[The] Japanese shibori industry now has serious issues: aging artisans without next generation to pass this heritage on, and decreasing demand partly caused by globalization.
Historically, a local culture’s identity could be recognized through dress. Civilization, through its political, economic, and social context, was embodied in the dress codes of royalty, missionaries, and the indigenous people. The production of this traditional dress was at the hand of the local artisans. Many commissioned by royalty and the upper class. When one thinks of dress that defines a civilization, one may think of the kimono, for example, when you think of Japan, the sari, a garment worn by a woman, when you think of India.
The impact of globalization has made this unique identity rare, particularly in mature economic regions. Fashion today, one of the world’s largest consumer industries, is cross-culturally influenced, yet built around a western-aesthetic core. The demise of the traditional artisan culture, hand crafted skill and techniques are of concern and a focus for preservation.
One renowned example of this preservation is Les Métiers D’art Chanel. Under the direction of [recently deceased] Karl Lagerfeld, creative director for Chanel, Chanel acquired many of Paris’ most prestigious maisons d’arts. The heritage and craftsmanship of these maisons, which had a longstanding relationship as suppliers for Chanel, extending back to the earliest days of the House, were facing near-certain extinction. Chanel seized the opportunity to preserve this tradition while ensuring continued production for the Chanel goods.
Jun Nakamura, a London based Japanese fashion designer and recent Master of Arts [MA] graduate in Fashion Design at Istituto Marangoni London, is preserving his heritage of the Japanese hand craft technique, shibori. Shibori is a Japanese manual resist-dyeing technique which produces pattern on fabric.
Shibori originally came from China and was developed in Japan. Shibori textiles are used in kimono production. Nakamura, who is from Uji, a Japanese city south of Kyoto, grew up in a family run kimono business. He became familiar with the industry and learned the traditional techniques first hand. “Although the kimono industry started to decline significantly around 12 years ago it had already been gradually shrinking. [The] Japanese shibori industry now has serious issues: aging artisans without next generation to pass this heritage on, and decreasing demand partly caused by globalization”, says Nakamura. Due to the decreasing demand and labor cost, manufacturing was once moved to Korea and now China. Although shibori is practiced worldwide, “the Japanese method needs particular tools and expertise, Japanese shibori is quite different from others abroad”.
Nakamura’s design practice is an innovative way of mixing the traditional handcraft shibori with modern aesthetics.
The traditional method is fabric dyeing to achieve a tie-dye like pattern. But it is the shibori technique that is the craft. The process is to take a solid color fabric and manipulate it through threads of binding, stitching, folding, or compression to resist the dye. A pattern is generated after dyeing the cloth and removal of the threads. Nakamura says, “by hand, the artisans bind the fabric by thread and make a lot of bits one by one.” ‘Bits’ are referred to the bubble that is created by the bound hand stitching.
Nakamura’s modern version is to start with a printed fabric and then apply the shibori technique of binding the fabric by hand and making bits. There is no dyeing; in fact Nakamura leaves the bits [bubble look] intact for a three-dimensional sculpted look. “After steaming, fabrics memorize the shape like pleating. By using particular sizes and patterns of bits, the fabrics obtain a very unique stretchy quality.”
I do not think I am an artist as a designer, but my process of designing is the same as that of creating art.
Nakmura created two collections for his MA thesis using an innovative practice of the shibori technique. These collections also reflect his interest in how to develop design from abstract art and abstract concepts. One of his collections is titled Abstraction, inspired by artist David Kim Whittaker’s work, I Transition, where he combined multiple colors and materials into one garment. The other collection titled Sculptor, inspired by Picasso’s work The Sculptor, draws from his use of color, lines, angles, and textures. “This also inspired me to include ideas of inside-out tailored structures, mirroring, and deconstruction.”
Being inspired by artists and having an affinity for abstract art, I asked if he considers himself an artist. “I do not think I am an artist as a designer, but my process of designing is the same as that of creating art.” Nakamura believes that when you are designing to showcase your work, such as runway show, your designs should be your “strongest expressions, the core of your inspiration”. Nakamura goes on to say, “I also think the process of developing design by working on a form, sketching, and collaging is similar to that of creating art. It all challenges our creativity, striking a balance as a whole piece.”
In regards to his shibori work, Nakamura sees the importance of exposing the traditional technique, creating an awareness and appreciation for its beauty, so that it is not a lost art. In contrast, he is excited about giving it a modern twist, a new technical approach that results in new aesthetic properties.
Indigenous craftsmanship was quite sustainable, compared to today’s manufacturing practices – with the use of natural resources, natural dyes, pesticide free, and quality construction to last for generations. Value was placed on textiles, it was an investment – each item created was with intent to hand down to the next generation.
This practice is what we see in Nakamura’s work. With the use of silk fabric, he wants to continue to experiment and perfect future collections with the shibori technique. “I would also like to create design on which shibori structure is used more naturally. Shaping garments without any darts was my initial purpose in using shibori, so I would like to achieve this in the future.”
Preserving culture and tradition is a good thing to do! Congratulations, Jun Nakamura! EDGE wishes you continued success with your design practice and preserving the tradition of shibori.
Skirt : JUNNA (@junnakamura_)
Model : Raihanna Thompson (@_raihanna)
Makeup : Azzurra Bonaldo (@azzurra_bonaldo @maccosmetics)
Direction : Riccardo Rubino (@rick_inky_style)
Designer : Jun Nakamura (@junnakamura_)