New life for old kimonos

New life for old kimonos
Kimono Kollab organiser Noriko Collins with (from left) Mr Vik Lim, Mr Thomas Wee and Mr Daniel Boey.

Vintage Japanese kimonos, slightly damaged but still beautiful, are getting a new lease of life, thanks to a project between a Japanese entrepreneur and a group of Singaporean designers.

Called "Kimono Kollab", the initiative consists of 10 local creatives repurposing old kimono fabric into clothing and accessories.

Around 200 pieces will be available at a pop-up store on Level 2 of Takashimaya Department Store from today until next Sunday. Prices of the limited-edition items range from around $48 for a T-shirt to $450 for a dress.

The whole project began, in part, because organiser Noriko Collins, a Singapore permanent resident originally from Tokyo, could not stand the idea of handcrafted kimonos languishing in dusty back rooms.

She had heard from her friend, an Osaka-based vintage kimono collector and trader, that damaged kimonos usually sat in storage, never to see the light of day.

"Kimonos represent Japan in so many ways," explains the married mother of two and former finance executive, on why she felt so strongly about preserving and reviving these pieces. "The history, the craftsmanship, the colours, everything."

Although she did not grow up wearing kimonos, Ms Collins says she remembers her grandmother looking "cool and funky" wearing them on a daily basis.

The youthful-looking 50-year-old got in touch with fashion consultant and producer Daniel Boey through a mutual copywriter friend.

She adds that she sought Mr Boey's help in connecting with local designers because she wanted to give back to her adopted homeland of 18 years.

Mr Boey says he understood the entrepreneur's desire to save these fabrics in some way.

"It is such a shame to see these vintage fabrics go to waste. I think ultimately their flaws make them unique," he says. The fabrics are anywhere between 10 and 50 years old, and flaws range from moth-eaten holes to stained patches.

The consultant had previously worked on a project for luxury e-tailer Luisa Via Roma with a Dutch company called Vlisco, where they had reused Indonesian batik fabrics to make into accessories.

The 49-year-old tapped on his extensive fashion network and started calling up designers, such as veteran designer Thomas Wee and stylist Vik Lim, whom he knew would appreciate the quality of these vintage fabrics.

Says Mr Wee, 66, on the amazing craftsmanship of the fabric: "Once I saw the fabric, I thought, yes, I want to do this. Unpicking the stitches, I could see the quality of the handpainted sleeve lining and the hand-twisted silk yarns."

Younger designers such as Gilda Su of Revasseur and Mash-Up's Shaf Amis'aabudin, Daniela Monasterios Tan and Nathanael Ng were called upon to bring a different perspective as well, along with local labels Reckless Ericka, Alice. K, Carrotpepper, Hadasity and Hyphen.

Each was given a brief to design around 20 items from the vintage fabric they were given.

"It's one piece of fabric seen through many eyes," notes Mr Boey.

For example, an Alice K. jacket has been made out of a formal black kimono, Mash-up has created a colourful romper, and Mr Wee has created a matching jacket and shorts set.

Ms Collins has shouldered the weight of the project, quite literally.

She hand-carried the almost 100kg worth of fabrics back from Japan earlier this year.

But it was worth it, she says.

"There are kimono remakers in Japan, but they wouldn't dare cut up a kimono or deviate from the established pattern," she says.

"I like that these designers have their own ideas."

This article was first published on Oct 3, 2014.
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