As Madonna used to sing, “We are living in a material world.” And it’s a beautiful one, where a 72-year-old Japanese textile artist shows off his Old World edge, a bridal designer takes special care with lacework and a faux-suede fabric goes fashion-forward.
New York — Design is in Jun-ichi Arai’s blood. The 72-year-old Japanese textile artist was taught to weave as a young boy, and he has been creating fabrics for the past 50 years. A collection of his works is on display at Gallery Gen in TriBeCa through May 15.
“Mr. Arai is one of Japan’s most revered living artists, and it has been years since his work has been seen in America,” says Masako Dempo, co-owner of Gallery Gen with her husband, Yoshiaki Yuki. “We are extremely honored that he has chosen our gallery to present his newest pieces.”
Arai is well known in the textiles industry, having created wildly inventive fabrics that have proved a rich resource to fashion designers. In fact, it was Issey Miyake who first suggested that Arai display his work separately from the clothes. “[Miyake] told me, ‘When I create clothing using your fabrics, each piece’s explicit character comes to the forefront,’ ” Arai recalls. “ ‘Therefore, my clothing is not really my clothing, but the cloth of Jun-ichi Arai. Why don’t you hold your own show which represents your work?’ ”
Arai opened Nuno, a textile gallery shop, in Tokyo in 1984, and started to experiment with formats other than the apparel looks that had become his trademark, most notably a two-toned, double-faced cloth with different patterns on each side.
One of Arai’s latest pieces, finished just days before the exhibit at Gallery Gen opened, is almost neon-like in tone, featuring metallic shiboris, a traditional Japanese dyeing process. It is a perfect example of Arai’s philosophy of mixing old techniques with modern aesthetics. “As the son of an Obi shopkeeper,” he says, “there were always lots of shiny threads around me, especially gold and silver threads. Expressions of brightness have been in my subconscious from early childhood, and are still there today.”
Arai translates those “expressions of brightness” into one-of-a-kind finished pieces made of stainless steel, part of his private collection that is for exhibition only. Garments such as vests, throws and dresses are woven from the metal and welded together. Different colors in the metal are achieved through a heat process, not dye. Also on display at Galley Gen is one of Arai’s favorite pieces: a pleated fabric made from silver and an aluminum/polyphenylene sulfide that makes the garment fireproof.
Arai finds such melding of the visual, tactile and technical compelling. “The process before the fabric becomes visible — especially while I am creating something in my imagination — is my favorite part,” he says.
— Daniela Gilbert
It may be cozy to the touch, but Ultrasuede isn’t getting soft on fashion. Instead, its maker is looking to return the famous fake to the trendy heights it enjoyed back in the glory days of Halston. To wit, Toray Ultrasuede’s European Collection for spring-summer 2005 (produced through Toray’s Milan-based partner, Alcantara) offers several high-profile textures; as well as a muted color group with a vintage feel. Among the notable textures, lasered geometrics mimic fish scales, foil treatments add dimension to abstract florals and retro graphics and raised laminated looks create a water-drop effect. In addition, tribal themes such as embroidered zigzag rectangles and a tattoo pattern deliver an au courant artsiness. Designer Mary Jane Marcasiano initially sampled some of the lasered looks for costumes she’s creating for Dance Brazil and ended up including them in designs for her spring 2005 collection. “I love the movement the lasered fabric creates,” she says. “It gives an incredible surface texture and is a great example of the perfect combination between a provocatively open fabric that is still really wearable.”
Of the Cloth
During the New York bridal market in April, designer Pat Kerr was musing about her fascination with lace. “I like to think of spiders as the first makers of lace,” she said. “Handmade lace is a luxury of time we will never have again in our fast-paced world. There is a special allure and charm to it that no other fabric has. It possesses a wealth of nostalgia.”
Kerr is one of the few designers who incorporates vintage lace into her bridal gowns, making them one-of-a-kind pieces. Her work underscores the fact that handmade lace is a dying art form, slowly being replaced by machine-made, factory varieties.
Nestled in her suite at the Carlyle Hotel, she presents a selection of her gowns, some featuring segments of Edwardian and Victorian laces. “Here is my mother-of-pearl gown,” she says in her easy Southern drawl, “a great example of early Victorian pearlwork.” Kerr refers to an ivory tea-length dress with swirls of intricate pearl beading and circles of mother-of-pearl dangling gracefully throughout the skirt. Next, she shows a gown made with English “cameo” lace from the 1890s and a long Battenberg lace coat. “Laces,” she notes, “are named after their regions of origin. My favorites are ‘Duchesse’ from Belgium; ‘Honiton’ from South England, and ‘Carrickmacross’ from Ireland,” which was used on Princess Diana’s wedding gown.
Growing up in Savannah, Tenn., Kerr found the local shopping possibilities limited, and as an adolescent started to design her own clothes, which she had a seamstress produce. It was her mother who recognized and nurtured Kerr’s creative side by teaching her to embroider on linens. “She never said no to an idea I had,” Kerr says. “She gave me immense freedom to create.”
But it wasn’t until she was 18, when she traveled to Hong Kong, that Kerr’s true passion for textiles unfolded. She fell in love with the beautiful embroideries she found there, and started looking for richly crafted ceremonial robes and tablecloths.
In 1979, Kerr started her bridal business, designing gowns made from a mixture of her vintage finds and newer materials. By this time she had married, moved to London and developed friends in the textile departments at Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips, who kept her informed of European estate sales, where she mined textiles voraciously, as she did during her extensive travels. Eventually, she worked these into her bridal gowns and later, into children’s clothing and eveningwear. Kerr’s novel take on lace has cemented her reputation for creating unique gowns with pieces, literally, of history.
“Lace is a lost art form, especially the type of laces that Pat has,” says Joan Kaner, senior vice president and fashion director of Neiman Marcus, of Kerr’s pieces. “There’s an emotional reaction that goes along with her one-of-a-kind pieces. They’re very special.”
— Brooke Magnaghi