Isetan Mitsukoshi Holdings launched its “Japan Senses” campaign in 2011 to liven up Japan. The campaign aims to bring producers and consumers together.

Japan Senses is being carried out for the fourth time, and is currently held at Isetan Shinjuku until Apr 15. One of the highlights of this year’s campaign is the “Aomori Ai,” a project introducing traditional aizome (indigo dye) products in collaboration with Japanese fashion brands. A total of 16 brands designed men’s items using indigo dyes from Aomori prefecture. We interviewed designer Yasuhiro Mihara of Miharayasuhiro, one of the brands participating in the project.

- What were your thoughts when you first heard about the project?

At the time, we’d just presented our 2014 SS collection using the natural dye SUKUMO, which is made from indigo. Though the project interested me, the potentiality of indigo was uncertain. It is easy to say that it is just a dye in blue color, but the process of producing various shades of blue, for one thing, is demanding. Besides, dyeing fabric and leather are completely separate matters. Since I started my career as shoe designer, I focused on shoes this time. Dyeing shoes with indigo turned out to be quite challenging.

- Your intention was to take on a difficult task?

It defeats the purpose of the projects if the collaboration of traditional crafts and designers end as a one-time attempt to create a new style of craft. With the participation of the designers, new techniques should be developed to create new items, which reach out to the hearts of the producers. Traditions cannot continue into the future without these attempts. This is why I took on the new challenge of dyeing leather with indigo.

- Which parts of the creation process were difficult?

For my 2014 SS collection, I used materials which were already dyed in indigo, and so it was easier for me to imagine the finished designs. This time, I soaked the finished shoes into the dye. Since I used different types of leather for the upper and sole in one design, I was thrilled to see what the finish would be like for both parts. When the oil in the leather dried up after being dyed, I thought that I had failed…By putting the shoes in a wooden frame and polishing the surface with cream, I was able to bring back the smooth texture of leather.

- How do you feel about the finished products?

I think the shoes give off the warmth of the people that helped to make them. The sole is hand-sewn and finished with hammering. The design is simple, but there is a charm that comes with it. I attempted to create a blue color with transparency for two reasons. The first is that I wanted the wearer to enjoy the change in color as time passes. The second, I imagined many people styling the shoes with jeans, and so I dyed the shoes twice to create a lighter shade of blue. I’m pleased with the finish, and I was also able to realize the possibilities of indigo dye.

To be continued into 2/2.