French David Guarino found a way to revive old Japanese traditions with a quite stylish street wear twist: His brand Zillion has everything your usual urban apparel requires – caps, hoodies, belts, laces – but all in the either most colourful or rigidly minimal Kimono patterns. To find out more (and try some on!), PingMag visited David in his studio located in one of these comfy old Japanese houses in the otherwise très chic Aoyama district of Tokyo…
Written by Verena
Zillion’s super stylish caps…
… with old flower patterns.
Firstly I’m curious, how did you end up in Tokyo?
My parents are both travellers and teachers, so I ended up here on one of their trips.
When did you start Zillion?
After more than a year of preparations, the first collection was held last year…
… these ones are made out of reproduced Kimono fabrics.
What was the ignition?
More than 10 years ago I started collecting fabrics from India and Nepal. Then, I really got into the Japanese fabrics: a couple years ago I just took one of my old tracksuits and wondered if I could put old Kimono patterns on it… Using old fabrics is not a new idea; 5 or 6 years ago there were many bags and wallets made out of old Kimono cloth. I’m more into caps so I’d rather put the Kimono fabrics on them.
I wondered whether I could take these fabrics that were never used on this platform before. Also, I did a lot of belts with reproductions of old patterns. For other products, I used very old school Kimono: I was literally going around the country and looking for old rolls of fabric. And because the old fabrics are sometimes very worn out some pieces can’t be used entirely, at times I can only make 3 belts out of one piece of fabric.
Belts made out of old Kimono fabric…
… and fabrics with reproductions for hoodies.
Indeed, the cloth is so thin and delicate – how do you apply it onto the caps?
I have a transparent sheet bonded to some of the thinner cloths to make them more rigid. Actually, it is pretty difficult to use this fabric for everything, but it works very well for the caps and the cloth is not going to tear off.
The Zillion brand tag that goes with each product – made after a traditional Kamon.
What about these traditional wooden amulets you took as brand tags…
This was inspired by the Omamori that can purchased at temples around Japan, for good health and more. They come in a little cloth bag; there is actually a piece of wood inside and that’s where I came up with the idea to use it as tag…
How about your square-shaped logo, is it also traditional?
Also, you use one very significant Japanese object in a completely other context: the wooden Sake cup called “Masu” that comes with a glass of Sake…
Zillion’s laces made of Kimono patterns come…
… in a nice wooden box!
This is where I put my belts! Usually you’d put the glass inside the “Masu” and pour it all the way up with Sake. The spills then get caught for drinking. Sometimes for ceremonies, the Sake is served directly in it.
And the wooden box that comes with your caps inside – that is traditional as well, I guess?
It’s a set: A wooden box for pottery comes usually with a string as ornament called “Sanadahimo.” Nowadays it is so hard to find artisans who still manufacture these strings. I had to search a long time to find one in Southern Japan, in Shizuoka…
Every cap comes in a wooden box traditionally used for Japanese pottery – with a nice bow as ornament.
I can imagine that it is really difficult to get traditional manufactures nowadays everywhere in the world…
Yes, and Japanese artisans are all closing down as the young generation doesn’t take over the reins. Also, they don’t advertise anywhere! When I called some places up and asked to buy some crafts, they were like, ‘Why do you want to buy our stuff at all?’ Sadly, they are very closed-minded. I experienced the same with a number of textile dealers: When I went to some places to buy some with cash in hand, the clerk wouldn’t sell it to me – and the products were right behind the counter. I think this is because in Japan, there are usually so many middlemen in between…
… and I heard that a lot of the traditional textile factories are in the Tokyo neighbourhood of Asakusa?
Yes, there are a lot of small leather and metal factories making buckles and other small accessories. They still use vintage machines – and that is why even some brands like Burberry’s manufacture some of their products there. My belts are all made in Asakusa-bashi: one by one in a small family-owned and family-run factory. The age range of the factory workers is between 50 and 60 years old…
These are supposedly symbolic hemp flowers, “Asa” in Japanese.
More beautiful traditional repetitive patterns, used for hoodies.
That must take a while to get your cloths produced then…
The factory makes 12 at one time. For that, I have to reserve a line each time. And I always reserve a couple of lines in advance. But the quality is so high that it’s worth it.
One could expect that you might pick modern patterns for your street wear – but instead you chose traditional Japanese ones. Why?
These are the strongest ones for me, like the traditional Japanese wave patterns. I always liked their simplicity. Many people suggested I put my logo on the outside of the apparel – but I just want to let the pattern speak for itself. Sadly, if you show it to young Japanese people today, some don’t even know it’s Japanese.
More repetitive traditional patterns…
… and these unique flower pattern, once again.
But right now you are wearing a jacket with such an amazing pattern which really looks modern to me…
This is for the next season – and it is also old school! I like the symmetric geometrical shapes and there are so many patterns to work with… I think, the human brain is pretty much attracted to these repeated patterns.
It is clever to revive traditional designs in such a street style way. How did you come up with the shapes for the hoodies and the Tees?
I never really studied that, but I have always been into producing clothing for events and bands in the past. I have friends working for big fashion companies, so I asked them for tips and stayed very patient.
David’s next season’s hoodies. Also traditional patterns!
How do you market your line? You told me before you go mainly to trade shows?
The first trade show I did was in New York and the second in Las Vegas, and from there I met many buyers that bought for the US and the Japanese market as well. Our last show in Paris was a big success; I look forward to showing my new collection in Europe again soon.
And you are doing this all by yourself now?
Yes, pretty much. I re-check each order myself before they are shipped. However, I have a strong team of individuals who are involved in the growth of the brand too. It is nice to keep things not too crazy, not too big to maintain the highest quality possible.
So you are mainly working as photographer? That is what you did when I met you for the first time at a MHT party…
Yes, I have been doing photography professionally for five years now, like for colors magazine. Also, I have a small company called Midnight Office / Visual Atelier specialized in event visuals, event videos, photos and web design.
Zillion is the name of your brand, but why is your website called everythingisaremix.com?
That’s because everything is a remix.
Right. Especially regarding your old-Kimono-patterns-turned-to-hot-street-wear approach.
Thank you, David Guarino! Good luck with Zillion Check out his awesome caps at Isetan and United Arrows. Sorry folks, these shops are currently Japan only. However, his caps are available at Michiko Koshino’s 59 broadwick street in London and at 90 sqm and the K-SWISS store in Amsterdam.