> And thud. I’m back down to earth. After the celebrity hum-drum of Los Angeles, I’m on surer footing now that I’m back in Florence for Pitti Uomo. I haven’t attended for two seasons and it’s reassuring that here in this behemothic menswear tradeshow, you’ll always be able to find stands that sell Princes of Wales checked suits with fabrics sourced from the finest of Italian mills, shoes crafted in the Pietmont mountains and handknits from Scotland. In other words, craft and tradition will always matter in this world and the shifts in terms of seasonality are subtler than the roller coaster world of high fashion. I quite enjoy the hunt for the special something in amongst the stacks of suit, denim and extreme sportswear brands that show at Pitti, which I’m ill-equipped to write about.
Day one yielded Suzusan. It was their video (shown above) playing on an iPad, which caught my eye. Japanese grannies sitting around twisting and knotting fabric, ready to by dyed, otherwise known as the ancient technique of shibori. Great! Right up my street…
Hiroyuki Murase is the fifth generation of the Murase family, based in Arimatsu, Nagoya in Japan. There were once thousands of shibori artisans in Arimatsu, where shibori has been practised for over 400 years and became world-renowned for its high quality shibori textiles. Every family will have their own specific techniques and the Murase family founded the Suzusan business over a century ago, and are one of the dwindling shibori houses left in Arimatsu. Their shibori prowess hasn’t gone unnoticed by the fashion world. The likes of Dior, Junya Watanabe and Calvin Klein have commissioned Suzusan for fabrics. As seen in the Dior couture A/W 13-4 collection, the Murase family specialises in a shibori technique where the structural shape of the pointy “knots” are retained so that the surface is three-dimensional, puckered and almost “alive” in its appearance.
Hiroyuki, learning from his father Hiroshi Murase – a bona fide shibori master – and the other artisans in his hometown, has now spread his wings to take the family business to a more accessible and contemporary level. Having studied fine art in Surrey, he went on to set up a Suzusan arm in Germany in 2008, designing a ready to wear collection of scarves and sweaters, as well as a shibori lampshade collection called Luminaires, that utilise the techniques of his family in a way that can be worn and carried over into the 21st century. Hiroyuki balances preservation with innovation deftly to prevent his family tradition from drifting into oblivion.
“My entire childhood, I was surrounded by shibori artisans. Whenever I would visit their workshops, they let me play with their tools while watching them work. They drew patterns, stitched, dyed and unraveled. Skillfully they led their tools and fingers across the fabric, their hands were dancing with the textiles. Time always seemed to pass slower around them. Untouched by any hustle, they would work with greatest diligence, taking one step at a time. Nowadays, twenty years later, I work with the same tools, some of them given to me by the artisans I spent my childhood around. Countless fingerprints mark the old tools, reminding me of them and the values they stand for.
I used to think there were four elements to creating something. The first being skill, then knowledge, experience and finally a sense of beauty. Not until later in life did I realise there was a fifth element: “love”. We cannot produce large quantities. We try out new things, sometimes we succeed, other times we fail. Everything we produce is diligently made by hand, in our fast paced society. So if you wonder why I do what I do, I say: Because I love to create. Too many of the products nowadays are made without those 5 elements. But I believe in this day and age there has to be someone who passionately creates by hand. I hope you will be able to feel our values in our products. Every piece is unique, every surface feels different. Out of time, skill, knowledge, experience, our sense of beauty and love we create forms, colours and patterns.”
Here are a few sneak peeks at Suzusan’s A/W 15-6 collection, designed in Germany by Hiroyuki. The range includes beautifully dyed wool scarfs in varying yarns, taking shibori out of its traditional cotton and silk context. Suzusan’s dyeing techniques are also applied to cashmere jumpers in subtle patterns that go against the grain of the familiar circular patterns. So much of Pitti can seem like they’re piddling you craft for the pure sake of craft. There’s no disputing that Hiroyuki and his family’s traditions deserve the attention of an audience beyond textile nerds and nostalgia-buffs.