Why and how are Japonese fabrics different and remarkable?
First and foremost, I am an inconditional lover of Hermès fabrics. But I have to say that the Japanese fabrics are remarkable, but often unknown. What explains this post.
The textile has always had an important role in Japan. Traditionally, Japanese dyers and weavers work with silk, hemp, cotton, and ramie (a kind of nettle). The arts and crafts of textile improved for centuries, for the use of the Imperial court, aristocracy, theater, clergy, … and then urban population.
The textile industry has been one of the fist pillar of economical modernization of Japan, at the beginning of Meiji era (end of 19th century), with railways and mines. It was mainly the spinning of cotton, and the reeling of silk. The latter was weighting 30 to 40% of Japanese exports. Even Toyota comes out of it.
This quick summary already explains why Japan namely excel in cotton, silk and linen / hemp. And then later with synthetic materials.
So, what make Japanese fabrics so different?
- Firstly, and clearly, the richness and quality of colors.
- Dyeing is very complex and sophisticated. And Japanese are experts, especially in complex and neutral tints created by color mixture, and in getting closer to colors of nature.
- On a solid color fabric, this know-how gives more depth and durability to colors, with a high respect of the fiber; on a printed fabric, in addition to the depth, there will be a higher richness of the tints, higher precision, more nuances and shades, better gradients, etc.
- An anecdote: the arrival of Kenzo in the French fashion has been sort of revolution, precisely because of the colors and floral patterns. And this was in the early 70’s, cc. 50 years ago.
- The richness of prints
- In Asia, generally speaking, in addition to colors, there are illustrations, symbols, meanings, allegories, …. it’s true in handwriting, food, …. and fabrics. And finally, if Japanese excel in dyeing and weaving, it could be because there was a higher need or willingness to make beautiful and meaningful patterns.
- In Japan, fabrics are also a story, an emotion, an auspice, a symbol. Like dragonflies, which have the particularity to only fly forwards, and then express the courage of the one who moves ahead, whatever the circumstances;
- The richness of textures and sensations
- Generally speaking, my impression is that Japanese creates more spontaneouly in 3D, ie use texture to give more relief and increase the sensorial personality of their fabrics. I think here about crepes (Chirimen), gauze, dobby, damask, … though most of those techniques come from China or India.
- More concretely, Japanese fabrics often have a very nice touch-feel. For instance, they may use texture to give more relief to a pattern or have cotton looking like linen;
- The impression that’s better thought and executed, as a whole and in any details
- Between the original fiber and the final fabric, there are many steps, and the consistency of this workflow is very important. And one of the historical strength of Japanese industry has always been the quality of this linkage (keiretsu);
- In Japan, arts, crafts, design, aesthetics, symbols, functionalities … are parts of a same whole, and are inseparable. As an example, Japanese textile industry still has an importance part of manual work.
- The Japanese are known to be extremely demanding consumers; what permanently raises the quality of their production;
- There is a strong willingness to protect the industrial and crafted know-how. I suggest you to have a look at the list of Living National Treasures of Japan (craft), where textile is well represented.
Finally, that’s what and how is a Japanese fabric: very well made in all aspects, original, solid, durable, consistent, nice to wear, rich in colors, with a positive meaning.