Many are trying to reinvent the kimono, weave in some modernity, or even transmute it into other objects. What Michail Gkinis from the eponymous Michail Gkinis Aoyama atelier does with the kimono could be considered as wearable art. And while he’s at it, he makes every piece timeless, ageless, genderless and borderless.
The Cosmopolitan Person
Gkinis started his Japan adventure 19 years ago by interning for one of the country’s greatest designers, Issey Miyake. He landed in Japan straight from London College of Fashion and as the first European intern at the studio, went on to make history. Add to that his Greek culture and roots and you can see how such an international creative thinks openly and freely about fashion too. His plain cornice stoles resemble origami and kirigami, and the metal zippers and buttons add an industrial element influenced by his London days, while the free flow draping harks back to the peplos and tunis worn in ancient Greece. “But it also reminds me of how the kimono is draped around the body,” Gkinis notes. The cultures are thousands of kilometers apart, but there is something natural and eternal about fabric hugging the human body.
And with the March 2022 Kimono Modernization Project, Gkinis stands even firmer in Japan. “These modernized kimono pieces are for everyone, for the global citizen,” he tells us. Perhaps this is the most elegant solution to the conundrum of wearing traditional clothes. Transforming kimono into signature Michail Gkinis ‘wearable art’ pieces somehow sets it free.
Every item and the beginning of the process starts in his atelier and store in Tokyo’s Todoroki area. Gkinis designs, sketches, sews and paints the clothes himself. “I’m always looking forward to seeing how the piece will come out,” the charming designer says. “There are all these elements to it, like an orchestra that creates a symphony.”
Customers come with their own aesthetic sense too, inspiring him to create an open dialogue between them. “When I’m creating a piece from an old family kimono, the story they tell me affects the way I cut it.” The brand also offers a ready-to-wear line that you can purchase online from the webshop or at the Todoroki location.
The hand-painted panels of the classic Gkinis fashion item (usually a transformable coat or a stole) are interchangeable. If you own more pieces, you can switch the art panels, as if you are wearing your own mini and mobile art gallery. Gkinis has a patent on this modular design, as well as a Merit Award at the Design for Asia Awards (DFA) 2021. He is proud to have merged beauty with functionality, with a touch of individuality to every piece.
“When you know how to break the rules, you become your own category,” Gkinis says. You need to know how to assemble, in order to be able to disassemble and reassemble. The designer credits his time in London and the punk influence for his courage to experiment with fashion. He likes to color outside the lines, figuratively and literally. He likes to mix fabrics, add elements of surprise and cut across the neat markings.
“I like to translate into new forms,” is the way he puts it during our interview. The Kimono Modernization Project is the clearest example of that. From a single kuro tomesode kimono he cuts out five different items. Each of the garments can also transform and be worn in multiple ways creating a spectrum of silhouettes. The “less is more” adage rings especially true here. These can be worn by a family from at least three generations, from grandchildren to grandparents. The clothes have no size, no age and no gender. The wearer imbues them with whatever parameters they bring with themselves.
Gkinis finds never-ending inspiration in Japan. Through his love and admiration for Japanese textiles he has formed partnerships with high-quality local textile producers and relationships with regular customers at the Michail Gkinis Aoyama atelier he runs in tandem with his partner and producer of the brand, Yuko Gkinis Aoyama. They welcome everyone that loves art and beauty, to come in, communicate, feel the clothes and see how they move and flow.
When the clothes he has created are worn, they and the wearer create a unique combination. The way the fabric flows on your body is idiosyncratically beautiful. “You are art, too,” Gkinis tells me, and by “you” he means “all of us.” The cosmopolitans, the artists, the punks, the dreamers, the people. “Humans are beautiful sculptures.”