It’s spring cleaning time for Brooklyn-based atelier Merlette.
In honor of Earth Day, founder Marina Cortbawi joined forces with Kurozome Rewear, an initiative launched by Kyoto Montsuki Co., to upcycle unsold pieces from her archive. Using Montsuki’s Shinkuro method of black dye, the capsule collection reimagines 25 limited-edition styles in fashion’s favorite neutral.
“I have been using black dyeing to upcycle pieces in my personal wardrobe and interesting vintage pieces for years,” Cortbawi said. “I love seeing how the black dye overtakes each fabric and design detail.”
Black dye was first used to create the Kuro Montsuki — a formal kimono worn by the samurai that dates back to Japan’s Edo period. The deepest shades were relegated to members of the highest status, and Montsuki Co. has pursued true black since it was established in 1915. Through its Rewear program, black dye has gained traction in the West as the fashion industry grows more conscious of its environmental footprint and explores new ways to limit waste.
Each piece in the Merlette capsule is tinctured with black oxide multiple times, laying out in the sun between each soak to prevent fading and discoloration. This rigorous process ensures Cortbawi’s eyelet tops, smocked skirts and embroidered totes are physically and aesthetically timeless.
Predilection for certain colors and prints may change with the season, but as any designer can attest, black is forever.
When asked about her favorite item from the collection, Cortbawi chose a tiered dress named the Zuma. “It was previously all turquoise, and I love how the zipper is a little pop of color where the dye didn’t take,” she said.
Merlette garments were first included in Rewear’s 2021 debut at the Isetan Shinjuku department store in Tokyo. After seeing how its artisans were able to recontextualize her work, Cortbawi immediately felt a kinship.
“My own aesthetic is about simplicity and subtle, intricate details, especially handwork, which is appreciated in Japanese textile tradition,” she said. “Like us, Kurozome has a deep appreciation of small details in clothing that make a garment special.”
Coming full circle, Isetan will now support the collaboration with a pop-up shop. To keep in line with Merlette and Rewear’s shared passion for sustainability, it will not only offer customers new clothes, but also encourage them to bring in old ones to undergo the black dye treatment.
“Upcycling clothes you already own, or purchasing an upcycled piece, is an important process as it teaches us to be resourceful and to place a new value on our used or worn clothes and avoid them ending up in landfill,” Cortbawi said.
The Merlette and Kurozome Rewear capsule collection is available to shop at Isetan Shinjuku and on merlettenyc.com. Prices range from $200 to $500.