Chi-Ka in Dubai offers elegant, hand-crafted abayas inspired by the kimono

Taking months to complete, each robe is a one-off and can be worn as an abaya.

Nina and Nemanja Valjarevic, the Dubai-based duo who founded the brand.  Lee Hoagland / The National
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At Chi-Ka, a fashion venture founded last year by the Dubai-based husband-and-wife duo Nemanja and Nina Valjarevic, Japan meets Arabia through exclusively designed, handmade kimonos. Taking months to complete, each robe is a one-off and can be worn as an abaya. The Valjarevics, who have lived in the UAE for 23 years, tell The National why the kimono adapts perfectly to Khaleeji sensibilities of modesty and femininity.

What does Chi-Ka mean?

Chi-Ka is a combination of elements: earth, “chi” in Japanese, represents stability and confidence, while fire, “ka” in Japanese, represents drive and passion. At the same time, the name plays on the idea of a girl, or young woman – chica. Our emblem, the crane, is a symbol of good fortune and longevity.

How did it all start?

My partner and I both have a background in the arts. I have worked for various cultural organisations, and Nemanja is a filmmaker and photographer.

We initially went to Japan in search of fine art, and to explore a new culture. Needless to say, we fell in love with the country. Japan is a world apart. It is a fascinating, old-meets-new landscape and an endless source of inspiration.

While we were there, we recognised the similarities between traditional Japanese and Middle Eastern fashion. Despite the infinite variety of colours, ­textures and styles the Japanese kimonos come in, the original conservative and modest cut remains, hiding all but the basic form of the wearer, similar to that of the abaya. Tradition is woven into modern Japanese fashion as it is with Middle East fashion.

That said, we also couldn’t help but notice how the traditional kimono was being replaced by western fashion in Japan, and kimono-making was becoming a dying art. We decided to launch our brand as a way of introducing something new to the classic abaya, while at the same time contributing to keeping the art of kimono-making alive. We found a way to fuse the two garments to create the kimono-abaya. We have also introduced new ways of wearing the kimono, adapting it to the regional market.

Who are your customers?

Our customers are women who appreciate craftsmanship, attention to detail and quality. We hope our kimonos go to those that can truly appreciate them as works of art. Also, it takes a bold personality to wear some of our pieces, as they will attract attention, especially if they have a lot of painting or embroidery.

Where are the designs created?

We work with kimono specialists based in Japan to identify local artists and craftsmen, both well-established and new names. Kimono prices vary depending on which craftsman has worked on them.

Who picks the designs?

My partner and I decide on the drawings. First and foremost, we need to love the artwork. It’s an instinctive impulse. Second, we keep in mind regional ­cultural sensitivities and local tastes. Having spent 23 years in Dubai, it helps to choose what is right and what our customers need.

Many new trends are showing up in the abaya market. How is Chi-Ka staying on top of these changes?

We are bringing something highly unique to the market. Our kimonos and ­kimono-abayas are all one-of-a-kind, meticulously sewn, painted and ­embroidered by hand. Genuine kimonos are works of art, and each piece takes months to complete. Exclusivity has become a sought-after quality in the abaya market across the region and Chi-Ka outfits are exclusive in the sense that the design will never be repeated.

• The Chi-Ka collection ranges from Dh2,500 to Dh3,500 for the kimono-abayas, Dh1,500 to Dh3,000 for silk kimonos, and Dh650 for silk kimono jackets. For more details visit