Preserving traditional values through fashion

March 06, 2023 | 09:38
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Renowned Japanese designer Kobayashi Eiko, founder of non-profit organisation Be-Japon, discussed with VIR’s Thai An about culture as symbolised in unique costumes that combine the typical traditional features of the Japanese kimono and Vietnamese ao dai.

What motivated you to choose Vietnam as a destination to promote Japanese culture to the world?

Preserving traditional values through fashion

Vietnamese and Japanese culture have many similarities, and the Vietnamese ao dai has given me a lot of inspiration, motivating me to design costumes from familiar kimono materials.

Fate brought me here, and it was an honour to hold a fashion show in Vietnam to help celebrate 50 years of diplomatic relations between Vietnam and Japan, bringing an interesting experience of cultural exchange between the two countries through fashion.

The highlight of the show is the performance of the junihitoe, an imperial dress style only used in great Japanese imperial ceremonies 1,000 years ago, which is still being preserved by the Japanese royal family. We also introduced antique kimonos that were more than 100 years old.

I have started using kimono fabric to design new clothes as a way to preserve the ageing kimonos that are slowly disappearing. The Vietnamese ao dai tailored from Japanese kimono-producing fabrics shown in this fashion show are my latest works.

Which challenges have you faced when using antique kimono fabric to make an ao dai?

Antique kimonos were made by Japanese artisans about 100-150 years ago. I am just a collector, taking inspiration from ancient motifs and having ideas to sketch and design new attire to create a new look.

The width of the ancient kimono is very narrow, but fortunately it fits well to design an ao dai. It took me about a month to finish the work. The seam of the ao dai looks simple, but it takes a lot of time to decide the position of the motifs to create a harmonious work. It is also necessary to carefully choose the fabric to make the pants to ensure the quality and the right thinness.

How will the cultural similarities between Vietnam and Japan be shown in the fashion show?

In the process of making ao dai from kimono fabric, I have noticed many similarities in the traditional costumes.

Both the ao dai and kimono have a design that hangs down full length, showing the softness of the wearer. Meticulous hand-embroidered motifs are also frequently used in both outfits. Both costumes use silk fabrics. Vietnamese silk also has many points that are very close to Japanese silk.

I think both are outfits that show the grace of Asian women, and the fashion show will help audiences discover the similarities in traditional costumes as well as the aesthetic taste of the peoples of the two countries.

As a designer enriching traditional cultural values, which expectation have you wished from the cultural exchange in fashion?

I wish to be able to find a way to preserve all the ancient kimono fabrics bearing the technical essence of old Japanese artisans that cannot be reproduced through new designs today.

In addition, I also want more people to wear my designs, and I am considering selling such products in the future. In preserving cultural values, the first important thing is to find like-minded people. For example, gathering people with the same indigo dyeing technique in Vietnam and Japan to share experiences and combine the techniques of the two countries is a great way to preserve traditional cultural values.

The preservation of such values is not only the task of each individual or non-profit organisations like Be-Japon, but also needs the cooperation of investors and businesses.

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By Thai An

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