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Inspired by the Old Capital
Interview with a Designer Who Create ''Wearable Art'' from Kyoto's Celebrated Artisanal Practices

KVG: What is your impression of Kyoto?

June: Kyoto is one of my favorite cities in the world, it is overflowing with culture, art and hidden gems. The first time I travelled to Kyoto was magical, Arashiyama left a very special moment in my heart. Its natural beauty; trees, waters and overall scenery, was quite breathtaking. I think that Kyoto should be very proud of its heritage and quiet beauty.

In most places we visit as a tourist, we take something material away to remember the experience, however, with Kyoto, a lasting feeling is imparted that people will treasure in their hearts forever.

KVG: From the view of a designer from Hong Kong, what is the most appealing point about Kyoto for you?

June: I love the treasure hunt offered up by Kyoto's artisans and crafts. There is always a chance that I will find something that I haven't ever seen before, but it is all down to luck. This is fun for me because I enjoy the journey and when the opportunity arises to work with local artists, I take it very seriously because I know it is rare.

I have learnt that the history of each craft is sentimental, most creators have grown and been surrounded by their craft since a young age. I love to hear their stories and the little things that inspire them since I believe those are the moments that spark real connections.

The owner told June the era of each swatch of fabric she picked out, about the different weaves, gold foil, the meanings behind each symbol, how she acquired the fabrics and so many more stories.

Through conversation I’m inspired to create and incorporate ideas to start my design process. Being exposed to other creative processes, how these craftspeople create their own art, their dedication, is also a big part of my own process.

We have designed the ''Obi Bow'' based on our travels around Gion, Kyoto (one of the geiko/maiko districts). I visited a vintage shop and the owner was so nice, she told me the era of each swatch of fabric I picked out, about the different weaves, gold foil, the meanings behind each symbol, how she acquired the fabrics and so many more stories. It really inspired me to create and share what I have learnt from her through my products and design.

A kimono shop June found in Gion -a hidden gem inheriting the tradition of Obi tying.

After this meeting I organized to attend a class for learning to tie kimono. The obi-tying master sparked yet more inspiration into my studies of the craft. She shared with me that the traditions are being lost and that my interests and what I was planning to do inspired her too. I learnt from her that the Japanese believe that ''asymmetry is beauty'' when it comes to obi tying.

This was the basis for creating our campaign photos of the Obi Bow. We asked the world's top gymnastics elite to perform for us upside down, inspiring in the campaign the feeling that irregularity, movement and asymmetry can be found in tradition.

KVG: What are your favorite things to do in Kyoto and why?

Campaign photos of the Obi Bow: The world's top gymnastics elite to perform upside down inspiring the feeling that irregularity, movement and asymmetry can be found in traditions.

June: In a previous visit to Kyoto, I was privileged enough to stay at Hoshinoya. The entire experience was excellent. Of course, it was located in my favorite place on earth, Arashiyama! During our stay, we visited their restaurant and I was able to try something that I had never had before; a certain fish dish in which the chef fried the scales of the skin to create an incredibly delicate texture and crispness that was like nothing I’ve ever tasted. Usually the scales are removed as they are considered inedible, so I particularly applaud the ingenuity of the chef for using exceptional techniques to turn something we regard as useless into something so tasty. I think this is another example how carefully, thoughtfully and with pure sophistication that people in Kyoto prepare for something, no matter if it is culinary, culturally or design-related.

KVG: How has Kyoto inspired your creativity?

June: After visiting different craftspeople at their workshops, I have learnt the process of how they micro-manage each stage of their process and the steps they have gone through to achieve their beautiful results. If I could, I would love to join the artists at their workshop to experiment with new materials, push my imagination and create something that is completely without boundaries.

It would be a dream to collaborate with many of them. I hope that this reimagination of traditional art forms will spark joy in modern day society, both within and outside of Japan. I mentioned that some Japanese art forms are hidden gems, many of which are based on luck to find, but maybe these uncut gems, with just a little adaptation, will allow their natural beauty to shine.

I am amazed at the culture and preservation of heritage that still continues in Japan. I truly and deeply appreciate the effort of these artisans and offer my upmost gratitude to them for allowing me to see their process and share their story with me. I am leaving Kyoto with already a few collaborations in mind and I can't wait to share them with those that will really appreciate them.

June Kimberly Lau
From Hong Kong

June Kimberly Lau from Hong Kong is one of the leading product designers from the area. In 2016, June founded Novel Fineries, a brand built on telling the stories of dying art forms from around the world for the purpose of revitalizing heritage art forms into modern day wearable art pieces (www.novelfineries.com). She received the prestigious Design for Asia award in 2016 and was chosen to represent Hong Kong at the SS17 Paris fashion week.

June's unique approach and passion for artisanal heritage, naturally, drew her heart to Kyoto, the capital of Japanese artisanship and craftsmanship. What has she discovered in Kyoto and how has she incorporated inspirations from the city into her new creations?


Two sides of the bow comes together, just like two tying the knot
Whilst in Kyoto, June found a well-kept secret, a fabric vault hidden beneath the grounds of Gion. The vault contained never worn antique kimono fabric that had been hand woven and painted over one hundred years ago. Each fabric swatch is unique meaning there is only a single meter of each piece in existence.

Kimono and obi tying is a heritage art form in Japanese culture. June has curated a story that breathes life into the ancient fabric - that is her OBI BOW series: Each piece is pre-tied in traditional obi format for a contemporary take on a bow tie. The two sides of the bow come together by tying a knot in between, much like two in love sharing their symbolic vows of a lasting unity. It is about two ''tying the knot'' which symbolizes unbreakable pledges in their future together.