Traditional Japanese Fabric Gives Flair to Western Clothes

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Shunsuke Teranishi

A project to create modern clothing using traditional Japanese textiles is making a splash. The project, called Mizen, is led by Shunsuke Teranishi who has worked at some companies, including Hermes.

Teranishi said he realized the one-of-a-kind charm of Japanese handicrafts through his work and during his stay in Europe. Now, he intends to offer a Japan-made luxury item in which artisans play a leading role.

Courtesy of Mizen
A long coat made with Ushikubi tsumugi fabric and Raden-ori textile

The Mizen shop in Tokyo’s Minami-Aoyama district is filled with a variety of clothing made with tanmono, a bolt of Japanese fabric. Its products include a jacket made with Ushikubi tsumugi, a silk fabric with a distinctive texture traditionally produced in Hakusan, Ishikawa Prefecture, and a sleeveless top made using Kogin-zashi embroidery designs originally from Aomori Prefecture.

“The wisdom of the common people from various regions has been preserved in tsumugi and other art forms,” Teranishi said.

Having teamed up with 12 textile production centers across the country, the company makes fashion items on a made-to-order basis. The most distinctive feature for Mizen products is the tailoring that makes the most of the rather narrow tanmono’s 38-centimeter width. Because of this, the same piece of fabric covers a jacket from its front to the back, for instance.

Courtesy of Mizen
A hat, sleeveless top and shorts created with fabric using Kogin-zashi embroidery

“There are many restrictions in making clothes using the narrow fabric, but it is important to do so partly to protect craftsmanship,” Teranishi, 43, said.

After studying architecture at Kyoto University, Teranishi worked at Yohji Yamamoto before moving to Italy at the age of 28. He started working as a designer and patternmaker at Hermes when he was 35, something he had longed to do, but he gradually came to hope to do something useful for society.

Teranishi said back then he had no interest in Japan and was European influenced, but gradually developed a strong sense of belonging to Japan. He came across Ushikubi tsumugi at an exhibition in Paris and learned that it is made with hand-reeled threads from tamamayu, a rare cocoon with two silkworm pupae inside. Teranishi was fascinated with the beautiful colors of the fabrics.

Soon after, he began using his vacations to visit production areas of traditional textiles in Japan.

“If I make clothes rich in Japanese handiwork that even Japanese people don’t know much about, I can create something that can only be made in Japan and only be made by me. This will be helpful for areas producing the works, and be meaningful for society,” he said.

Courtesy of Mizen
Outfits prepared with Arimatsu-shibori tie-dyed cloth

Teranishi returned to Japan in 2018 and started the Arlnata project in 2019, where customers first choose the tanmono before ordering clothes in the design of their choice.

At Mizen, created last year, customers choose the designs of the clothes before deciding on its materials. The project has been well received due to the ease with which customers can visualize the finished product. For a jacket, prices start at around ¥200,000.

The clothes come with a label showing the fabric’s place of origin and customers are informed at the shop of the dyeing and weaving techniques.

The products are not inexpensive but convey the reliability of handiwork. When asked about what defines a Japan-made luxury item, Teranishi replied: “It is the feeling of the presence of people or the desire to support others. I believe such connections with others will be the future of luxury.”

Courtesy of Mizen
A cape and skirt made by combining Oshima tsumugi pongee and knit fabric