wearing kimono, so it’s important for the kimono industry to evolve and modernize in order to survive”, Kenji added.
Inexpensive, ready-to wear kimono are always needed— it’s not replacing the traditional aspect of the garment, but creating an evolving form that adapts to changing lifestyles and needs.
Kenji from Sara Cleyz plays a vital role in the industry’s aspirations to educate and introduce foreign people to kimono made by contemporary designers—allowing them to eventually develop an interest in the traditional kimono, too.
“I’ve decided to start our company in Niseko because the spurt of foreign investment influences Niseko greatly, and is attracting many international tourists. We want to spread our brand worldwide and help more people outside of Japan find out about it, so Niseko is the perfect location for us.” says Kenji.
“I would like to continue to create new ideas using kimono: Although they can teach us a lot about the Japanese tradition, being able to continue to incorporate that art into people’s daily lives is what matters.”
As we learn more about them, and further understand and appreciate the subtle colours and traditional patterns, kimono may continue to shift into an art-to-wear fashion, living through the work of international artists in today’s age of global exchange. If that is its fate, the kimono will undoubtedly acquire new facets of identity and meaning; Ones that reflect the issues and concerns of its newly revitalized twenty-first century audience.
Story: Sherry Yen
Photography: Alister Buckingham & Sara Cleyz