In Japan, tradition never goes out of fashion. But that doesn’t mean it never gets reborn. Since the kimono’s straight-line shape was established in 794, the garment has continued to inspire style trends, and lately we’ve seen plenty of modern takes on the conventional cut. From rock chic to sophisticated and playful, contemporary kimono and yukata designs are full of personality. To help you pick out your favorite, we interviewed five innovative designers and showcased what they have on offer for 2016.
Glam Punk: Tsukikageya
Best for: Tsukikageya’s yukatas are for those who can’t bear to get lost in the crowd. Owner Natsuki Shigeta describes her customers as “fashion connoisseurs” – those who have their own style and enjoy combining high fashion, street and vintage brands.
The look: Exclusively white and navy blue yukata with contemporary and occasionally daring (and by daring we mean explicit) patterns. Contrasting colorful obi and clutches, photo-printed or bejeweled with Swarovski crystals to give off a glam-rock vibe.
The latest: Shigeta says she wants to enhance the wearer’s mood with her designs, and her 2016 pieces are bound to do just that. This year’s hand-drawn, doodle-like patterns such as cats and kaomoji (Japanese emoticons) are screamingly cute. But paired with Tsukikageya’s punkish accessories, they transform into something sexier.
Price: Around ¥50,000
Runway Ready: Jotaro Saito
Best for: Men and women with a penchant for high-quality fabrics and sophisticated, investment pieces that they can enjoy for years to come.
The look: Elegant designs that translate the traditional kimono into a modern couture item. This is a luxury brand that can be seen annually at Tokyo Fashion Week, and could be called the Dolce & Gabbana of kimono fashion. All of this is stamped, of course, with the unique vision and voice of renowned designer Jotaro Saito.
The latest: Saito’s new collection, “Go Beyond,” is inspired by Japanese subculture, such as animation and games, as well as more traditional culture. The designer manages to merge the two in a chic range that brims with subtle color and theme contrasts.
Price: From ¥60,000
Geometric Genius: Takahashi Hiroko
Best for: “Those who live by the values they’ve created for themselves,” says designer Takahashi Hiroko.
The look: All of Hiroko’s textile designs are based on “circles and lines,” although they are far from boring. “I want to express the unlimited possibilities that can be explored within boundaries,” she says. “And I want to play around with the rigid traditional structure of the kimono.” Her range is timeless in that geometric shapes will never be démodé, but it holds surprises in the way of color choices and lining details.
The latest: Sweeping, detailed patterns in black, grey, purple and blue that never stray from Hiroko’s line-and-circle-principle yet offer enough variety that you’ll find it hard to choose.
Where to shop: At the Takahashi Hiroko Oshiage Studio. Map and contact details here.
Arty Inspiration: Super Seven
Best for: Youthful trendsetters who want their artistic nature to shine through their Jackson Pollock-esque yukata design.
The look: Leaving traditional patterns behind, Super Seven creates a fashion statement with their multi-colored yukatas, which are ideal for the season’s final few festivals.
The latest: Nana Watanabe, creative head of the brand, had the image of an aquarium and the vitality of fish and coral in mind while designing her latest pieces: “Like you dove right in there with your yukata and all those colors bled and splattered.” That explains the 70s flashbacks we’re getting.
Where to shop: Online at superseven.thebase.in. Check the website for pop-up stores.
Edo Meets Rock: Rumi Rock
Best for: “Those for whom it is unthinkable to be caught in the same design as anybody else,” says designer Rumi Shibasaki.
The look: Rock ’n’ roll yukata with edgy patterns and eye-catching colors. Matching obi and shiny, two-colored heko obi (an informal obi made of soft cloth). Despite the modern look, Shibasaki maintains a strong focus on traditional production and therefore describes her designs as “Edo meets rock.”
The latest: This year sees Rumi Rock embracing whimsical, nature-inspired or history-inspired designs. At first glance, the bold patterns look like traditional motifs, but they include non-traditional images such as skulls, bats and even the Loch Ness Monster.
Where to shop: Online at shop.rumirock.com, where you’ll also find information on sales events.
This article appears in the September 2016 issue of Tokyo Weekender magazine.