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Brand to Know: A Japanese Label Immortalising Slices of History Through Clothing

By Kames Narayanan

 
Mame Kurogouchi Fall/Winter ’19

The design acumen employed at Mame Kurogouchi gives birth to a melange of textures, colours and patterns all juxtaposed against various pieces of garments throughout the collection.

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Mame Kurogouchi Fall/Winter ’19

Vintage silks that Kurogouchi found at an antique shop in Nara informed the collection’s patterns.

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Mame Kurogouchi Fall/Winter ’19

In the subtle cuts of her silhouettes, Kurogouchi alluded to that of traditional Japanese garments.

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Mame Kurogouchi Fall/Winter ’19

An insight into the diary where Maiko Kurogouchi kept her inspiration and sketches during her travels to seek for inspiration.

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Mame Kurogouchi Fall/Winter ’19

Hand-painted watercolour blooms were a recurring theme throughout the collection.

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There is an intangible sense of contemplation imbued into Japanese designer Maiko Kurogouchi’s ready-to-wear collections at her nearly decade-old brand, Mame Kurogouchi, where every garment is designed and cut to immortalise a slice of history — often, an experience decontextualised from a place and a period of time in Kurogouchi’s life. 

Coined “The Second Diary”, the brand’s Fall/Winter ’19 collection quite literally draws from the pages of Kurogouchi’s diary chronicled along her journey to seek inspiration. “It started out with a beautiful blue ancient cloth I found in Nara, and other encounters with various shades of blue from different times, places and people’s memories. When I travelled to see a traditional and sacred dance ceremony performed deep in a mountain of Iwate, I saw dancers wearing layers of cloths, which later inspired the collection’s key drape dress,” said Kurogouchi over an email correspondence. 

These encounters, translated into clothing, gave birth to a collection reminiscent of what drew her eye — a luxurious jacquard navy coat with a woven cuff interlaced with hints of silver, watercolour blooms elsewhere were reinterpretations of bits of broken porcelain and subtle cuts in the silhouette alluded to a kimono. Kurogouchi’s allusions to travel were approached with an abstract hand, one that takes keen observations to pick out. 

While Kurogouchi has taken to Paris, where she shows her collections, the Japanese designer’s tip of the hat to her homeland is ubiquitous throughout her body of work. She expertly combines textures, colours and patterns with the unmatched techniques of Kimono craftsmen in Japan. The designer’s purview may largely be informed by her experiences across the globe, but Kurogouchi always finds her way home. 

Here, we delve deeper into the designer’s poetic consciousness of the world and in the way she translates them at her label. 

KAMES NARAYANAN: Travel is a common point of inspiration in fashion — at times, taken too literally. But at Mame Kurogouchi, your inspirations are approached from an abstract point of view. Can you describe what the creative process is like for you?

MAIKO KUROGOUCHI: My notion of travel includes both the real and unreal. Both are equally important and inspirational for me as both are equally a part of my daily life. I draw a lot of inspiration from daily life – be it the colour of a garbage bag I found on a street, the tactile touch of a fishnet I saw in the countryside or wildflowers on the side of the road. I’d say my design process is very much autobiographical. I try to visualise something between reality and fiction by fusing my personal experiences with actual historical events or traditions. 

KN: When you travel, do you actively seek out inspirations or do they come to you naturally?

MK: Inspiration is everywhere in daily life and it comes to me all of a sudden. I make a lot of trips in search of inspiration too. For example, when you have to design a Spring/Summer collection, the actual season in Japan is winter so I need to be physically in an environment where I can think about the sun — so I’d go to the south. I see the world based on my aesthetic and my aesthetic is a balance between both colour and texture. I think that cheap blue tarp is beautiful. What’s important is the subject itself and the circumstances that come with it.

KN: At Mame Kurogouchi, Japanese craftsmanship often takes centre stage. What is the message that you are hoping to translate while presenting Japanese craftsmanship to an international crowd?

MK: The thing is, something beautiful takes a long time and dedication to create. Nothing can be born in a day. I’ve worked a lot with Japanese artisans because I was born in this country and have been lucky to have grown up seeing lots of beautifully crafted pieces, which are on the brink of disappearing. So if my collection can inspire people to start paying attention to their local crafts or artisans, that would be fantastic. 

KN: It has been almost a decade since you started your brand. How would you say your vision for the brand has changed or evolved throughout the years? 

MK: The vision hasn’t changed but I’m lucky enough to have gathered a larger international audience than years ago. When I design, I think of Japanese weather as well as Italian or Singapore weather now. My collection is born from daily life and I want it to live in people’s daily life. 

KN: Who would you say is the woman that you are designing for?

MK: Me. There are so many things, so many clothes out there in the market so when I design my collection I always put myself in [the] centre and ask myself “Do I want to wear this?”. And when the answer [is] no, it means it’s not something I have to produce. Equally, it’s important for me to ask myself if it’s beautiful or not.

KN: What is the lifestyle that you are trying to build at Mame Kurogouchi?

MK: I try to make things that I think are beautiful and worthwhile to introduce to the world now so it is important to understand the trends but what’s more important is being able to judge where you want to go. The life of women now is more active and seamless than ever — you go to a meeting, you go to a gallery and then straight to dinner or to an airport, for example. My collection is for those who need a little courage in their daily life.