I adore each and every artist I have ever interviewed here on Trust Your Style, so I could never chose one interview as a favorite over another. I will say that I was fascinated and truly enjoyed the thoughts of Mamechiyo, a Tokyo artist/designer who I'm so pleased to have here today. Her interview is a little longer than usual, and I think well worth the extra minute or so to read. I cannot thank cwc-i enough for all of their help with the translation back and forth and coordinating the interview. I hope you will take some time to enter the world of Mamechiyo and enjoy!
mj: What age are most of your customers are and how you came to the idea to update the kimono?
mamechiyo: There are two types of kimonos--some are formal wear, and some are casual wear. After World War II, the Japanese began to Westernize, and the idea that "Japanese traditions equal old-fashioned things" became strong. Everyone started mainly wearing Western clothing, and people who wore the kimono as casual wear became scarce. The kimono became formal wear unrelated to expensive new fashions. With the rise of Western clothes, over 50 years of the culture of the "everyday kimono," which made both Japanese fashion and landscape so vivid, came to an end. 50 years of Japanese culture changed in a bewildering instant.
When I was in my teens, after being born into and growing up in this "Westernized" Japan, I was into London punk fashion on the one hand, but I also enjoyed the fashions of cheap antique kimonos at the same time. This was a pretty rare thing. It was really fun to take these antique kimonos and coordinate them using a modern sensibility, but it was frustrating that there weren't more kimonos that could blend into the "cyber scenery" of modern Japan. One day, I realized, "if these kinds of kimonos aren't out there, then why not make my own?" and I began creating designs for new kimonos that would suit me as someone who grew up in a culture of Western clothing.
A few fashionable people responded to this idea. They began to wear kimonos to parties and when going shopping. The kimono was also made more special by celebrities who made appearances in it. I feel that there has been a revival of the kimono for everyday life.
My focus is 20 and 30-somethings who have never worn a kimono before, but the fact that I also have older fans who have always worn the kimono makes me very happy. They seem to be nostalgic for a time when the kimono was fashionable.
mj: Could you talk a little bit about where the kimonos are sold in Japan and if there are any plans to expand to the U.S.
mamechiyo: My kimonos are sold through my company store, Mamechiyo Modern, in Tokyo. People based in Japan can also shop through my online store at www.mamechiyo.jp, but unfortunately, I can't ship overseas.
I'm confident that Americans would also enjoy my kimonos that are suitable for modern landscapes. There are many internationally shared tastes within these "modern landscapes." I could of course design kimonos for the American landscape, but the kimono is not a separate piece--it is meant to be enjoyed by coordinating with and obi belt and accessories. For example, if I were going out to dinner in New York, I might pair an obi with a design of stars or moons with a checked kimono to suggest nighttime skyscrapers, and add a badge with the initials of the person I'll be meeting, to express a feeling of hospitality. This is how I feel the kimono should be enjoyed.
I actually have worn kimonos in New York and Boston, and in European cities such as Ibiza, Amsterdam, and Liverpool. It's very fun to coordinate exactly with the atmosphere of each city.
At my month-long solo show in Toronto last year, I had my new kimonos displayed on mannequin torsos, and the Canadian women were so excited about them that they bought the whole display, torsos and all. If I think about it, my kimonos are designed for a generation that was raised in a culture of Western clothing, which is a generation with a sensibility that doesn't distinguish between Western and Japanese clothing, so you could say that a western person enjoying a kimono made of European dead stock fabric is also a kind of homecoming.
Perhaps through my books (which are available from Amazon.com--they are in Japanese, but full of images) I hope to be able to work on more projects overseas (such as the Shu Uemura Boston installation), and be known by more people worldwide.
mj: How would you describe your own fashion style?
mamechiyo: I try to base my personal style on being myself. A kimono has the appeal of letting the person who is wearing it freely express themselves. Like the world of t-shirts, the kimono has a particular shape that it is fixed in. So because the shape is always the same, it is a world in which you have to compete for originality only with a sensibility expressed via color, message, fabric, and coordination. And a kimono is only made of a design, so it is essentially an incomplete thing. It's similar to the way that a karaoke track is incomplete until you add your own voice to it. It's when the wearer adds an obi and accessories with the feeling of creating a collage that it becomes a complete fashion. For example, if two people wearing the same kimono were to go out together, what they put with the kimono will make them completely different. So one person's character might be shown to be very cheerful, and the other might emphasize their charm, so it's a very convenient garment. This is the kind of style that I am promoting through the kimono.
mj: Does fashion inspire or influence your work?
mamechiyo: Western fashion is like the air to me--I'm always breathing it in. Fashion is the expression of your feeling in a particular era and a particular season. The kimono that I'm wearing this evening is a new design that also reflects nature. I think it's also fun to enjoy trends in a more practical sense, like, "this year's popular bag would look good with this kimono." A kimono that you haven't worn in a long time becomes a puzzle piece that fits into the trends of a particular year.
Kimonos and obis don't have the same danger of becoming "out of style" like much of Western fashion. That's because the fun is in coordination. If you think of it this way, a kimono is at once on par with a dress, has a gorgeous impact, and is also economical in the long run.
mj: Could you talk about your other creative work, such as painting, collage, etc.?
mamechiyo: The Pony Project was an exhibition in which female artists from around the world were each given the same canvas--a large white My Little Pony doll.
The works were sold for charity, but I was honored to have my work sell at the highest price in the show, and it was sold right away, which was a double-honor.
An exhibition showcasing my works in Toronto was open for one month at Magic Pony in Canada.
It was a really interesting show--in addition to the mannequin torsos displaying my kimonos, the show included my world as expressed in all kinds of unexpected forms, such as fans, geta (the wooden shoes worn with kimono), and lanterns.
For the Shu Uemura Boston boutique, I perceived of the boutique's ceiling as a canvas, and produced a work that was a fusion of my world and the world of cosmetics.
Using kimono designs and a fan-based layout, I made a display of three-dimensional butterflies that "fly" around the ceiling. It was meant to express the metamorphosis that each young woman undergoes in her lifetime.
I have participated in the Blythe Doll Charity Fashion Show for the past three years, and I have done 3 collaborations to produce my own Blythe dolls to be sold to the Asian market.
mj: What is your favorite project that you've designed so far?
mamechiyo: I love all of the projects I've done, but it would have to be Mamechiyo Modern, the book that gave me worldwide recognition. For this book, I was able to take my original passion and approach my world and ideas from many angles, and I feel that it became a great introduction to people who are interested in the kimono.
Also, my participation in the Pony Project, which was my first overseas project, allowed me to express my world outside of the kimono, and that held great meaning for me. All of my overseas projects, such as my solo show in Toronto and the Shu Uemura installation in Boston, began with the Pony Project.
mj: In terms of your artistic style, who are your influences and how did you develop your style?
mamechiyo: In my stylings, antique and new kimonos are mixed together. So there are no boundaries between old and new eras, but rather boundaries of taste. It's the same reason that there are no boundaries between East and West--if there is taste, the two sides can fuse together. If there can be girly fashion within kimono fashion, then there is also gothic and heavy metal fashion within it as well. With myself formed in that way, old and new things, things that I loved as a child and things I love now, all are naturally put together according to my taste. In the same way that a Tokyo techno artist collages together electronic sounds, I draw my inspiration more from the Japan of today and the feeling of an era than from a particular person.
Of course, there are many things that I have learned since becoming fascinated with the kimono. For example, there are kimonos that you can only enjoy at certain ages. To say the opposite, when you become a certain age, there are kimonos that you can no longer wear. But that does not mean you lose something when you age. Or knowledge of beauty, such as "it's indecent to stick out--it's much more elegant to blend into the scenery." I could write many books of what I have learned from the kimono. A kimono can seem very colorful, but in the past, if it was worn in a garden, then it would melt into the scenery. They are all based on colors found in nature.
mj: Do you have new projects that you're working on?
mamechiyo: Right now, I'm working on costumes for my favorite Japanese performance group, Nylon 100 C, for a play they will be putting on in May. The play is an influential Japanese classic that will be performed with a modern sensibility, and I use that same approach in my kimono design, so I feel that my work will fit well with the performance. Expressing role, situation, and imagined landscape through kimono is an exciting new challenge for me.
mj: What would your ideal project be?
mamechiyo: I was a high school student when I first encountered the antique everyday wear kimonos of the past. I was surprised to find that there were these cute kimonos for casual wear in the past, and I fell in love with them. If someone in the future were to discover something I have created and experience the same kind of fortuitous inspiration from it, that would be my ideal project. In that sense, I have this goal in mind for every project that I undertake.
Here are A FEW THINGS YOU MIGHT NOT KNOW ABOUT MAMECHIYO:
A) THE FOUR MOST STYLISH PEOPLE THAT INFLUENCED ME:
1 Takehisa Yumeji
2 Andy Warhol
4 Quentin Tarantino (his worldview)
B) FOUR WAYS THAT STYLE MAKES THE WORLD A BETTER PLACE
1 To express ourselves through fashion is to acknowledge that we are different from others. In the big picture, peace is also the acknowledgment of our differences. If each and every person can start doing this in the one meter of space around them, I believe that peace would naturally come to the world.
2 In the case of the kimono, it distinguishes between the seasons more than Western clothing. You wear an obi with a certain flower on it just before that flower will come into bloom. When that flower finally blooms, there is a feeling of yielding to the real thing. In this way, a kimono gives you a greater sensitivity to the changing of the seasons, time flows slowly, and life is given more depth.
3 To be honest, if an alien were to look down at the fashions that come and go on earth, it would think "what is this?" It's the same if you look at the hairstyle of a samurai--seeing it from the distance of the future, it seems like such a strange thing to do. But I think instead of wearing only the most functional clothing, it's much more interesting to have variety in fashion, even if it means clothes that aren't so easy to move in. That is culture. Also, people's mood shapes the fashion trends. If you look at the fashion from a particular era, then you can visualize the mood of that time.
C) FOUR OF MY FAVORITE DESIGNERS:
1 All kimono designers from the Taisho era to the beginning of the Showa era.
2 There are many great designers working in traditional crafts around the world.
3 Katsushika Hokusai - he's a famous Ukiyo-e artist, but he was a designer in everything from fashion to interiors.
4 The Eames husband and wife team, and the philosophy that is the basis of their designs.
D) FOUR JOBS I HAVE HAD IN MY LIFE:
1 graphic designer
2 a salesperson in a book store
E) FOUR MOVIES I WOULD WATCH OVER AND OVER (AND DO):
1 Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind
2 Schizopolis (Stephen Soderbergh)
4 Tim Burton's worldview
F) FOUR PLACES WHERE I HAVE LIVED:
G) FOUR TV SHOWS I LOVE TO WATCH:
1 The news
2 Documentary programs
H) FOUR PLACES I HAVE BEEN ON VACATION IN THE LAST FOUR YEARS:
1 The Supper Club in Amsterdam
2 Park Guell, Barcelona
3 Chayagi, Kanazawa
4 The seashore on Ibiza Island where you can see the sunset
I) FOUR WEBSITES I VISIT DAILY (Or at least Weekly):
J) FOUR OF MY FAVORITE FOODS:
1 Fresh baked bread
2 Lobster dishes
3 The special curry rice that my husband makes
4 Eel Don (eel over rice)
K) FOUR PLACES I WOULD RATHER BE RIGHT NOW:
1 A cafe in Amsterdam where the wind blows softly
2 The Chinese zoo where 18 baby pandas were born
3 The Grand Canyon
4 If it were possible, I want to meditate out in space with no gravity