Fashion fusion: Japan meets Arabia in kimono abaya collection launch

The Japanese designer Eriko Yamanashi's kimono abayas reflect the parallels between traditional Arab and Japanese dress: both are conservative, while reflecting their countries' traditions and culture.

Designer Eriko Yamanashi. Courtesy Les Foulards
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The fashion tastes of Arab and Japanese women are more closely aligned than it might seem. After all, both the abaya and the kimono are designed to be conservative, while reflecting their country’s culture and traditions.

Tokyo designer Eriko Yamanashi highlights these parallels in her newly launched range of kimono abayas, which are available now at Les Foulards boutique in The Dubai Mall.

“There are a number of similarities between the garments,” says Yamanashi. “The abaya is an irreplaceable piece of an Arab woman’s wardrobe, and so is a kimono in Japan. Both have evolved to adjust to modern fashionable trends, yet have retained the lineage and class that distinguishes them.

“In Japan, we hide the body with the kimono – we do not reveal too much and prefer to conceal it. The same is true of the abaya, where skin is not shown. There’s beauty in covering up.’

The Jewyn by Eriko collection, which features 15 ready-to-wear abayas and two couture pieces, has been made in partnership with Japanese textile company Tsukamoto. The dominant base colour is black, with embroidered lotus flowers and exotic blooms accenting collars, hems and sleeves. The silhouette is that of a modern, straight-line abaya, with Japanese elements including long kimono sleeves with generous pouches and bateau ­necklines.

“Fusing the abaya and kimono into one was no easy challenge,” says Yamanashi, “particularly as I wanted to retain the individuality of both. But it was worth the effort and the new look is elegant, trendy, fashionable and aesthetically pleasing.

“In short, the pieces are bespoke for a UAE woman who takes her wardrobe very seriously.”

Six months in the making, Yamanashi’s collection came about after she was approached by Emirati entrepreneur Amani Al Shamsi, owner of Les Foulards and the abaya brand Jeywn.

Yamanashi, who normally designs understated, elegant apparel lines in Tokyo, was keen to meld centuries of kimono history with trends in Arab ­modestwear.

“I was honoured to take up this challenge,” she says. “It’s been a stimulating and demanding process and I’m hoping this becomes a new trend in abaya fashion. “I’ve used traditional Japanese fabrics and I’ve taken away the obi belt, which would normally keep the kimono closer to the body. It’s also very common for us to wear layered garments underneath our kimonos, so I’ve incorporated that element into some abayas, too.”

In Japan, kimonos are commonly passed down from grandmothers, with girls receiving their first one at about the age of 3. They can be worn at any time of the year, but most frequently on formal occasions, such as New Year, weddings and tea ceremonies.

Traditionally, they are made from an entire bolt of fabric, such as silk, hemp or crepe, which is decorated with textile art, tie-dye, hand-embroidery or stencilled patterns.

Much like western fashion trends, kimono colours, motifs and prints reflect the four seasons. Cherry-blossom designs are popular during the spring, aquatic images denote summer, Japanese maples characterise ­autumn, and plum blossoms ­represent winter.

“We often use animal prints in our kimonos, but for this first collection of abayas I wanted to just focus on flowers for spring/summer 2017,” says Yamanashi. “Of course, I’ve also used a lot of black and, like the UAE with the abaya, the colour black is very important to us in Japan. So is gold and we use them both for formal ceremonies, even weddings.”

In Japan, kimonos can cost from Dh7,000 and Dh40,000. Pieces in the Jewyn by Eriko line range from Dh2,200 to Dh4,500.

“I’m not targeting Japanese ladies with this collection, I’m hoping that Emirati women will enjoy wearing the pieces,” Yamanashi says. “I would like to roll out my kimono abayas in other emirates, too, and might even be back next year to show at Arab Fashion Week.”

The Jewyn by Eriko range is available at Les Foulards, on the ground floor of The Dubai Mall