A beautiful cultural blend: African kimono
The contrasting landscapes of Japan and Africa may seem, literally, worlds apart. But they have been artfully united in a collaboration between an African designer and a traditional Japanese kimono-maker. Launched last month, Wafrica — Africa plus wa for Japan — has unveiled a range of kimono handcrafted in an array of African cotton fabrics that would seem to be a million miles from the subtle silks more commonly associated with traditional Japanese dress. Yet despite the orange comets and flashes of lightning tearing across a moss-green background, and the tribal swirls in colors that recall the sun-drenched African soil, the prints blend seamlessly into the kimono form before they surprise Japanese shoppers with their foreign origin.
The cultural cocktail is the brainchild of Serge Mouangue, a Tokyo-based concept- car designer for Nissan, who joined forces with Kururi, a Tokyo-based kimono- maker, to produce the traditional Japanese attire in 18 African prints sourced in markets from Nigeria to Senegal.
In the sedate confines of the Kururi store on Aoyama Dori, visitors are drawn to the bright outfits placed prominently in the window display.
“These kimono have vivid colors, and the impact is powerful,” says Izumi Ichikawa, one of the store assistants, who is immaculately clad in a more conventional pastel-hued piece. “People expect more neutral tones in kimono, but these attract younger, modern people who are looking for something different.”
“These color combinations are not found in traditional fabrics and are new to kimono,” adds Yoko Nagai, the merchandiser at Kururi, which has been selling kimono for 15 years. “And the printed wax cotton used in Wafrica kimono does not exist in traditional kimono materials.”
Such a lack of familiarity between materials and form strengthens the effect that Mouangue is seeking to create.
“I do not want the end result to belong to Africa, nor should it belong to Japan. It is not a ‘fusion,’ ” says Mouangue, who was born in Cameroon and grew up in Paris. “I want it to be something else. It should transcend the boundaries of both cultures. It is a third aesthetic.”
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