About a year ago, I clipped a photo of a coat from a magazine. It was a warm, mousy gray, with bell sleeves that ended in a turned-back ruffled cuff and a double collar — one sharp and minimalist, standing up close to the neck, the other soft and wide, also ruffled, lying languorously against the shoulders and chest. I thought I would try and make a copy for myself, but mostly I just looked at the photo, trying to figure out how it was constructed. The designer, Akihiko Izukura, is more than a couturier; he creates all the handwoven textiles used in his designs, experimenting with ancient methods of felting, weaving, knitting, braiding, spinning, and dyeing. The more I looked at the coat, the less interested I was in the design. Instead I wondered, how was it made?
I might finally get an explanation when Izukura arrives in San Antonio at the end of the month for a weekend lecture and installation series at the Southwest School of Art and Craft.
Izukura, a “living national treasure” in his native Japan, embodies the world of Japanese textiles. His family, master silk weavers, have supplied kimono to the royal family for centuries. After joining the family business in the 1960s, Izukura spent decades researching, refining, and reviving ancient textile techniques, including a flat, complex form of braiding called karakumi that results in a symmetrical diamond pattern, a fabric he now uses in a signature line of dresses. Izukura’s marriage of the antique and the modern is best exemplified in his invention of the ceremony senshokudo (“the way of dyeing and weaving”). Similar to a Japanese tea ceremony, senshokudo is a ritualistic dyeing of cloth, in which each participant dips their fabric in the same dye, which gradually dilutes.
Izukura founded the ceremony as a reflection of his “zero-waste” philosophy and a way to honor natural fibers and textile processes. All of Izukura’s creations are made of natural fibers, especially silk, dyed with plants such as madder, cloves, onion skin, and cochineal. His dyeing technique is non-polluting. Many of his garments are engineered as they are woven, so there’s little to no additional material to cut and discard. Waste materials that do occur are recycled into other projects.
Although primarily a fashion designer, with no less than four different clothing lines in his native Japan and an international boutique following, Izukura is also a textile artist. His silk sculpture installations have been featured at the Round Tower Museum in Copenhagen and the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City, and his work is part of the permanent collection at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. His most-identified work is “eternal silk tube,” called Birth of a Yarn, a tunnel of continuous naturally dyed silk thread big enough to walk through.
During his far-too-short visit to San Antonio February 24 and 25, Izukura’s sculptures will be on display at the Navarro Campus of the Southwest School of Art and Craft. Izukura will offer a gallery talk and trunk show at 10 a.m. on February 24, and demonstrate senshokudo on February 25. For more information, see Swschool.org.
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