Japan’s capital of cool (read: Kyoto) is best known for its Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines, Zen gardens, palaces, pagodas and parks. However, in northern Kyoto, you will find a small textile house that has a twelve-generation life span behind it and delivers to Dior, Chanel, Louis Vuitton and other major Paris designers. Interested? Please continue reading. HOSOO is a textile company founded in 1688 and it specializes in superior quality fabrics. Its silk mills are right out back and they produce exquisite kimono fabrics in the rich gold colours of a Klimt painting. It has a modest size showroom, but HOSOO proudly owns one of the most enviable portfolios in high-end interior and fashion design.
The company’s history can be traced back to the Kyoto silk industry of the sixth-century, and today they are widely acknowledged for exceptional skills for traditional Japanese three-dimensional weaving techniques and applying richly textured Nishijin weaving to contemporary design. Popularized by the nobles of the Imperial Courts of Kyoto and the samurai class, Nishijin is a special yarn dyeing and weaving technique developed over 1,200 years ago, used for garments such as kimonos. Nowadays, the kimono business still exists, but it is nothing compared to what it once was, says Masataka Hosoo, the company’s director. ‘The market for traditional kimonos has diminished by 90 percent,’ he says frankly. To survive in such shifting markets, Masataka realizes he needs to keep the mill on its toes. ‘In the crafts world there is a feeling that tradition is not enough. You need to diversify. You can’t rest,’ he says. Together, Masataka and his team are diversifying into three key new areas of business: art, fashion and interiors. HOSOO fabrics are globally available to furniture manufacturers, architects, interior designers and fashion designers through House of HOSOO, the company’s showroom and an office located in Kyoto.
HOSOO fabrics are designed and developed in a close collaboration with world-acclaimed designers using only premium materials such as silk and washi paper produced by artisan craftspeople from Kyoto. Washi is a style of paper that was first made in Japan. Washi is commonly made using fibers from the bark of the gampi tree, the mitsumata shrub (Edgeworthia chrysantha), or the paper mulberry, but can also be made using bamboo, hemp, rice and wheat. The word washi comes from wa- ‘Japanese’ and shi- ‘paper’, and the term is used to describe paper made by hand in the traditional manner. As a Japanese craft, it is registered as a UNESCO intangible cultural heritage. With a distinct focus on craft and quality, all textiles are manufactured at HOSOO’s Kyoto facility and workshop. The designs are international in look and style and offer a rich color palette, ranging from dual-tone to multi-tone and from subtle to vibrant. The mill has woven specialty textiles for Christian Dior, Chanel, Bvlgari and Graff. ‘We have probably worked on 40 to 50 Chanel stores and, for Dior, we have made fabrics for 19 interiors’, explains Masataka. HOSOO’s work for fashion houses is due, in part, to their longstanding relationship with architect Peter Marino who has designed luxury flagships across the world and worked with the mill since 2008. ‘I like the modernity of the colour mixes,” says Marino. ‘They always come out looking like a modern painting.’
Although HOSOO is a world renown company, it employs only ten craftsmen who vary from young fashion school graduates to the mechanical engineer who mans the machines. Their most senior technician has completed ten years of training since the designing and programming represent the most complicated part of their business. On a small screen, graphic dots and crosses denote a pattern, which is coming to life on one of the looms, millimeter by millimeter. All the software has been custom developed for machines and Masataka’s team are as much a part of the design process as they are the manufacturing. The seasonal motifs that are customary in classical kimono designs still provide inspiration. They have both tradition and innovation on their side, and a very secured place on the market. Extra note: Each of the five machines in HOSOO produces only 4-5 m of fabric per day as the process is so complex. Minimum orders are 20 m. In case you were wondering, their textiles are very expensive- 30,600 yen (257 euros) per m2 at the 15 cm width. However, mass production is certainly not their aim.
To utterly and thoroughly fall in love with HOSOO, check out their promotional videos bellow!
Photo and video credit: HOSOO