Taking kimono silk to the next fashion level

TAIPEI — For more than a decade, Japanese fashion designer Shunsuke Teranishi labored in Tokyo, Milan and Paris for major Japanese and European apparel manufacturers. But his job took a extraordinary change in 2016, when he was launched to the intriguing globe of ushikubi tsumugi (cow’s neck silk), an exquisite wide range of kimono material demonstrated at a textile and fashion exhibition in Paris.

That display — the biennial Premiere Eyesight exhibition — was an eye-opener for Teranishi, an architect-turned-designer who was then performing for Paris-dependent Hermes as the only Asian designer in the women’s don team, adhering to before employment at Yohji Yamamoto in Tokyo and with Carol Christian Poell and Agnona in Milan.

Mesmerized by the vivid color and intricate weaving of the silk, exhibited by the Hakusan Koubou Museum in Japan’s Ishikawa Prefecture, Teranishi also turned informed of the problems confronting the contemporary kimono marketplace and its craftspeople in Japan.

At the time worn by Japanese adult men and gals as everyday have on, kimonos ended up progressively changed in the 20th century by Western-design and style apparel — a change that accelerated right after World War II. Retail income have plunged given that the 1970s, although craftsmen have struggled to find apprentices as the shrinking market minimized wages to stages unattractive to young folks. Factories that produced regular cotton kimonos have closed or shifted to denim manufacturing.

Statista, a German industry and purchaser info company, estimates that retail gross sales of normal kimonos in Japan fell to 238 billion yen ($2.1 billion) in 2020 from 310 billion yen in 2010. Nonetheless, the traditional silk kimono has survived as a type of elaborate official apparel for ceremonies and distinctive situations.


Arlnata’s husband-and-wife co-founders Shunsuke Teranishi, still left, and Chien-tsu Chen. (Courtesy of Arlnata)

Aspiring to boost silk-making by elevating the international profile of kimonos, Teranishi and his spouse Chien-tsu Chen, a Taiwanese manner designer, commenced doing the job with Ushikubi Tsumugi, Yuki Tsumugi and Oshima Tsumugi, Japan’s a few greatest indigenous producers of woven silk suitable for kimonos, although nevertheless in Paris. The few introduced Arlnata, a completely ready-to-put on manufacturer providing mostly Western-fashion outfits with silk kimono fabrics, and moved to Japan in December 2018, presenting their initial selection in April 2019.

Dating again additional than 800 many years, Ushikubi Tsumugi’s cloth is manufactured by hand at the foot of Mount Kusan in Ishikawa, working with silk thread reeled from exceptional double cocoons which impart a slubbed (uneven) overall look featuring obvious imperfections. Yuki-tsumugi, a 1,300-yr-aged luxurious silk material listed by UNESCO as portion of the intangible cultural heritage of humanity, employs silk-producing strategies identified largely in the cities of Yuki and Oyama on the Kinu River north of Tokyo. These generate a gentle and heat uncooked silk with a attribute stiffness and softness.

Oshima Tsumugi silk, which also dates again around 1,300 several years, is made in Kagoshima Prefecture and on Amami Oshima, the major island in the Amami archipelago among Kyushu and Okinawa, working with the island’s iron-abundant all-natural mud as a dye to build threads of beautiful and luminous black. Arlnata also performs with Tamiya Raden, a Kyotango-dependent corporation that in 1977 created a method of weaving with mom-of-pearl inlays working with shells mounted on washi (Japanese paper), which is then shredded and hand woven into fabric. Luxurious manufacturers this kind of as Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Harry Winston have highlighted Tamiya Raden’s weaving in present pieces.


Yuki Tsumugi, a 1,300-year-old luxurious silk cloth listed by UNESCO as component of the intangible cultural heritage of humanity, is built utilizing approaches that produce a gentle and heat uncooked silk with a attribute stiffness and softness. (Courtesy of Arlnata)

“Kyotango is a sericulture (silkworm cultivation) and silk marketplace hub [from which] fabrics … are shipped to Kyoto for dying and embroidering. Its pivotal role is equivalent to that of Como, which underpins the upscale silk market of Italy,” mentioned Chen. ”In the Western style earth, materials and weaving techniques are really identical, even in luxurious materials, while the texture of tsumugi cloth is neat and the weaving tactics are quite versatile. I assume they usher in and redefine a model-new earth of manner.”

Tailoring Western-style outfits with tsumugi fabric can be a obstacle. A standard roll of kimono material is usually 38 cm to 41 cm wide and 12 meters long, Chen mentioned, even though Western material rolls fluctuate from 90 cm to 152 cm extensive, and from 50 meters to 200 meters extensive. Sample-earning for kimonos is easier than for Western-style clothing, but the slender width usually means that equipment slicing can damage the fabric.

To avoid this problem Arlnata utilizes a craftswoman from Kyotango who is properly-versed in tailoring Western-style clothing with kimono materials, said Chen, a former designer in Berlin and Milan for Saverio Palatella and Agnona and in Paris for Carven, a French couture label and Shiatzy Chen, a Taiwanese luxurious trend home.


Oshima Tsumugi silk, which dates back again about 1,300 years, is produced in Kagoshima Prefecture and on Amami Oshima, the greatest island in the Amami archipelago concerning Kyushu and Okinawa, applying the island’s iron-wealthy pure mud as a dye to develop threads of beautiful and luminous black. (Courtesy of Arlnata)

Some tsumugi materials can be easily weakened by rain, so a protective coating need to be utilized through the creation system. In the meantime, the designers weave tsumugi jointly with knit material to prolong the width of cloth for adaptable pattern making and warmth in wintertime. The silk is sensitive and inelastic, and can be tricky to weave with elastic elements this sort of as knit, so special knitting devices made to stay clear of tearing or crumpling the material are expected to produce “kimono silk cashmere” scarves, capes and other Western-model garments.

Teranishi and Chen say they are determined to avoid the company models of European haute couture manner houses, which revolve around up to 6 community demonstrates a year, with regular launches of new collections. This can consequence in significant wastage of materials and value-saving reductions in quality, which can dampen designers’ passion for trend.

”Each roll of tsumugi silk cloth will take artisans six months to a calendar year to develop,” Chen stated. “Our aim is not about mass production but appreciation from affected individual shoppers for the beautiful and time-consuming artwork of the craftspeople.”


Arlnata functions with Tamiya Raden, a Kyotango-primarily based business that in 1977 developed a approach of weaving with mom-of-pearl inlays utilizing shells mounted on washi (Japanese paper), which is then shredded and hand woven into material. (Courtesy of Arlnata)

Arlnata sells straight to customers, with rate tags ranging from 34,000 yen for breathable and washable silk summer months T-shirts to 810,000 yen for a substantial coat. Teranishi and Chen say their primary focus on current market is middle-aged gurus looking for easy nonetheless stylish common silk apparel.

A new selection will be on demonstrate in Tokyo’s Isetan Shinjuku shop in late August, and in 2022 an exhibition of Arlnata’s dresses will be held in Kagoshima. But the firm has loftier goals in its intention to create a luxurious lifestyle model comparable to Hermes, exploiting Japan’s craft competencies in a large range of industries, including lacquer function.

This organization model can be applied to other Japanese craft-centered producers, mentioned Chen.

“Europeans … are likely to identify strongly with, and acquire delight in, their homegrown models,” she added, suggesting that Japan’s selection of craft abilities and creativeness leaves it very well-positioned to match the European model in international marketplaces, citing the success of Japanese manufacturers these as Yohji Yamamoto, Comme des Garcons and Issey Miyake. “Japan has all it usually takes to nurture more of the most upscale luxurious trend manufacturers,” Chen claimed.