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The Kimono & Sustainability

Many ancient garments were designed to minimise waste. Straight lines tailored to fit any body shape or size. The quality and drape of a fabric sometimes allows for movement and a hint at the shape beneath. In many cultures a minimalist aesthetic is then combined with elaborate ornamentation. To me the kimono has always been a fascinating garment, beautiful, unattainable and so exotic. I was aware that these pieces were often remade for later generations but had never seen the work of Takahashi Hiroko, until today.

Lockdown has hit our family hard both emotionally & financially so we have not been able to contemplate a holiday this year. That doesn’t mean we have been miserably cooped up at home. We made the conscious decision to enjoy what is on our doorstep and explore the bits of London we have never visited. That’s how my son and I came to have a day inspired by Japanese culture less than 10 miles from our front door.

We often take off with very little planned and see what grabs our imagination. This is how we found ourselves on a bus heading towards the Kyoto Garden in Holland Park. A striking image of a monochrome kimono caught our eyes from a bus shelter and it made perfect sense to Google Japan House, book free timed tickets and embrace whatever was waiting for us there.

Our visit to the Kyoto Garden was everything we had hoped for, please go it really is lovely. However, we were not prepared to be bowled over by Japan House. Part exquisite high end artisan boutique, part exhibition space this is a little oasis in busy Kensington High Street.

I was happily enjoying browsing examples of design from a country I have never visited. Then one of the gallery staff opened a small glass exhibition space so we could look more closely at the very contemporary kimonos inside. These pieces were careful renovations of precious family kimonos. Each one had been deconstructed, the colours removed from precious silk and re-dyed with simple geometric shapes in monochromatic shades. The recreated kimonos follow the ancient design and construction of their origin but are overlaid with a new story.

Takahashi Hiroko, the creator, believes it is important to preserve tradition. Respect for a shared heritage does not preclude using ancient techniques to explore contemporary ideas. The craftsmanship is exceptional and allows the spirit of the original pieces to remain. Silver embroidered chrysanthemum flowers bloom beneath polka dots and stripes. Outlines of woven leaves add texture to a matt black silk background. Colours and patterns that would appear dated and tired today are now vibrant, eye catching works of art. Their stories are not hidden these now form part of a garment that lives on.

I think you can tell that I was/am blown away by what I have seen today. A creative I knew nothing about has turned sustainable practices into high art by using the very principles that I believe we can apply to our own lives. Finding joy in pieces that are familiar is so profoundly rewarding. Breathing new life into what we have is a very different feeling to the constant search for what is new, novel or on trend.

I am sure there will be artisans working with the traditions of many other cultures to make these relevant and desirable. Today I am inspired to seek out more of the work of Takahashi Hiroko and others who work in similar ways. I would love to hear of any recommendations you may have.

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