Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Inspiration: Chiso's Fabulious Kimonos

When Yozaemon Chikiriya established his garment business, Chiso, in Kyoto, his primary customers were monks who required fine clerical vestments. That was 1555. More than four centuries later, the company’s intricately cut robes are coveted as luxury garments, and Chiso—having persevered through shrinking economies, shifting trends, wars, and more—has found itself among the last of Japan’s bespoke kimono houses. Still run by descendants of the Chikiriya clan, it has managed to survive as a powerhouse while honoring tradition and avoiding fast-fashion business models that prioritize volume and profits over quality.

 Chiso Co., Ltd, <em>Uchikake with Palace Garden Design</em>, made for Iida Taka, the thirteenth, Madame Nishimura, 1913, <em>yĆ«zen</em>-dyeing and embroidery on woven silk (left); Chiso Co., Ltd, <em>Furisode with Mist and Fan Design</em>, made for Kawakami Masako, the fifteenth Madame Nishimura, 1971, embroidery and gold leaf on woven silk (right).

So painstaking is Chiso’s process that the company makes only around 25 kimonos per year. A typical garment takes three months to produce, and special commissions can require more than a year to realize. Each kimono calls for specialized techniques including dyeing, steaming, rinsing, and stitching. Chiso employs more than 600 artisans, some of whom are among the last trained in their methods. “We are lucky,” says Haruyo Naka, a Chiso representative. “If you want to make luxury kimonos, you need the materials, the craftsmen. Not many like us are left.”


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