Kimono Redemption

Hiromi Asai

Like a fluttering cherry blossom on a cerulean, Spring sky tickles our senses with the nostalgia of youth and tugs on our spirits with a lust for the exotic, the kimono dances between two worlds- the traditional, familiar past and the unknown, distant future. The word “kimono” simply means “clothing,” but as Japanese culture was exposed to the western world, it became synonymous with Geishas, ceremony, and traditional attire. The benefits of exposure, of course, are ascertainable: the trading of ideas to expand our breadth of knowledge. However, with mass production and global distribution, the artisanship is lost, and the kimono evolves into a relic or souvenir. The eponymous label, HIROMI ASAI, is first on the path to kimono redemption.

Designer Hiromi Asai’s mission is not to introduce the kimono to the world, but rather to save it from “the verge of crisis.” According to the designer, “Reduction of the kimono market, aging of craftsmen, and lack of their successors are slowly fading the once vibrant art.” Asai’s collections range from traditional kimono styles to modern, everyday menswear attire and employ traditional techniques and Japanese craftsmen to weave and dye the textiles used.

The designer moved from Tokyo with her husband in 2008, and it was then that she knew it was New York or nowhere to start her business. Asai opened Mode & Class LLC in 2010, which is now a prominent Kimono styling company. Though it may seem trivial, it is important to note that kimono styling and designing are different skills, and Asai capitalizes on the idiosyncrasies of both to build her business and to hopefully catapult kimonos to the forefront of the fashion world. “Kimono designers are different from normal fashion designers. The form of Kimono is defined,” explains the designer. “I have been working as a kimono stylist, but I believe that I am not a Kimono designer.” Asai now believes that the essence of kimonos is not the form, but rather the textiles. With this in mind, the possibilities for Asai as a designer using kimono elements are innumerable.

“I don’t hesitate to create various forms for my designs outside of traditional Kimono styles,” says the designer of her now multifarious designs. Asai remains humble, despite being one of few premier kimono “stylists,” convinced that while she has not completely succeeded, she will be able to accomplish some novel things that have yet been done in fashion design. After successfully launching Mode & Classic, the accolades and press came rolling in, and Hiromi was commissioned to create fashion and art pieces for a variety of advertisements, editorial shoots, and TV programs. On her own, she also staged fashion shows and demonstrations worldwide, and collaborated with several artists on different projects.

For her first showing at New York Fashion Week in 2016, Asai collaborated with a non-profit organization called Kimono Artisan Kyoto to make her visions a reality. Kimono Artisan Kyoto is self-described as “a determined association of textile artisans” working directly out of Kyoto, creating traditional textiles and designs using ancient techniques. Since her first show, though, Asai has branched out from Kimono Artisan Kyoto so that she could work directly with kimono craftsmen all over Japan, developing new textiles for “Western” fashion using these ancient techniques.

Now, Asai’s newest challenge is menswear. “Menswear seems simple at a glance,” reveals the designer, “but it’s difficult to design for special styles because the form is rather limited. I believe we can provide unique styles for men to make the use of kimono textiles.” Asai recently debuted her first menswear collection, entitled “Blue” at Pitti Uomo in January of this year. This month, HIROMI ASAI’s S/S 2018 menswear collection, “Midsummer Night’s Roses,” will be presented, again at Pitti Uomo and then at Capsule Show New York in July.

HIROMI ASAI menswear is subtle, yet dashing, with delicate details that only the finest craftsmen could achieve. Classic suits with a modern fit come in catching hues speckled with constellation-like paint patterns, and stylish jackets are adorned with vibrant, Japanese imagery. While none of the pieces resemble the traditional kimono in any way, the textiles used and techniques applied are all from Japanese Kimono resources. Each garment also uses a unique blend of fabrics made in “traditional kimono manufactural techniques.” Unlike a kimono, which often conjures ideas of demure, graceful women, and stoic, practical men, the clothing from HIROMI ASAI is, quite frankly, loud and colorful like a Rolling Stones concert. While the styles are sophisticated, one can envision trendsetters like Kid Cudi or Lucky Blue rocking the collection just as easily as more classically stylish men, such as Eddie Redmayne or Idris Elba.

And so, just as the cherry blossom represents the circle of life and rebirth, so will Midsummer Night’s Roses mark the renaissance of the kimono craftsmen and the growth of
a blooming designer.

Text by Leah Tassinari
Photograph by Teru Yoshida