BY MAKIKO TAKAHASHI SENIOR STAFF WRITER
Yokohama "nassen" silk scarves designed by Kenzo Takada (Makiko Takahashi)
YOKOHAMA--Persuading fashion designer Kenzo Takada to help save an exquisite silk-dyeing technique called "Yokohama nassen" took a while, but the products of his collaboration with a scarf design studio here appear to be as beautiful as any that grace the catwalks of Paris.
The 30-year-old president of Yokohama Kobo studio, Hiroshi Koda, was anxious to save the traditional technique from fading into oblivion. He and a group of young people set up their studio last year to ensure that wouldn't happen.
The fruits of their efforts will blossom this month in a series of scarves made in collaboration with Takada.
Once home to myriad silk-scarf makers, Yokohama was in years gone by a major export gate for raw silk.
But with demand for fashion scarves on the wane, production declined and the nassen dyeing technique seemed to be on the verge of extinction.
Marketed as "Yokohama Kobo Collaborated by Kenzo Takada," the new line of scarves feature the delicate designs and bright colors typical of a Kenzo design.
Fluid, brilliant patterns of anemones, sunflowers and other flora are featured against clear backgrounds of yellow, green or other hues.
In each design, the hand-drawn stencils used in the nassen technique allow very fine lines to be printed with precision accuracy, while soft shades of color are applied by hand, one by one.
Other companies generally use only four or five steps during their dyeing procedures.
But Yokohama Kobo uses up to 15 steps to complete the dyeing of each scarf.
Hemstitching is done entirely by hand, using a distinctive process in which the needle is not pulled out from the silk until the entire line has been sewn.
When Takada was presented with the group's samples, he was amazed at the delicacy of the work, describing them as "rare." The designer agreed to help preserve this technique for future generations.
Koda came up with the idea to revive nassen dyeing about two and a half years ago. At the time, his father, who operated a scarf-processing plant, had made up his mind to shut down amid the prolonged economic slowdown and the fact that scarf designers were transferring production to China.
"I wanted to try something new that could revive Yokohama's 'monozukuri' (product-manufacturing) traditions with a staff of young people, rather than just let the plant close down," Koda said.
So he began designing new scarves. He asked Tofuku Sangyo Co., a silk-printing company in Tsuruoka city, Yamagata Prefecture, to do the printing. The company has a skilled work force of women in their 20s to 40s who are adept at printing silk.
But the most crucial aspect of scarf making is the design.
Koda singled out Takada. It took about a year for Koda to persuade the renowned designer to accept the commission.
The Kenzo collaboration line will include large scarves priced at 26,250 yen ($317) each, along with handkerchiefs and other items. The products will be available at some department stores from mid-February.
"We aspire to become like (the fashion-leader) Hermes, making products that will impress professional designers," Koda said.