After several weeks of moaning and whining about not being able to find my library of reference books in the dark cavern of my storage unit, I finally dragged myself there and dug through to the very bottom box in the very farthest corner. I kid you not, it was the least accessible place I could imagine and the last place I looked. And there they were, just waiting for me. My beautiful, wonderful books, magazines and mooks (Japanese magazine/books). Volumes 1-6 of Kimono Hime, several books on learning Japanese, gloriously illustrated volumes of shibori, sashiko and kimono books in both Japanese and English, hardbacks and paperbacks and oh, the pictures!
I actually started crying tonight just going through each one again. It’s been nearly four months since I’d seen any of them and the overwhelming emotions I felt just reinforced my understanding of WHY I do this, why I research kimono and kimono-related textiles. And really, it’s something I can’t put into words. It’s… it just is. That’s all. I can’t not do this.
The Japanese artisans who developed such a rich and varied textile tradition over the centuries continue to inspire modern artists, even as their industry slips away from them one generation at a time. Kimono today seem to be on the brink of extinction, a mere postcard from a lost time when clothing could be immortalized in poetic verse in the Tale of Genji. What do we care about what our clothing says about us now? We reach for designer labels, not art. The idea of passing down a garment for our children and grandchildren to wear is crazy in our modern era of fashion.
And yet we do pass the best pieces down. The styles that transcend fads and become classics are the ones we still reach for from our own mothers’ closets. The carefully hoarded gems bought long ago, or recently gleaned from a fortuitous trip to Goodwill or Oxfam. Pieces well constructed of quality material and well preserved by those who know their value. Fashion doesn’t have to be disposable. Let it be recyclable instead.
My inner fashion geek was in full force last month at a business mixer. My eye lit on a hand tailored Italian wool suit jacket a gentleman was sporting and I couldn’t stop myself from asking him about it. Fortunately he had once worked in the fashion industry and was happy to discuss clothing with me for a while. The other gentlemen I had previously been speaking with faded into the background, perhaps sensing that their suits were sending a different message. And they were right; their suits said only “I am a suit” and nothing more. This Italian job said “I am being worn by a gentleman of taste and refinement. I was crafted and tailored by hand for this individual person. I signify refinement.” As it is often said, clothes make the man.
If a simple suit coat makes such a subtle but pronounced statement, imagine what sort of statement an Edo era (1615-1868 ) kimono made. I am salivating as I review each page in my little library, my eyes wide as I remember different styles, dye techniques, stitches, weaves… damn, my eyes are welling up again. I suppose I’m just a passionate person who knows what she likes.
Being away from my work for too long has been like being a dancer with two broken legs. One step at a time I am finding my footing again, listening to the music and finding the rhythm. It may be a while before I’m in full swing, but I think it’s going to be an exciting journey, even better than before.