Four years into our mission, we’ve since expanded our range from pants to other essential garments and styles; from dresses, jumpsuits, and even a selection of #mattermini items. Outerwear was on our mind for the longest time, but it was always near the bottom of our list (layering seems more of a burden than a necessity what with us being near the equator and all). That is, until last November when we launched The Chenelle Jacket: a transitional coat inspired by the Kepenek, a coat worn in the mountains by shepherds in Iran. It was our statement piece for summer nights – a LA level of chilly, if you will.
But even then, we knew we wanted to add more to the range. It took us a few months to move ideas to design. Conversations about function and occasion came up, and we went to our good friend Google to look for inspirations from heritage styles. A memorable silhouette that stayed with us was the elegance of the Kimono, a traditional Japanese garment. From there, design drafts came easy – we knew we wanted this new style to pay tribute to its inspiration in details like the T-shaped straight-lined silhouette, attached collars and full, wide sleeves. But a larger conversation was at play here, one about cultural appropriation and our responsibility as a brand.
It was a conversation that led to more research and reflection on our end. Referencing the Kimono for inspiration is not an original idea. It’s one that’s been done by many, and not always with integrity – and we didn’t want to add our name to that list.
Working with a curative philosophy inspired by tradition, we source heritage prints and styles while reinterpreting them in a modern manner. But part of that process is intention, and to respect the inspiration of the Kimono from the Japanese culture, meant we should assume the responsibility to make that appreciation apparent. Beyond conversation, this also looked like taking the time to understand the history of a garment and its significance.
Here are 4 things we learned about the Kimono:
1. The long history
Beginning in the Heian period, straight cuts of fabric were sewn together to wear as an adaptable garment that fit all body shapes – this is where the iconic T-shape silhouette was born. 500 years later, it became a unisex outer garment referred to as Kosode (meaning small sleeves). The Edo period was known as one of the last traditional eras of Japan, and the Kosode was a garment that spoke to the core of the culture on what it meant to be Japanese. Every Japanese person wore it, regardless of age, gender, or socio-economic position. Then in the Meiji period, the Kosode became the Kimono. Meiji law encouraged women to wear it, while men wore Western clothing. As Japan shifted under these changes, the custom of women wearing Kimonos were a powerful visual reassurance to Japan’s core culture.
2. Details that speak volumes
Garment details like style, motif, fabric, technique, and colour were a look into who you were, and this parallel remained significant even as the Kosode evolved to the Kimono. Motifs and colours on Kimonos hold great significance: cranes, for example, are a symbol of longevity, and colours were selected based on seasons, gender, and sometimes on political and family ties.
3. The obi belt
During the Heian period, this garment was often worn with the Chinese-influenced hakama, or a type of apron known as mo. Years later, when it became fashionable to wear the Kimono without layering it with the hakama, the obi was created to hold the robe closed with its wide sash feature.
4. A handcrafted tradition
Kimonos are handcrafted, made to last, and they speak to a time of tradition. Depending on their design, material, and dye process – they tend to lean on the expensive end. These days, Kimonos are worn at specific formal occasions: by women, men, the older generation, geisha, those serving in traditional restaurants, participating in tea ceremonies. Rikishi, professional sumo wrestlers, will also wear a Kimono when they leave their training stable.
This process was a reminder for us to pause for introspection and dig deeper on why we wanted to work with this particular style. The line between cultural appropriation and appreciation can seem blurry, and we wanted to do our best to approach the design with intention, and uphold it with integrity in our modern reinterpretation and research.
With this new style, we wanted it to fill the gaps that The Chenelle Jacket wasn’t able to. Without exception, it had to be equal parts style and function. What this meant was, 1) pockets, of course, 2) sleeves that came with the option of length, and 3) just like The Chenelle Jacket: the freedom of choice in its prints and colours.
Introducing, the Reversible Kimono Jacket. Inspired by the Kimono, a traditional Japanese garment, this is our modern reinterpretation of its heritage silhouette. Featuring the bold Parva print on one side, and a subtle gradient plain on the other. Even better, it comes with generous pockets on both sides – big enough to hold your phone and wallet, yet subtle enough to go unnoticed.
Editor’s note 04/10/19: Shortly after this article was published, Emi reached out to us about the naming of the Reversible Kimono Jacket and shared a similar conversation she shared with Elizabeth Suzann. Though our belt was heavily inspired by what we thought was the Kimono, its silhouette now is more akin to the Haori; a style that speaks more accurately to other modern interpretations as opposed to its namesake inspiration. After discussing with the team, we’ve decided to rename this to the Reversible Haori.