Rose in Comme in Kyushu

August 16, 2015

by Gracia Ventus

If you think I'm done with talking about Japan, well you're quite mistaken. I have left the country some time ago, but if there's one thing I wouldn't stop gushing about to tired ears it's my trip to Kyushu. It's the big island at the southern end of Japan, in case you were wondering. A mere two hours by plane from Tokyo.

Comme des Garcons in Kyushu
Temple and Church: A clash of cultures in Hirado

I spent one of the days on an excursion to Hirado island in Nagasaki prefecture. It served as a port of call for the British, Portuguese and Dutch trading ships importing goods to Japan for several centuries. Needless to say, whenever the Europeans arrived, the missionaries were bound to follow. The first leader of the contingent was the Jesuit priest Frances Xavier - whose name can be found on churches all over Asia. Christianity flourished for decades, with the majority of the population in Nagasaki practicing the Catholic faith. Many churches can be found on the tiny island of Hirado alone, with distinct architectures in Portuguese and Gothic styles amongst some others.

Unfortunately the proselytism was discontinued in a violent manner. Three decades later, the Japanese warlord Hideyoshi Toyotomi began to persecute Christians out of fear and suspicion of the growing European power in Asia. Soon after death of Hideyoshi, Christianity was banned outright at the turn of the seventeenth century by the Tokugawa shogunate. It was during this time that Japan closed its doors to the outside world. Foreign clergies and missionaries were expulsed, while the Japanese were forced to return to Buddhism to show loyalty to their rulers or face execution. In order to identify the practicing Catholics, a method called Fumi-e was employed, whereby people were required to trample on a carving of Jesus and Mary. Nasty things awaited those who were reluctant to do so as it implied one's belief in Catholicism.

One would think that people had the sensibility to deny their Catholic faith by learning from Peter but nope (then again what do I know I'm a just simple heathen). Twenty six were crucified. Many more were sent to Nagasaki to be tortured and executed - some thrown into a volcano no less. The remaining Christians found various ways to mask their faith and fake their affiliation with Buddhism. One such example can be found in the sculptures of Mother Mary and Child which were made to resemble the Buddhist goddess Kannon, commonly known in Chinese as Guan Yin.

As an apostate of the Catholic Church, I am terribly grateful to be born into the age and culture in which I can practice any faith of my own choosing - science and pursuit of knowledge in my case. I am fully aware that there are pockets of populations worldwide who still face persecution for their beliefs/non-beliefs. However having read what Steven Pinker has put succinctly in his amazing 800-page book, faith-related persecutions seems to be on a downward trend. One can only hope that as the rate of literacy grows, logic and religious acceptance will prevail.

Comme des Garcons in Kyushu

Onwards to Kurokawa

The next day I took a three hour bus trip from Fukuoka to Kurokawa (Japanese for Black River) for my first onsen (hot spring) experience. It may sound tremendously long but the scenic view of the countryside along the way helped to pass the time rather quickly. Lush greenery and undulating hills bordered the road, occasionally giving way to a view of the sea in the distance. Despite approaching the middle of summer, the weather up the mountain was grey, chilly and damp but in a pleasant, non-English sort of way. Perfect for a good hot bath outdoors.

Comme des Garcons in Kyushu

Have you ever been to a place so foreign to your own environment it's hard to believe they exist?

While Hirado impressed me with its clashing traditional architecture, Kurokawa trumped that with the attempt in balancing nature and human existence. Yes it is a tourist destination for the locals. No it is not gaudy. The form of luxury presented on this mountain is subdued, tranquil and rustic, surrounded by beautiful forests that provide perpetual fresh air.

Comme des Garcons in KyushuComme des Garcons in Kyushu

I stayed in a beautiful ryokan called Shinmeikan, made possible thanks to a my Japanese-speaking friend who took great effort to arrange for the room (thank you again Cynthea, if you're reading this!). To get to the entrance one has to cross a bridge over a river. Fortunately I didn't have to hold my breath to pretend to be a spirit.

At this point I was traveling on my own. And frankly I doubt there was a better place to enjoy my solitude. As I sat by the window sipping a freshly made cup of green tea, with the comforting sounds of light drizzle hitting the ground and the deep yet gentle roar of the river as background music, I could actually feel all the nature-related, getting-away-from-the-city-life clichés washing over me.

Comme des Garcons in Kyushu

Since this is my first time staying in a hot spring inn, I cannot speak for all ryokans. But I shall speak for this one.

And it's going to be gushy.

First there were the baths. There were a few types of them at this inn. I started off with the most common one found in most inns - the gendered indoor bath which opened at three pm. Since I was there on a weekday during non-peak season a little before three, I scored the entire place to myself. In keeping with the traditions of the Japanese hot spring etiquette, one has to scrub oneself squeaky clean at the washing area, then walk over to the bath with a towel covering one's modesty. Brazen stride is rather frowned upon. Noone needs to see your swinging junk even if you're blessed more than others. Then step into the bath gingerly without letting the towel touch the water. Every precaution should be taken to ensure that the waters are not contaminated by foreign chemicals other than the what's left clinging on your body.

But I was alone. So to hell with modesty.

Shinmeikan also has an outdoor bath which one can reserve all to oneself for a forty minutes slot (see photograph above). Two hours after my first soak, it was time for another private bath. If that indoor bath was already a ten out of ten experience, this one was ten times better. Surrounded by the green foliage in a damp weather while soaking in a very hot stone bath all by myself, I can only think of two experiences equally blissful to this. One of them isn't suitable for general reading. The other would be watching a beautiful sunset over the ocean with a loved one.

While Shinmeikan does have an outdoor co-ed bath, I chose to soak in the cave bath the next morning at six instead. It was certainly a novel concept, somewhat a strange ethereal experience which I would do again. If anything it would serve as a great environment to write a post-apocalyptic novel. Personally I still prefer the private outdoor bath but I could certainly appreciate the amount of work that has been taken to create this magnificent corridor-like pool.

Comme des Garcons in Kyushu

One of the racial stereotypes I truly pander to would be my love for food. Good food gets me excited as much as great clothes. In many ryokans, a traditional kaiseki dinner (and equally delicious breakfast) is included in the lodging cost. In a typical kaiseki meal, food is served in small portions over many courses, such as the group of appetisers in the photo above. The main course itself, if one could call it that, consisted of different meats including horse which were served in piecemeal sizes. Despite the large variety of food, I was pleasantly full without feeling like I had overeaten. The staff attending to me was a chirpy girl who patiently described every single dish in unabashedly fluent English - a rarity in Japan, let alone in a rural area. I think I got a little bit more excited when she said I can ask for more rice and miso soup. If you found yourself staying in this inn I hope Shiori will be taking care of your meals.

There is something I absolutely must emphasise during my entire stay, and that is the level of service. While I am very much accustomed to the top notch standards of the Japanese service industry, there was apparently still room for me to be impressed. As soon as I removed my shoes at the entrance, someone stored them away in the cabinet, while placing the slippers by my feet. Clogs were provided if one wishes to explore the outdoors, again in a let-me-place-these-by-your-feet manner. When I went back to my room after dinner, I was rather amazed to find that my futon bed has been laid neatly on the tatami floor. And the next morning it was stashed away as I was having my breakfast. By then I wouldn't be surprised if someone told me house elves were real. Two staffs attended to my departure, Shiori included. I think I know what it feels like to be a dignitary now.

Comme des Garcons in Kyushu

As my holiday in Japan came to its end I grew less concerned about #aesthetics. I had to haul luggages weighing almost sixty pounds in total so practicality took priority.

Before you judge they weren't just clothes because I was loading up on Japanese alcohol.

Before you judge again half of them wasn't for me.

The white coat was godsent in keeping my valuables within reach while my reeboks became a precursor to the ugly sneaker/athleisure/wavey garms trend I foresee myself delving into. You might like to know that I have bought three different models of Adidas tubulars recently. What with the various branches of aesthetics I have been exposed to these days it's only a matter of time before I put on some vintage Japanese garment with Comme des Garçons and 90s-looking sneakers.

I am rather certain that I will be back to this place. One day, one day.

( Leave a Comment )

Borrowing from Boro

July 30, 2015

by Gracia Ventus

Reworked Boro Chore Jacket

Reworked Boro Chore JacketReworked Boro Chore Jacket
Wearing reworked chore jacket; COS shirt; almost vintage Comme des Garçons skirt and Margiela Tabi boots

In the old days of Japan where Uniqlo and Muji would not come into existence for another few centuries, the working class invented (and got by with) the concept of Boro and Sashiko. Those two terms were often mentioned together, although they’re separate ideas. Boro refers to rags - or more broadly, the art of mending garments with rags. Sashiko is a specific form of running stitch used in repairing garments and strengthening the patched up homespun fabrics.

Due to the economic hardships it was simply not possible for the poor to replace clothing at the rate they went through wear and tear in the harsh outdoors. A garment will be patched up until it was no longer possible to salvage it, and the good bits would then be cut away to patch another garment. It was necessary for the rural folks to invent ways that will preserve their garments for as long as possible - we’re talking about a lifetime, and many were passed down to the next generations. Wives and daughters of farmers and fishermen would spend their time in winters mending worn out textiles skilfully with Sashiko stitching using thick embroidery threads. One’s sewing skills were so highly-regarded that it may have become an indication whether one was of marriage material.

Reworked Boro Chore Jacket

Most of these boro blankets and coats were made of hemp/ramie/linen. Before Japan’s industrial revolution, cotton had to be imported. The rigid class system of Tokugawa period dictated that commoners weren't allowed to wear expensive fabrics - cotton included. That, and the peasants could not afford them. It’s also almost impossible to find Boro textiles that are not indigo. Again, blame it on the elites. Not only were you denied of cotton if you didn’t belong to the right social class, you couldn’t even wear bright colours. So indigo was the go-to option due to its lasting nature. It was also said that indigo dyes repelled insects - a statement which I have not taken the liberty to cross check yet.

Reworked Boro Chore JacketReworked Boro Chore Jacket

Reworked Boro Chore Jacket

Everything about Boro has its roots firmly planted in poverty - born out of necessity and class segregation. Its popularity waned when Japan entered industrial revolution. Prices of textiles plummeted while the wealth of the working class grew. So did their enthusiasm in abandoning the ways of their cash-strapped ancestors. Today it has ironically gained a prestigious status amongst the bourgies of our time. As the wave of nostalgia sweeps through our generation, Boro is now proliferating high fashion under the umbrella concept of wabi sabi (cues Kapital and Junya Watanabe). Just look at the three of us parading in this pimped up chore jacket. Jasper’s (the one with huge hair) mom had painstakingly sewn beautiful patches of fabric with running Sashiko stitches. If you’d like to make one yourself, there are books out there detailing the history of Boro garments (here) as well as Sashiko techniques (here and here). Should you find yourself wanting the real deal, they are available in various second hand platforms going anywhere from a couple of hundreds to a few grand for garments in top notch conditions.

One can only wonder what the peasants of yesteryears would think if they were able to see how much we treasure their works today.

PS. Many thanks to the top lads for letting me post their photos. You can find their sites here and here. Expect to see plenty of anime and doge, and very little fashion.


Cheap Garms

July 15, 2015

by Gracia Ventus

Chef coat

There's a street in Tokyo called Kappabashi-dori where one can shop for all the equipments and utensils one needs to open a restaurant. From beautiful potteries, plastic food displays to 50s-style diner furnishings, this street has got everything covered. When I say everything, I'm also referring to the uniforms worn by pretty much the entire hospitality industry which you can find in this store (rather weird that their models are solely white people though).

Much like everything else in Japan, they don't kid around with the product quality. This chef coat (or whatever coat it was meant for) which I found off the clearance rack is what a sensible dad would call a solid coat. Large pockets, thick starched cotton fabric, stiff collars, unapologetically long sleeves make this the most functional outerwear I've ever owned - all for an American tenner.

Chef coat
Wearing random coat & shirt dress finds; CdG Comme Comme skirt; Reebok trainers

When worn on its own the coat falls straight down, but as always I enjoy creating flared silhouette that adds an extra foot to my personal space. The key is to find an armour-like full skirt that can hold its shape while weighed down by outer layers.

If I read Net-A-Porter right I know you are cash-rich time-strapped folks so I've done the leg work for you.

Full skirts

Golden Goose Pleated Maxi Skirt; Yang Li Asymmetrical Skirt; Junya Watanabe Flat Seam White Skirt; Junya Watanabe Flat Seam Black Skirt; Junya Watanabe Flat Seam Pencil Skirt; Société Anonyme Box Pleat Skirt; Harmony Paris Skater Skirt

Obviously the white coat is important, and to keep with the theme of cheap bargains I have diversified my finds to Ebay, hence prices begins from $30.

White Coat

3.1 Phillip Lim Trench Coat; Chevre Hooded Parka; US Army Snow Camo Parka ; Vintage Swedish Army Snow Camo Parka and here too; Stutterheim Long Rain Coat;

Snow Parkas, like any other military surplus garments, differ in design from country to country. My personal favourite is the hefty Norwegian coat but it's pretty much unavailable everywhere. It's also possible to play around with white ponchos as well. I'd recommend looking into the Austrian and the sartorially-enhanced German ones.

If you're the sort of folks are not too keen on skirts then by all means replace it with bulbous trousers to maintain the voluminous silhouette. And don't bother with brand synergy. Everything goes.

(one comment)

Slimane’s Regression

July 11, 2015

by Gracia Ventus

If you've been reading these pages for some time you'd be aware of my hatred for Hedi Slimane, specifically what he's done to YSL (Dior Homme is irrelevant in my books now). Like it or not when one reads fashion news constantly, one cannot avoid being exposed to the latest Saint Laurent collections.

Before I go on, have you ever read of the delusional girl who left comments all over the internet claiming that Marc Jacobs stalked her and stole her ideas? You can read more about her here and here. Aside from stating that Marc Jacobs is not gay and he's in love with her, she also did this:

Barta posted a whole catalog of images on her site, each with seasonal dates on them, claiming that Jacobs copied her look and style to a T. But there’s no real way of knowing which came first — the Jacobs ad or the Barta photo. Not to mention, most of the images are rather benign — and anyone could have pulled off the poses and looks.

So that's Barta the batty lady.

Back to Saint Laurent. As soon as I had a quick look through the latest menswear collection, I was ALMOST claiming the very same thing that Barta had said (on copyright infringement). There were so many looks that reminded me of my years in university where I took photos in my tiny dorm rooms showcasing my latest vintage buys. Things that cost me a mere $20, soon to be reproduced in ~higher quality~ fabrics to be sold for a thousand times more.

Let's take a look, shall we?

Right: me liking shiny things back in 2009
Okay so gold was big in the 80s. At least he reworked it into a 90s tea dress. He gets a free pass.

Saint Laurent
Right: Year 2010 in which I attempted to be experimental
Lose the weird scarf and gaudy belt and we've pretty much got the chunky-cardigan-over-dresses uniform of university kids in Melbourne.

Saint Laurent
Right: The time when I saw Sienna Miller in a tutu and floral docs and copied that 90s look religiously
He's getting into tea dresses big time now. Wonder which garage sale he picked that dress from.

Saint Laurent
Right: From 2009, when I was still wearing my trusted Union Jack Doc Martens
Long jumper underneath short jackets over skinnies. Not too similar but cutting it close.

Saint Laurent
Right: Also from 2009 when I was totally on point with my 80s obsession
Wow a fringed jacket straight off the back of some kid in Coachella so #edgy so #fresh.

Saint Laurent
Right: From 2011 when I was starting to sober up
Jacket and boho dress. I don't think I've seen that combination before. Oh wait.

Saint Laurent
Right: Regressing back to 2009
Long blazer over mini dress. I'm sure the Olsen twins haven't done that a gazillion times.

Saint Laurent
Right: January 2009, when I had just started to fashunz, pigeon toes mandatory.

.....ah feck.

I'm not in any way saying that Hedi stalked me and stole my ideas. But if a highly-acclaimed designer shares similar ideas as my twenty-year old self (who copied them from washed out rock stars), I cannot fathom how he's able to sit on his throne with good conscience while the masses lap up his overtly literal works that involve so little exploration. Proponents argue that he's redefining the youth culture as what he's done with Dior Homme yonks ago. Yoof culcha my ass. You want youth culture there's the old guard Rick Owens and young bloods like Craig Green, Christopher Raeburn and Ximon Lee who actually have something new to say.

This is not Topshop where ideas are regurgitated. This is a bloody huge fashion maison for goodness sake. You're supposed to innovate and reinterpret, not reproduce old ideas verbatim. Even Isabel Marant puts in more effort than him. And this is why I maintain the opinion that Slimane's work is shaite and he does not deserve the position of 'Creative Director'.

As for the people who actually buy these garments, there's the ol' thrift shops to scavenge in. You might actually save loads of money and do a bit of charity while you're at it.


Back to Ann

July 4, 2015

by Gracia Ventus

Ann Demeulemeester

Ann Demeulemeester

Wearing Ann Demeulemeester jacket, trousers and boots; Yohji Yamamoto Y's shirt

Ann Demeulemeester is probably the only label that lets me get back to my boyish goth roots without looking like a Hot Topic victim.


Rose in Comme in Tokyo

June 28, 2015

by Gracia Ventus


Comme des Garçons 'Inifinity of Tailoring

Comme des Garçons 'Inifinity of Tailoring

It is no secret that Rei Kawakubo often recycles certain motifs over the years. This ribbon origami suit is a combination of several recurring themes - namely the cut of the suit (note the curved wide peak lapels), knots and ribbons, and cascading shawls with exaggerated ruffles over jackets.

Comme des Garçons

Comme des Garçons

Comme des Garçons Homme Plus

I used to laugh at Comme des Garçons. I thought it was an overhyped brand.

The me five years ago would look at these clothes, especially this ribbons suit and think, "Why the feck would anyone wear that, let alone be seen in public?" The me five years ago was also trying to look like Pat Benatar's understudy.

But our tastes change over time, which is why I have learnt never to say no to something. In the course of my blogging years I have made fun of Prada's creepers - the precursor of the creeper trend that has lasted for years and years, something I've become very fond of and currently sporting in these photos - alongside Comme's various misshapen clothes. I have come to the conclusion that no fashion item is inherently bad. It's just that we haven't found the best way to style it or re-interpret it, and in many cases we simply don't understand it. Just like how my parents did not understand why I wore black clothes almost everyday (This is what goths wear mom!).

Wearing outlandish Comme des Garçons out and about makes one vulnerable to the gaze of the public. But it takes courage to be vulnerable. I'm not implying that I'm the bravest soul on the planet. There are so many colourful characters in Tokyo who gave zero toss to what people think, unless they do so in order to find their tribe members. And that's what makes this city so wonderful. Everyone is given free reign to be weird and vulnerable, and rest assured there will be noone to give you a hard time for expressing your preference.

Comme des Garçons 'Inifinity of Tailoring

Comme des Garçons 'Inifinity of Tailoring

Wearing: Comme des Garçons suit; Y's shirt; Damir Dome creepers; Yves Saint Laurent bag