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ichinomiya, japan | december 2023

There are a number of ways that a certain fabric might find its way to me. Often the trajectory is unique, intertwining different lives and circumstances to find its way into my hands. I wanted to share a bit of backstory on how this spring's striped linen came to be. 

Tucked away in an inconspicuous corner of Ichinomiya, a town in Aichi Prefecture, Japan, a living legend continues to devote his life to textile design and production. Taniguchi San is 83 years young. His textile studies began in high school, and have led him on a lifelong journey - a sixty year career designing and producing exquisite original fabrics.

Below, you can see one of the multiple swatch libraries cataloguing his work over six decades. In one room I spent hours just to scratch the surface of his archive, reviewing each swatch - artifacts representing countless hours of research and development all in the name of turning ideas into reality.

Taniguchi San has developed fabrics for some of Japan's most renowned designers, in addition to devoting energy to his own inventions in cloth. Today he continues with the same vitality and passion I imagine has been fueling his work all these years. On the day we visited, he was excited to review some new kakishibu (fermented persimmon) yarn dye tests. His dedication and curiosity is infectious and inspiring.

Starting with a swatch he developed in the 1990s, I asked if we could rework the scale of the stripe. Maybe thirty years ago, small weaving mills wouldn't mind making a few test meters for free as the industry was strong and successful then. Over the years, as mills close and maintaining a business rooted in craft becomes increasingly difficult, it's no longer viable for them to weave a few meters to test out multiple design options.  Producing a sample would take time, money, and requires a lot of the same setup work as bulk production. So with this request, or any other like it, I'm pushed to have confidence in my intuition. 

When we received the first sample roll of the stripe back in May of last year I was excited to see this little gamble arrive, and was very pleased with the results. Sometimes the technical aspects of what makes a fabric special can be described, but for the most part it still seems like alchemy to me. I think one of the key ingredients in this cloth was Taniguchi's choice of a brown weft yarn - which hides subtly behind the red, navy and grey vertical stripes in the warp. The cloth possesses a warmth and a slight irregularity to the colors. When the alchemy is successful, the sum is greater than the parts and something beautiful is created.

The base linen chosen for the yarn is from France. It is robust, not something flimsy that might last one summer and develop holes in the elbows. On the contrary this fabric starts off a little on the heavier side for shirting, but with washing and wear, it softens and drapes more and crinkles less. Sometimes I choose textiles for their immediate feel, but other times, like with this cloth, I am excited by its future and how it will develop with use. That can be a hard point to communicate but one that's important to me - that the feeling of a garment today will evolve over time and grow into something even better.