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Real Japanese Fashion

The 1995 earthquake that devastated Kobe and environs destroyed something inside fashion designer Takuya Sawada (1967) as well. “It was an incredible shock. Western-style buildings and even highways came tumbling down. I thought ‘wow, concrete is really brittle’,” says Takuya Sawada. “Everything I believed in was demolished. It shattered something inside me too.” Just as he describes the pain he felt at the time, RINGO Shina’s ‘Odaijini’ (‘Get well soon’) plays in the background. We both laugh at the coincidence.

Sunday June 1, 2003

It may have been this experience of the Kobe Quake that inspired Sawada to look for inspiration in Japan’s past. “Since the end of WW II only Western fashion has entered Japan. Japanese love to import things. They have a policy of having no policy.” Sawada wanted to bring Japan back into fashion. “I wanted to create something new. I always thought it would be wonderful if everybody wore kimono. I figured it should be possible to combine clothes from the Jomon Era (10,000 BC ~ 300 AD) with those of modern times. There was nothing like that. I myself wanted to wear things like that.”

Imagining the Impossible

So only months after the terrible quake, at 28 years old, Sawada started his own shop and brand: Takuya Angel. The brand is a wonderful mix of old and new, East and West, fake and real. Bright colors combined with somber black. Material like Cupra (Cuprammonium Rayon) combined with cotton twill. Sawada is not inhibited by what is right and what is wrong and what can and cannot be done. He is 100% self taught and as matter of policy leaves all pattern-making to someone else. “I draw the forms I imagine and let another person do the patterning. I just decide the shape and colors. I’m afraid that if I study patterning I may just think ‘this is impossible’.”

Sawada’s inspiration still comes when he least expects it. “Akiko,” he looks at his wife at his side, “likes kimono a lot, so that gave me the idea to use kimono. Often she gives me some vague idea of the kind of thing she likes. If I think about it for a while, and then it suddenly comes out. Just as we are talking a pattern may spring to live inside me.” The moment that happens Sawada is in a different world and the shapes evolve as by magic.

Takuya Angel Fashion

One Stone, Two Birds

Many of Takuya Angel designs are inspired by clothes that Samurai wore in ancient times. Sawada deliberately uses the Japanese terms: ‘hitatare, haori, hakama, kyahan, geta’. It is quite a departure from the modern Japanese habit to give an English moniker to everything that must appear new. Even if there is a good Japanese word for it. Sawada never makes these ancient clothes exactly as they were. He adapts the shape to the needs of modern life, and uses modern materials whenever possible: cupra, polyester, gabardine, velvet, fake fur. Often he incorporates parts of antique kimono in his clothes. This means that almost every item is different, because it is impossible to find more than one kimono of exactly the same design. He also lets himself be inspired by anime and manga. He is crazy about Japan’s transforming robots and has applied that to his clothes: a t-shirt that can be with sleeves, with half-sleeves or without sleeves; a skirt that can also function as a coat; leg warmers that can also be used as a cape, or as a mini hakama. Sawada calls these designs “one-stone-two-birds-clothes” and they are wonderfully playful.

You Are What You Wear

Takuya Angel now consists of two shops with revenues of JPY 30 million a year. It is a tiny brand, but Takuya Angel has an impact that goes far beyond its actual size. If you have seen Sawada’s clothes once you never forget them. The people who wear them, don’t just wear them, they worship them. It brings something alive in them that they didn’t even know existed. “Fashion is like a business card,” explains Sawada. “Just by looking at someone’s clothes you can understand a lot. What kind of work they do, what kind of music they like, what kind of food they eat.” He doesn’t dare to explain what his clothes say about the people who wear them.

Know Yourself

Soon he returns to his main theme. “I want Japanese to have more confidence in themselves. I want them to study their own roots. I believe that is the way to learn about yourself. Roots matter. People can’t see the future. But the past we can see. If Japanese can see where they have come from, what kind of history they have had, they will slowly be able to see where they should be going from now on.”

hitatare – a kind of shirt worn by samurai
haori – a sort of coat
hakama – a divided skirt that looks like pants
kyahan – leg warmers
geta – wooden clogs


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  1. Tuesday April 28, 2009tori commenter says

    it looks weird and stupid



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