From 17th-century Japanese kimono maker to supplying the biggest fashion houses and luxury hotels with exquisite textiles today, Hosoo has found a way to retain its traditions while transforming into a contemporary brand in touch with the times. At a time when centuries-old craftsmanship is disappearing globally as we’re facing dropping consumer demand, highly-skilled artisans are becoming a rarefied species and the rise of globalized production has brought many traditional, craft-based companies close to extinction, the 334-year-old, family-run textile manufacturer is defiantly bucking this trend. Its success lies in continually reinventing itself without sacrificing its time-honored savoir-faire. What started as a traditional Kyoto-based kimono business has diversified into art, fashion and interiors. Its hand-spun, silk-based fabrics adorn Louis Vuitton, Hermès, Dior and Chanel boutiques thanks to American architect Peter Marino; decorate hotels such as Four Seasons Tokyo, Hyatt Regency Kyoto and Hôtel de Crillon in Paris; appear on Lady Gaga’s stage shoes designed by Masaya Kushino; and ornament Lexus luxury cars.
Today led by Masataka Hosoo, 12th generation of the founding family, Hosoo is credited with applying the highly-complex Nishijin yarn dyeing and weaving technique combining gold and silver washi paper shreds – beloved by Imperial Court nobles, the samurai class and high society – to contemporary design. There are over 20 steps involved in the production process of Nishijin fabrics, each carried out by master craftsmen who specialize in their respective metiers. Fourteen craftsmen work in Hosoo’s atelier, some recognized as Japanese Living National Treasures.
“Nishijin-ori has a history of more than 1,200 years, and throughout its history, it has faced many challenges ranging from feudal wars to changes in taste and affluence in society,” says Masataka Hosoo. “Other difficulties in the actual making of Nishijin-ori include the special materials needed for the highly complex weaving techniques employed. However, for me, making Nishijin-ori relevant in the modern age has been the greatest challenge. Even with the shift in people’s values today, I still believe that there is a place for Nishijin-ori. Through innovation, we continue to create products and experiences that overcome the challenges of modern lifestyles, tastes and needs, and work towards changing our mindset to adapt to the needs of our clients and society both in Japan and abroad.”
As the kimono market had been shrinking, Hosoo began to target the global luxury market with new textiles, and launched its first range of lifestyle products, ranging from bags to cushions, in 2019. Establishing a research and development department and an artist-in-residency program to initiate innovative technologies and gain new perspectives – always in the aim of creating textiles that embody beauty – it has experimented with altering conventional weaving structures to express sophisticated patterns, textures and crystal-like structures. Its exploration of “smart” fabrics that change color according to temperature or harden under ultraviolet light were showcased in its exhibition “Ambient Weaving” last year at Hosoo Gallery in its flagship store in Kyoto.
Masataka Hosoo describes why textiles evoke strong emotions in people, “Fabric has been used for more than 9,000 years, where mankind has had an affinity for its function and its form throughout the ages. The five senses not only trigger sensations and emotions in the brain, but also in the body itself. With the abundant visual information available to us via the web, somehow the other senses have been underwhelmed, which in turn feels lacking to varying degrees. There is an inherent feeling when we are able to use more of our five senses. In regard to textiles, having the opportunity to touch them makes a world of difference in the appreciation of the textile itself, the history behind it and the process of making it.”