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Published June 13th 2019
Hidden gem showcases Japanese vintage garments
Exquisitely crafted Japanese kimonos, jackets and accessories can be found in a tiny retail outlet in Paddington's iconic Empire Revival (formerly Paddington Antique Centre). The store is aptly named "From Japan Only" and has an extensive range of vintage Japanese wares within its few square metres of space.
Racks of men's and women's kimonos at From Japan Only. Photo by author.
Clothes racks are bulging with beautifully handmade vintage kimonos and jackets for women, richly coloured wedding kimonos, men's kimonos in deep indigo hues, and dresses and culottes upcycled from old kimonos. Hanging from above are delicate paper lanterns and pretty parasols. On the shelves, there are beaded and brocade purses from Saga prefecture, hakataori obis (sashes) from Fukuoka prefecture, kokeshi wooden dolls, fold-up fans, vintage toy figures, and grotesque wooden masks called omen. A glass cabinet displays both new and vintage items — lacquered hairpins, hair ornaments, handmade jewellery, and pottery fired in a wood kiln. The pottery items are made by Tomoko, an artisan in Japan. Amongst her works are miniature bud vases which have made a comeback in apartment therapy decor.
Collectible vintage dolls are part of the eclectic collection. Photo by author.
Owner Mikiko Inoue gave me some insight into the various types of Japanese clothing she had for sale. There were nagajuban (women's undergarment), hoari (women's kimono jacket), yukata (summer kimono made of cotton), uchikake (wedding kimono), and funeral kimono (all black and embellished with a family crest).
There were many ways that the fabrics were made — for example, shibori, which is a form of tie-dying to create a very fine pattern. Another was a process of pre-dyeing silk threads to create Meisen kimonos that were popular during the 1920s-30s and influenced by the art decor movement. Highly prized Yuzen kimonos went through a particularly complicated regime of 18 processes, each step done by a different specialised artisan. These include designing, weaving, steaming, cutting, basting, drawing, applying starch, ironing, adding gold, embroidering, right to the final inspection of the garment.
Example of a Meisen kimono pattern. Photo by author.
What struck me the most about this shop was the amazing provenance behind the various items. Mikiko made it especially meaningful with her explanations about the craftsmanship and history.
Some of the kimonos were between 80-100 years old and others had been commissioned to have a family crest embroidered onto the fabric. Kimonos and obis have grades of craftsmanship that affect the value. A new handmade kimono can easily cost $10,000 whereas vintage kimonos at From Japan Only are priced between $29-$250, with most priced under $100.
Mikiko said that her grandmother always wore a kimono and had her hair neatly pinned up. However, times have changed and the kimono is no longer part of everyday dress in Japan. Wearing a kimono is also a skill that has to be formally learnt and she said the younger generation has little interest in it.
Mikiko became fascinated with Japanese antiques as a teenager when she frequented the bustling Toji and Kitano Tenmangu antique markets in Kyoto. Her knowledge and keen eye for Japanese antiques have helped her curate an eclectic collection of quality Japanese-made wares for her shop.
A florist by trade, Mikiko has over 20 years' experience creating floral arrangements for corporates and the rich and famous like music celebrity Alicia Keys and first African-American billionaire Robert L Johnson, founder of Black Entertainment Television. The floristry work took Mikiko abroad from Japan to the US, Canada, Bermuda and then to Australia in 2014.
Mikiko at her Kent Florist store, also in Paddington's Empire Revival retail centre. Photo by author.
Within the Empire Revival complex, Mikiko has another business, Kent Florist. It sells fresh and artificial flowers, kokedama (plants grown in a moss ball), ikebana arrangements, preserved herbarium plants, and miniature gardens. Mikiko holds regular workshops on all these floral art forms as well how to create a terrarium. Details can be found at www.kent-florist.com. Bookings are made through Eventbrite and classes are held at Mappins Nursery and Aquarium in West End.