August is nearly upon us, meaning: It’s fireworks season in Japan! And watching these hanabi undoubtedly requires a matching traditional apparel – which would be a yukata, of course! This thin unisex cotton kimono comes with beautiful Japanese patterns. That’s lovely, unless you’d be the only person wearing exactly this flower pattern… So, why don’t you do it wild style this year and go with a modernised Punk yukata from Tokyo-based fashion brand Tsukikageya? Do it in lips, diamonds, or leopard patterns! PingMag got hold of Tsukikageya designer Natsuki Shigeta for a rocking hanabi attire in her Tomigaya studio.
Written by Kevin Mcgue
A cool dude – even cooler in a yukata with a pine branch motif! © Tsukikageya
This is a bit more traditional – and looks awesome on boys! © Tsukikageya
Thick horizontal stripes give a strong impression to the manly type. © Tsukikageya
With this yukata you’ll be the epitome of cool… © Tsukikageya
Now, the usual procedure for hanabi would be: You are supposed to meet your date at the river bank to watch the fireworks. You arrive hours early to find a place to sit, and if you are lucky you can secure just enough space for the two of you to squeeze into. But you have to make sure your apparel will have a lasting impression on your date. This special circumstance requires a special yukata. Tsukikageya’s Natsuki Shigeta might have them for girls – and especially for boys:
Lips, diamonds, chains… your yukata patterns are wonderfully original! Where do you get your inspiration?
Every year I basically think what I would like to have for myself. This year, I really wanted to wear a leopard print yukata and thought more about what would fit that style: It reminded me of rock, 80’s style, and I expanded on that with the kiss mark theme.
Traditional yukata designs often include floral themes for ladies and pinstripes or checked designs for men. You found them too boring?
Well, I just don’t think in terms of tradition or not at all. But actually, the method of making my yukata is fully traditional: The blocks for printing the fabric are carved by craftsmen who have been in the business for a very long time. The results of this very traditional process are simply the best.
One more boy delicately covered in kiss marks… © Tsukikageya
Oh la la! © Tsukikageya
You also design obi, the wide belts that are worn with yukata and kimono. When designing, do you think more about its function or the obi being an accessory?
Both, as I have to think about but the function and the look. I use a lot of Thai silk and fabric that is made in Japan for kimono use. These materials are expensive, but the obi made with them are easy to tie. And, of course, silk looks much better than polyester!
You also make obi from leather and real snakeskin! We won’t go into that real issue, for now, though we clearly not approve of it… These obi look terribly heavy – but one of your models told me they are surprisingly light. How come?
Snakeskin is actually very light. Leather can be quite stiff, but I only use it on the areas you can see when the obi is worn. The backing is from fabric made for use in kimono. That is why it is so easy to tie, light and comfortable.
Yukata design inspired by the ornate hairstyles that appear in Shojo Manga.
You told me before that the making of your yukata takes quite long. As each piece is handcrafted in every detail?
Obviously the designs are very important – but the tailoring is really something and I care about fine, high-quality sewing very much. And I do almost everything myself. For example, these obi have kiss marks made from rhinestones and I sewed each of these on by hand. That is why I can’t produce large quantities and usually make only about 10 obi from each design. However, some of them are so complex, I only make one unique print.
I heard that Japanese traditions, such as wearing a kimono, are having a revival in the recent decade. What’s your opinion?
Six or seven years ago it wasn’t so popular to wear kimono and yukata at all. However, now you can find everything from hip to boring yukata designs, be it expensive or cheap. And I don’t think there is a danger of them disappearing. But the traditional handcrafts are vanishing: When I do my print designs, I draw them on paper and give this to a craftsman who prepares a printing screen by hand. Similar to silkscreening, he applies a masking adhesive to the fabric with this screen. The areas with the applied adhesive are not dyed after it has been washed out. Moreover, some of my designs are quite detailed.
It took a skilled craftsman around one week to finish this intricate printing screen…
… and sadly, the traditional techniques for making printing screens like this maybe be disappearing.
Pictures of Tokyo’s flashy Ginza district, printed on an obi. Eye catcher! © Tsukikageya
For example, I have one that was inspired by the way hairstyles are drawn in The Rose of Versailles Manga. It was carved by a craftsman who has been in the trade for decades. But veterans like these will be retiring soon, and I am worried if the younger workers will improve their skills enough by that time. And even more than worrying about something traditional being lost, I am worried that I won’t be able to produce all of my designs anymore. When the craftsmen who posses these techniques are no longer around, designers will lose a lot of their freedom.
A bit of a sad way to end this with thinking about dying traditions… However, many thanks to Natsuki Shigeta from Tsukikageya for showing us her wild yukata designs!