Modern spin on traditional kimono patterns

Pagong founder Kazuaki Kameda's silk shawls and shirts are a modern take on traditional Japanese attire

Kazuaki Kameda wearing a Pagong shirt. Next to him is one of his silk-screen scarves. PHOTOS: PAGONG, TIFFANY GOH FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Traditional Japanese kimono patterns are structured, repetitive and symmetrical, but those of Kazuaki Kameda, founder of Kyoto-based fashion brand Pagong, are wild and uninhibited.

His modern spin on kimono patterns, which he uses on silk shawls, has drawn disapproval from his workers.

Kameda, who declines to reveal his age, recently launched a collection of silk shawls that he silk-screened and painted by hand, featuring an abstract interpretation of traditional Japanese motifs such as waves and clouds. Some of the shawls feature his calligraphy and abstract swirls meant to represent Pagong's signature motif - a bull's eye.

But he says he is undeterred by his workers' comments, adding that what matters is that his customers like and buy the shawls.

He tells The Straits Times through a translator: "They objected because it is not traditional - the style is modern and different from the traditional Japanese motifs that they are used to.

"In Kyoto's long tradition of yuzen, there is no such thing as free-hand drawing."

The Blue Dragon ($254), a women's top from Pagong which is available in Singapore. PHOTOS: PAGONG, TIFFANY GOH FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Yuzen is a centuries-old technique used by artisans in Kyoto to dye and print kimono fabric. It involves using stencils created by Japanese artists to silk-screen patterns by hand. The silk-screened fabric is then steamed to set the dye before it is washed and dried.

The married father of three was in Singapore recently for a pop-up exhibition at Palais Renaissance.

The showcase was organised by Patch Magic, the only boutique in Singapore to carry Pagong. Pagong is Tagalog for sea turtle, which represents longevity and good fortune in Japanese culture.

Kameda chose the Tagalog term for turtles as the creatures supposedly live in waters off the south of the Philippines, where he says the waters are the "clearest".

He had come to share the history of kimono-dyeing with shoppers, textile enthusiasts and members of the National Museum as well as fashion design and textile students from Lasalle College of the Arts.

He is also the chairman and third-generation owner of Kyoto- based company Kamedatomi, which was founded in 1919 and specialises in dyeing kimono fabric.

When he took over the company in 1984 after his father died, the business was ailing. Kimonos had fallen out of favour with the locals, who preferred Western-style clothing. The marked-up prices of kimonos as it passed through the hands of middlemen also contributed to its decline.

In a bid to resuscitate the business, which had by then whittled down to just eight employees from its original 120, Kameda founded Pagong in 2002 and started selling Hawaiian-style shirts silk-screened with traditional Japanese motifs.

He called it the Aloha shirt, as he was inspired by the Japanese people in Hawaii who repurposed their kimonos into shirts. It was an instant hit, with the initial batch of 3,000 shirts selling out that summer.

To this day, Pagong releases a new collection of Aloha shirts only every summer. For the rest of the year, it sells a range of womenswear that is also silk-screened with traditional Japanese motifs.

In Japan, the brand has three stores in Kyoto and one in Tokyo.

At Patch Magic in Palais Renaissance, prices for Pagong items range from $160 for a T-shirt to $650 for a silk shawl.

Kameda's children, aged 28 to 31, are involved in the family business. The eldest, a daughter, designs for the women's department, while his middle son looks after the online business and men's fashion department. Kameda is teaching his youngest son the printing and dyeing techniques of yuzen.

Kameda says: "I have loved drawing and painting from a young age and had always wanted to join the family business to keep the Japanese culture alive. All kimono prints are symbols of happiness, so I want to bring happiness to Singapore through my silk shawls."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 01, 2016, with the headline Modern spin on traditional kimono patterns. Subscribe