For ages, the kimono and yukata -- a lighter summertime counterpart, were the garments of choice in Japan. Beyond being just clothing, both are invaluable cultural treasures steeped in tradition. A set of rules exists even, known as kitsuke,
which dictates how to properly don these traditional garments.
Rules Dictate How Obi (Belts) are Worn with Kimono and Yukata -- Photo by Adrienne Mah
The opening of Japan to the West at the turn of the 20th century and, most recently, the proliferation of “fast fashion” retail chains, have contributed to a decline in the popularity
of traditional Japanese dress.
Pop-up Shop at Palette Gallery: Thinking Innovatively to Promote Modern Yukata -- Photo by Julie Fader
Far from being discouraged, kimono and yukata designers are instead becoming more experimental. An increasing number of designers are choosing to steer away from strict rules to appeal to modern wearers. The kimono and yukata are now being re-envisioned in a multitude of settings, from street to high fashion.
Meet five contemporary kimono and yukata designers who are rethinking the conventional and bringing fresh new perspectives:
The Kenma x Jotaro Saito Store in Upmarket Roppongi Hills -- Photo by Julie Fader
The modern twist: Holding onto traditional motifs, themes, and techniques but presenting them in unexpected ways.
Perhaps the biggest name in kimono design today, Jotaro Saito
represents the third generation of kimono makers in his family. At age 27, he debuted as Japan’s youngest kimono maker. Rather than seeing himself as purely a craftsman, Saito has always considered himself a designer first.
An Unexpected Pop of Color Marks the Designs of Jotaro Saito -- Photo by Julie Fader
His designs are heavily influenced by traditional techniques. But he prefers to present common motifs in uncommon ways. For instance, he uses atypical colors or patterns. In the hopes of extending the kimono beyond Japan, Saito has shown collections at Tokyo Fashion Week since 2006. His work stands out amongst a sea of global designers and Western-centric themes.
The modern twist: Taking the kimono out of Japan for international audiences and making it globally digestible.
Hiromi Asai is no stranger to tradition. From a young age, she has studied Japanese Noh theater, tea ceremony, and kimono styling and dressmaking. She is also well aware of the decline of the kimono-making industry. Asai believes that tradition is kept alive only by branching out. Her response has been to take the kimono out of Japan. In 2008, Asai moved to New York City to open Kimono Hiro and MODE & CLASSIC LLC kimono styling and design studios.
Asai has shown collections at New York Fashion Week, where she prefers her runway shows to be devoid of the stereotypical or expected. The runway decor is minimal so that the focus remains on the clothing, with contemporary music pulsating in the background. The goal is to make audiences feel that, regardless of their provenance, the kimono is accessible and wearable.
Rumi Shibasaki of Rumi Rock
Rumi Rock Yukata Appeal to Younger Subculture Crowds -- Photo by Julie Fader
The modern twist: Designs that reference pop culture and subcultures while featuring motifs that appeal to a younger crowd of kimono and yukata wearers.
Rumi Shibasaki has been designing kimono and yukata since 1990. Her creations were popular amongst Japanese visual rockers. From there, her business took off and eventually blossomed into Rumi Rock in 2005. Shibasaki’s target is the youth market, as shown by the use of playful prints featuring anything from skulls and cars to cartoons. In Rumi Rock prints you will often see rock music, pop-art, or anime and manga as inspirations.
A Reptilian Obi (Belt) and Rumi Rock's Distinctive Designs Give Yukata a New Twist -- Photo by Julie Fader
Shibasaki encourages people to wear kimono and yukata in innovative ways. Doing away with the expected geta sandals is one example.
Yoshiki Hayashi of Yoshikimono
Kimono Fashion Meets Rock-n-Roll on the Yoshikimono Website -- Website Homepage from July 2016
The modern twist: It’s all about rock and roll! Wearing beautifully-crafted traditional robes while still looking like you belong in a mosh pit during Ozzfest.
Yoshiki Hayashi is the celebrated drummer of the iconic Japanese metal band X Japan. The musician is also a master classical pianist. Yoshiki’s desire to translate his love for music and tradition into kimono design gave birth to his label, Yoshikimono.
The brand recently debuted at the 2016 AW Tokyo Fashion Week where it was met with much enthusiasm from fans of fashion and music alike. The show starred models in kimono walking to classical renditions of X Japan songs donning fishnets and gigantic 80’s rocker hair.
Robe Japonica Store Interior -- Photo by Adrienne Mah
The modern twist: Exceedingly stylish and daring men’s kimono and yukata brought to you from the heart of Harajuku.
Robe Japonica only recently opened on Jingumae in the eccentric Harajuku district in 2015. Under the concept of “wearing modern Japan”, the brand brings traditional men’s kimono and yukata to new heights. The brand’s designs have a decisively refreshing and modern feel which make use of bold, graphic colors and prints.
Distinctive Yukata Streetwear -- Photo by Adrienne Mah
Robe Japonica is divided into two lines. The Red Line features casual streetwear styles meant to be worn anytime and anywhere, whereas the Black Line carries formal ceremonial wear appropriate for special occasions.
Geta by Robe Japonica -- Photo by Adrienne Mah
The brand also carries a range of unique accessories such as leather obi belts or bright plexiglass geta sandals to add some unexpected extra edge to your kimono or yukata look.
Summer festivals are ideal for wearing yukata, especially fireworks festivals!