For generations, Kyoto’s textile families have been producing fabrics with one thing in common. They’re the blackest blacks on the planet.
As far back as the 10th century Japan, black cloth has been associated with nobility, often worn by Japan’s warrior classes. Married women would routinely dye their teeth black in a process known as ohaguro, as black also became a symbol of beauty. The color would be donned by Japanese monks as a sign of freedom from any carnal desires (absence), while judges don black robes as a symbol of fairness, “as black cannot be dyed any other colors.”
Today, Kyoto’s dyeing tradition is regulated and tight knit, with a centralized Kyoto Dyeing Association that certifies on a select number of dyers as Masters Craftsman, the highest honor. Out of roughly 1,612 current employees working at 266 dyeing firms, only 79 are certified Masters.
The process involves experimental under dyes of red or indigo. Light affects how we see blacks, and these layers create depths that help the black appear darker and richer.
Dye houses are traditionally family run, with each possessing its own trademark family crest. These crests are hand painted on the bolts of fabrics once the dyeing and processing is complete.
Many of these dye houses have expanded beyond just dyeing fabrics since the demand for traditional Japanese garments has declined, working with fashion companies worldwide and even creating their own lines. One of the more famous brands to emerge from the Kyoto Dye sector is TEMAS, which carries a complete house line of shirts, denim, bags and shoes.
TEMAS has even done collaborations with brands such as Lacoste, creating an ultra black overdyed polo, complete with a blacked out Alligator logo.
Japan: Where you can get a magazine that teaches you how to revive a vintage MA-1 Jacket, fix your motorcycle and clean your Rolex watches.
“It was against this background that a new movement of street fashion and culture began to gather momentum. Centered around a small area of Harajuku, a rag-tag collection of young designers and retailers began to make their mark on Tokyo’s landscape of fashion and culture. Known by Japanese fashion press as the “Ura-Harajuku movement”, the group was spearheaded by designers, proprietors and cultural figureheads such as Hiroshi Fujiwara, Nigo (A Bathing Ape) and Takahashi Jun (Undercover). Through their proposal of a new concept of design and retail, one which centred on the notions of “identity” and “exclusivity”, the “Ura-Harajuku” movement was to have a profound influence on Tokyo fashion and youth culture.
According to SASQUATCHfabrix designer Yokoyama, “In those days, rather than fashion, the notion of “limited”, “deadstock” and “exclusive” were the real buzzwords. Through these rare items you could become part of a minority – a minority based on a high sense of style. Searching, collecting and completing were the things we adhered to, we were all totally enveloped in the mania for this.”
Fascinating article on the mens fashion movement in Tokyo in the 90s at LN-CC