Designers produce products using Ise-born katagami patterns which are available at Isetan and Mitsukoshi main stores. The products, which has attracted attention as being antique yet modern, are original clothes and household goods using katagami.

One of the designers is Kiyoko Takase, who is the founder of COMME ÇA DU MODE. Takase now works as lead designer at ARTISAN, also a brand under the company FIVE FOXes Co., LTD. What magic did this first-class designer use to breathe new life into Japanese traditional beauty?

What made you to participate in the project, Ms. Takase?

First Isetan contacted and showed me about 1,000 Ise katagami patterns. These are part of the 3,000 katagami of Edo period that Isetan owns. I had known about the katagami somehow but not much in detail. At ARTISAN I used to make place mats and coasters using Japanese paper treated with persimmon tannin. But when I saw the Ise katagami with my own eyes, I was shocked to learn they were so delicate and subtle. Since engraved lines are thinner than 1mm in width, raw silk is used for reinforcement so that the lines will not be cut off. Not only this, but layers of Japanese paper are used to fold the katagami inside! It is overwhelmingly hard and elaborate work, I believe.

You designed dresses and stretch pants for this project. Were the patterns you adopted selected from the katagami owned by Isetan?

Ise katagami are made from many patterns layered over and over again, so it is hard to figure out what the finished products may look like just looking at the katagami. Then I thought of referring to a very rare sample book, Isegata Printing only available in a few copies. Book 2 of Isegata Printing being only available in the National Diet Library, I visited there frequently. The three patterns I used for the project were selected from this book. The Ise katagami spread to every part of Japan from Ise (present-day Mie Prefecture) and there seem to be tons of them.

Isetan requested the design concept to be appropriate for the New Year. How did you pick the patterns?

Though Edo Komon (a single color mold dyeing) is the mainstream for Ise katagami, the patterns I have chosen are lovely and attractive and are perfect for the New Year. The three patterns are different from each other. The first one is a monotone pattern with different shades like an ink printing which uses peonies and chrysanthemums as motifs. The second one is a plain sketch with white cherry blossoms as a motif. It also uses black ink to accentuate the white petals. The third one is a geometric pattern often used in Edo Komon. It looks simple, but it is made by combining several patterns. I chose the third pattern for stretch pants. All of them were selected under the concept of “being fitted into contemporary fashion.”

How were you able to figure out patterns from the sample book? I find this intriguing.

I put a lot of effort into the design sketches. If we can’t make the quality as good as those days, it is meaningless to reproduce the patterns. First I made freehand copies using the sample book. I think the charm of Ise katagami consist in cutting marks engraved by chisels, so I was a stickler for details like the marks as well as the beauty of gradation.

It is said that Ise katagami is one of the hardest printing to make. Do you think so?

Yes, it is not suitable for mass production. The one with gradation for example, although I didn’t handle it myself, I heard that the timing to put colors into cloth was one of the hardest parts. To show the monotone gradation, it was important to manually process with extra care. Putting colors into the cloth at an opportune moment while communicating with it. To do this, high-level dyeing technique is required. I’m sure, even in the Edo period the quality of materials might have varied depending on the craftsmen’s skills. Anyway, it is surprising to know that there were such high-quality patterns and dyeing techniques.

Some of the dresses and pants you made are in black and some are in khaki, correct?

Shades of green are a signature color for 2013. Don’t you think they look very different in a different color, even if the pattern is the same? The designs in monotone color resemble the Taisho period, but the same designs in khaki vaguely have modern and casual taste, don’t they? It could be the characteristics of Ise katagami that different colors reveal different feel.

Some patterns can almost be called modern textile designs.

It is amazing that such creative patterns were produced in the period when embodiment was taken as a matter of course. The patterns are not old-fashioned or anything. And they were not professional artists but rank-and-file craftsmen that created the patterns. This also tells us how distinguished Japanese sense of beauty is.

What have you acquired from this experience?

Having learned about Japanese sense of beauty and Japanese traditional patterns which started in Edo period, I am overwhelmed. Thanks to this project, I was able to know about Ise katagami. From now on, I would like to challenge myself with new creations such as expressing the patterns in jacquard. In this sense, Ise katagami have given me a new assignment.

Kiyoko Takase of FIVE FOXes Co., Ltd. sublimated Ise katagami into contemporary fashion patterns teaming up with present-day craftsmen. What has driven her on to the reproduction is her respect toward the craftsmen who lived all the way through the stormy periods from Edo, Meiji, and Taisho to the beginning of Showa. Japanese sense of beauty in the past motivates the creativity of the designer living in a modern society.

【Event Information】
New Year Festival “Ise Katagami” – Japanese patterns
Dates: Until Jan. 17 (Thu.), 2013
Venue: Isetan Shinjuku Main Building 4F, Precious Mix at Authentic Gallery