LOS ANGELES — Weddings, funerals, tea services and rites of passage are typical occasions to wear kimonos in Japan.

The Los Angeles company, Tokyo Yamaki USA, is trying to convince American consumers that there are times when the traditional Japanese garments are appropriate. So far, it’s found that people will buy them for cocktail parties and gifts, while some decorators will use the traditional obi sashes as table runners.

“It’s totally different from the rag business,” said Steve Shinto, wholesale manager of the three-year-old Los Angeles office. “It brings a fresh perspective.”

The company dates back four generations in Kyoto, where it operates 65 retail stores, and also has access to mills in China and Japan, which prompted the company to launch a fabric wholesale business. The printed cotton, rayon and polyester fabrics, in vivid florals with red backdrops, geometrics and novelty patterns, such as the animals of the Oriental zodiac, have caught on with swimwear manufacturers, outerwear companies and contemporary designers, Shinto said.

The fabric business is a growing piece of the company. But the Tokyo Yamaki’s specialty is still in kimonos in silks, jacquards and sateens detailed with ornate florals, embroidery and hand painting. There are seascapes, birds in flight and metallic accents. Wholesale price points range from $25 to $375.

Shinto said the company has grown its kimono account base to 300 specialty accounts, consisting of mostly museums such as the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, Calif., and the Honolulu Academy of Art in Hawaii.

Tokyo Yamaki also operates three retail stores in the Los Angeles area, called Kimono-Ya, at the Santa Monica Place mall, the Westfield Shoppingtown Century City and in the lobby of the New Otani Hotel & Garden in downtown.


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