The Tale of Tony Takitani


December 20, 2017

by Gracia Ventus

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Tony Takitani was by no means a remarkable man from his outwardly appearance. He lived simply, ate simply, dressed simply. It was his choice of dwelling that usually raised eyebrows whenever his name passed through the lips of villagers. Not that they knew his full name to begin with. There’s too much mystery surrounding himself. He didn’t need to add another one or he’d have to keep explaining why he had an English first name despite being completely Japanese. They simply knew him as Taki-san.

Tony Takitani lived on his own on a hill above the village. His simple wooden dwelling stood in a large clearing. He had found it abandoned some time back on one of his explorations. After a round of investigations in the village he concluded that noone had lived in it for a while, and due to its inconvenient location, noone had desired to inhabit it. He asked the head of the village for permission to take over it. No objection would be raised as long as he promised to keep the grounds tidy. Not a difficult promise to deliver since Tony Takitani just wanted to build a secluded home away from people. He then proceeded to fix the crumbling wooden structure and its various sheds.

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Tony Takitani was a sharp, logical man. Combine that with the technical nature of his previous profession, he had the knowledge and skills for carpentry that would impress an Amish. Slowly but surely, he rebuilt the wooden house and furnished it simply. A single bed, a portable gas stove, a record player, and a shelf for his books. He hired a contractor to rehaul the plumbing in the outhouse. Though he desired to be a hermit, Tony Takitani would like to maintain a basic level of hygiene. As they worked, he asked the contractor some questions so he could fix simple plumbing issues that might surface.

Tony Takitani also had the foresight to grow a vegetable garden before moving in so he would be less reliant on village supplies over time. He even bought two chestnut trees - yes two, any gardening enthusiast will tell you no nuts will bear from a single chestnut tree - from a nursery not too far outside the village. He loved chestnuts dearly and thought he might give himself the little bit of luxury of watching his favourite trees grow and bear him sweet chestnuts as he got older.

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For the most part, Tony Takitani’s hermit life went on uneventfully, just the way he had planned it. Ever since his wife’s unfortunate sudden death, and his father’s passing soon after, he didn’t have anyone tying him back to the city life. If anything, he felt repulsed by it. He had no energy left to form new friendships nor relationships. Besides, he had always been alone most of his life, with a brief punctuation of his marriage with a woman he had loved dearly.

Every morning at sunrise, Tony Takitani would don a simple tunic and wide leg trousers to tend to his vegetable garden. Once done, he would go on an hour-long uphill run. It was his chosen method to empty his mind and focus on his physical self. He enjoyed the simple meals he cooked with the ingredients he had grown himself. In the evening, he would retire listening to old jazz records, the only influence from his estranged dead father . You and I might feel that this is the most boring life anyone can ever lead, but that was exactly the way he wanted to live the rest of his life.

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Tony Takitani’s routine passed seamlessly, day after day, with the exception of occasional phone calls from the villagers seeking his help. His old school Nokia brick was the only form of communication with the outside world he had retained, just in case there was an emergency. But over time he found it ringing a little more often than he would like as fellow villagers wanted to make appointments with him to see them over the weekend. Ever since they found out he was good with his hands, he became the village’s favourite odd-jobber. It all started when he helped to fix a car that had stalled down the hills as he was heading towards the village. Soon after he started receiving calls for help. One or two at first, usually during the weekend when the village’s car repair workshop was closed. Then they started to ask for gardening advice, woodworking, and even ikebana - something he had to profess ignorance for it was verging on the creative arts. As long as the task involved concrete technical process, he could logically deduce the problems and find a solution.

Although Tony Takitani lived his life mostly as a hermit, he didn’t mind his weekly expedition to the village, especially since he had to procure supplies for himself. He also thought it might be better this way than being known as a complete recluse that everyone would speak of in hushed tones. The less mystery surrounding himself, the better, though he would never really reveal much of his past to the villagers no matter how nosy they could get. Besides, he was a kindly man who loved to offer assistance. Every Saturday morning he would put on his faded grey jumpsuit ready to help a villager in need, before picking up some rice and gas canisters at the supermarket.

As I’ve said before, Tony Takitani was an exceptionally sharp man. Even if he didn’t possess all the necessary technical knowledge in his head, he could easily comprehend complicated instructions available on the Internet, accessed through his old brick of a phone. Ever since he moved into his new dwelling years ago, the lights in his house never flickered, the plumbing never clogged, the garden flourished. But there was one thing that he was still not able to do. Try as he might, he could not coax the chestnut trees to bear fruit. Both had refused to show any signs of the green spiky burrs, despite the fact that he had followed instructions religiously. Well-spaced trees, check; blight-free, check; patience, check. Still, the chestnuts refused to give him what he had hoped for. Being a magnanimous man, he did not hold any grudge towards the trees. After all, life had hurled giant lemons at him. Two barren chestnut trees could barely compare against the tragedies that had befallen him. Perhaps he was simply unfortunate to have picked these infertile trees. Slowly, he let go of his wish for chestnuts and remained grateful for the leafy foliage that provided shade for him in warmer months.

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On the eighth day of the eighth month of the eighth year of his semi-hermit life, Tony Takitani took a rest under the foliage of the chestnut tree nearest to his vegetable garden. He tilted his head upwards to admire the sunny blue sky through the leaves, when suddenly he spotted a small bunch of prickly green burrs. He stood up to get a closer look, not daring to hope, but sure enough, there were two clusters of chestnut burrs hanging from a branch.

Now Tony Takitani was not the sort of man who got excited too easily. But this was not the sort of occasion in which one should remain reserved. He could feel the elation swelling up faster than the summer heat rising from the ground. He entertained all the myriad of possibilities he could do with these precious chestnuts. He didn’t see too many burrs - two at most - which meant there were less than ten chestnuts. No matter. One could do plenty with that amount, especially for one self. Perhaps two to make a kuri gohan, two more in a wagashi, and the rest roasted over a fire. Just imagining its fragrance alone put a smile on his face.

To be continued.


All ROSEN garments are available on ROSEN-STORE.COM

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Sirens’ Song


December 1, 2017

by Gracia Ventus

Kamo River Kyoto

The train whisks us past Osaka. It’s the end of autumn. Beautiful green foliage is giving way to ambers and tangerines. Smoke-stacks in the distance, puncturing the clear blue sky. Past grimy - well grimy by Japanese standards - houses with rusted steel gates and darkened wood, not without their charms.

The allure of having a crush on someone lies not in the virtues of the recipient of our sentiments, but in our ignorance of their inner demons and shortcomings. The overwhelming emotions can lead to disastrous consequences. Every trip to Japan feels exactly like that. Its visible charms obscure the problems that one does not face until one lives here. The call of the sirens is strong.

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A lone figure stood by the train tracks, cigarettes between his lips. We locked gaze for a split second. I liked his navy blue jacket.

Jackets. Many of the Japanese blue collar uniforms are so well-designed I had to stop in my tracks to study them. Discreetly of course. Cerulean blue paired with midnight, separated by strips of silver hi-vis tapes. A Japan Airlines mechanic bent down to pick up the change from the vending machine, revealing panels of elastics hidden by overlapping fabrics at the lower back of his jumpsuit. A cleaner in an aqua coat; dissected in the middle by a matte waterproof zipper. A beautiful shade of aqua, I might add, but no more noteworthy than the sound I’m imagining that zipper will make as it glides smoothly up to the collar.

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+ A Short Digression

As someone who prefers rice to breads, I don't usually eat sandwiches. But when I do give them the occasional try, they are made of milk bread and stuffed with persimmons and a generous dollop of homemade whipped cream. We were taking a break from our shoot as it started drizzling and decided to try this quaint looking cafe in the vicinity; completely unaware of the popularity of the place. They roast their own beans and the sandwiches they made was superb. We sat by the kitchen bar so we could watch them slice every sandwich with precision, filled with egg mayo and ham, or sweet slices of seasonal fruits. Our accidental find turned out to be our breakfast favourite. We enjoyed the sandwiches and coffee so much that we came back twice more. More information on Ichikawaya coffee can be found here.


Hills and mountains. Surrounding this valley of a city. Orange, greens and reds. The train is slowing down. Wonder what it’s like to live in this city as the evergreen leaves turn into warm hues slowly and surely everyday. We often take the things we see everyday for granted. The lamp post outside our home. The bus stop we walk by everyday. The gaggle of grandmothers congregating in the park. The vending machine that never fails to replenish itself. The home we live in. The partner we live with. The life we lead.

I fear I may be doing the same every time I fantasise about uprooting my life in Shanghai and living in a city like Kyoto.

The Haruka train draws into Kyoto station. I step out of the train, swallowing the sights and sounds of the hubbub. It’s all so familiar. Almost like home. Again.

The song of the sirens grows louder.

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I'm wearing ROSEN's upcoming collection that will be released in the next few days.


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A Look Into Our Design Mishaps


November 8, 2017

by Gracia Ventus

ROSEN Hakamas

At ROSEN we don't make overly complicated clothing. Despite that we do encounter problems in translating our vision into reality. We started off with the idea of making pleated hakamas - a beautiful pair of wide-legged trousers with knife pleats. However we didn't want them to look too close to the traditional Japanese garment, nor too Yohji-esque; both characterised by inner pleats folded inwards towards the inner thighs. Our first iteration looked like sailor trousers with a removable central front overlay which we came to dislike. After several rounds of discussion we decided not to obstruct the bifurcated frontal view of the trousers. We folded the removable panel and pinned it on one leg to show the tailor what the final outcome should be.

Now here's where I should point out that the tailor has seen enough of our wonderfully weird designs to not question our judgment. So he took back the hakama - crude revisions and all - without so much as clarifying what the final result should be. On the other hand, we trusted our tailor so much that we forgot what was obvious to us but not to others. Imagine the shock we had when the trousers came back with the revision done on just one side and not the other - pretty much verbatim. It was such an honest yet hilarious mistake we couldn't help but to laugh. The end result was strangely appealing, so we stuck to it.

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We are now proud to introduce ROSEN's Hanzo Hakama - a wide-legged trousers made of imported Japanese wool with knife pleats at the back. It has a side slit to showcase the inner layer that is made of our favourite sandwashed silk in dark grey, which is removable. The trousers are equipped with side pockets and back pockets, hidden under the pleats, as well as a slanted waist button flap. Lastly, the front of the trousers is attached with a front overlay on the right side, in keeping with our asymmetrical design element of our collection. And as always, these trousers are meant for all genders.

Hanzo hakama is available here.

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ROSEN’s FW2017 Collection: An Exploration in Spacetime & Androgyny


November 1, 2017

by Gracia Ventus

ROSEN FW2017

“Please, you go first," the woman said. "The water will get all cloudy if we put our hands in. You'd think it was too dirty after us women.”

Excerpt From: Kawabata, Yasunari. “The Dancing Girl of Izu and other Stories.”

It was less than a century ago when gender discrimination was the norm across the world. Kawabata's descriptions of how women were regarded in his short story was no less apalling from the sexism that Victorian women endured in early 20th Century, though they manifested in differing ways. Fast forward almost a hundred years later, most women in most nations have the freedom to craft their own future without the fear that their presence will tarnish the quality of objects through their touch. It is with this awareness in mind that I am happy to introduce ROSEN's Fall/Winter 2017 collection. Continuing with our pursuit of genderless fashion, we have made garments in all new colours and new fabrics, from Italian wools to sashiko linens.

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Plato shirt in rust sandwashed silk; Plato trousers in khaki grey sandwashed silk; O-Ren coat in sashiko linen

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Bronte shirt in moss green velvet

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Epicurean robe in Italian double-faced wool

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Earheart jumpsuit in Japanese wool twill

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Plato overshirt in taupe wool cashmere; Ingvar trousers in Japanese wool twill and sandwashed silk

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Totoro trench in moss green wool cashmere; Epicurean robe in Italian double-faced wool

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Bronte shirt in fatigue green sand washed silk

In this 21st Century, most men and women live, work and travel abreast, no longer segregated by outdated gender norms. In the realms of fashion, androgyny isn't just a one way street anymore, ie. women wearing men's t-shirts and suitings cut for female bodies. We have now embraced a two-way conversation, taking elements from both sides of the spectrums to create garments that transcend fads, befitting curious adventurers of the universe.

All featured ROSEN garments and more are available here.


“Won't you at least have a bite with us? It's not very appetizing now that we women have put in our chopsticks, but maybe this could be the makings of a funny story." The woman took a bowl and chopsticks out of the wicker basket and asked Yuriko to wash them.”


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Putting ROSEN Prototypes To The Test


October 21, 2017

by Gracia Ventus

Kurokawa

In my quest to catch up with Eastern literature, I started on a third book by Kenzaburo Oē. And just as I had suspected, the topic of suicide crept in within the first chapter. With all due respect to Oē-san, there may be such a thing as too much suicide in a span of a few months of reading. I decided to take a break from him and dived into Banana Yoshimoto, one of the rare few female writers widely recognised by the Japanese literati. But ah, death poked its head out within the first page. I shrugged and continued reading. At least it wasn’t suicide.

The mountains of Minamioguni raced past the bus window as it sped up the winding road. My annual pilgrimage to Kurokawa succeeded a wonderful short stay in Fukuoka, having seen old friends, eating wonderful Japanese foods and coffee, while taking a short respite from the overwhelming amount of work and anxieties that threatened to push me over the edge.

“We’re cruelest, almost always, to ourselves.” - It's in Our Hands, by Bjork.

ROSEN Coat Kurokawa

There’s a single habit I’ve cultivated whenever I travel. I would wake up at dawn to go for a slow hour-long run. It’s the best way to explore a place with as little distractions as possible - when shops are still closed and barely anyone is awake - while keeping up with my obsession to exercise on a frequent basis. The singular mountainous road in and out of Kurokawa was lined with tall evergreen trees, shielding me from the strong morning sun. Through the loose canopy, beams of light managed to pass through, illuminating floating dust specks. They looked like the spirits of the forest, beckoning me to play with them. Somewhere out there someone’s world is in utter chaos, but up in these mountains, one can’t help but feel grateful to be able to luxuriate in peace and quiet, even if it is temporary.

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I’m wearing ROSEN’s latest prototype which we have named the O-Ren. It is our usual practice to put our samples through field tests so we know how they’ll perform in real life, from grabbing coffee to gallivanting through a forest. This O-Ren coat is a one-off prototype made in heavy textured linen. While the fabric itself is extremely tactile - with highly visible weaves made up of different threads - it doesn’t lend itself to creating the final form that we were after. Beautiful thick yarns in khaki are intertwined with the sporadic red and ivory to form a richly textured cloth. Unfortunately it is simply too heavy to drape well as a coat that is made out of multiple yards of fabric. The end result looks rather heavy. Although some people might like more substantial drapes, the coat we had in mind would have an airy quality to it while retaining its structure. I could imagine the fabric looking rather exquisite if made into a pair of wide-legged trousers. It is rather unfortunate that all the fabric has been used up to make this sample.

With that said, we are almost ready to release ROSEN’s fall/winter 2017 collection into the wild. This time we have expanded our colour schemes into various shades of dark green, rust, taupe and greys. The new collection includes the final iterations of the O-Ren coat made of two different fabrics - one in Japanese olive boiled silk/wool blend, the other an ivory linen with sashiko weaves. The former is possibly my favourite fabric that I may never come across again. It is visually coarse and fragile-looking, yet extremely airy and retains warmth. There’s so little of it that we are only able to make two of them. As with all the other ROSEN garments, they are made from deadstock fabric, hence every model is limited in numbers. Daniel is furiously uploading our latest collection on ROSEN as I'm typing this. And may I just say how excited we are to present them to you. We hope you will like them as much as we do.

For the latest updates of ROSEN in-house label and ROSEN’s archive, please follow @therosenrot and @dandanxl on Instagram, and sign up for our newsletter at the bottom of this page.

Special thanks to Robert Anton Patterson for the wonderful photographs. You can view his collection of interviews, thoughts and notes here.

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Kurokawa


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The Hypocrisy of Consumption and Suicide


September 19, 2017

by Gracia Ventus

Rick Owens Sphinx Vest Kyoto

When I was just a wee child growing up in Jakarta, I would occasionally be taken by my late grandmother to do her groceries. Being a traditional person, she shunned the modern supermarket in favour of an old-school wet market. These places are typically found in Asia, if there is any example in other parts of the world I would certainly profess ignorance. They're characterised by the moisture that permeates the air, floor, and goods for sale. Fresh fruits and vegetables are arranged neatly in mounds, with shoppers bagging the goods themselves. Live seafood are displayed in the adjacent area, while another housed hawkers of poultry, eggs and red meats. Fast forward more than twenty years later in Shanghai, I found myself doing weekly shopping in my neighbourhood wet market - choosing my own bean curds, mushrooms and eggs. In late summer, figs and peaches are abound. My seasonal favourites are lychees in late spring, and strawberries in winter. There is no cheese and little dairy to be found here, for that I would have to go to the supermarket, which is probably a good thing or I cannot stop myself from hoarding Brie every week. For my poultry needs I would always go to this friendly couple who would choose a freshly slaughtered chicken for me, then chop it up and gut it as requested. On the first few occasions I started buying from them, they would offer to slaughter one from their stash of live stocks kept underneath the counter - my grandmother herself had on several occasions expertly killed live chickens in our kitchen - but I always refused. My hypocritical self would rather not witness the cruelty of my consumption. Give me a pink plump one any day without the evidence of pain, please and thank you.

To the new generation, wet markets present a bygone era; the days when folks converse with their grocers and the latter know the shopping habits of their clientele. Even my weekly trips are now threatened by the convenience of ordering groceries online. With several taps on my phone, I can have the same mushrooms and tofu delivered to my doorstep, thanks to Chinese companies that have pushed the user experience of phone apps and e-commerce logistics beyond anything I can ever imagine. As I’m writing this I am sipping a tall cup of frothy latte that was ordered via a food-delivery app (I fear this may become a terrible habit), brought to me piping hot within 30 minutes. The cost: $4. Human cost: no idea.

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Wearing: Rick Owens sphinx padded vest and cashmere pod shorts; Nike Air Uptempo

It’s been a very long few weeks running around cities and countries. I stared at these photographs that I had taken months before in Kyoto, before I took on two projects with Daniel - one of them our techwear line Velamen, the other one is the re-launch of ROSEN, our new collaboration of staple garments in luxurious fabrics. I thought I was busy then, but it was nowhere near what I am going through now. Three to four nights a week, I sleep for less than five hours. Between running the archive store, writing essays, creating social media content, taking care of Velamen samples in Guangzhou, while continuously sampling ROSEN garments at the other side of Shanghai, I am mentally required to be in several places at once, and several more physically. It’s the kind of challenges I find to be very fulfilling, yet too much of a good thing can be bad. I have found myself unable to get out of bed on some occasions under the weight of the workload facing me everyday and my mind swimming in anxieties. My fatigue turned me into a miserable human being who wasn’t too pleasant to be around with. Thankfully I have a reliable support network I can count on whenever my mental strength has been completely sapped. The internet has brought me closer to you, my wonderful readers and customers, and they’ve also allowed me to keep in touch with people all around the world who are willing to listen to my (first-world) woes without judgment.

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Takoyaki, the Kansai version

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Pontocho, Kyoto

The time was 9AM. I was doing my early morning reading and writing session again. When I finally caught up with sleep the night before, I woke up in much better spirits. I could get back to my couch with coffee and a new author to tackle. His name is Kenzaburō Ōe, a Japanese nobel laureate. I had just finished The Silent Cry - a post-war novel with a touch of suicide and incest thrown into it - and am now diving into The Changeling, another one with suicide as its central theme. It does bring to light how different cultures view the act of taking one’s life. Abrahamic religions stress so much importance in the non-ownership of one’s life that to take it away voluntarily - no matter the difficulties that drive one to consider such an action - is an unforgivable sin. Yet, one could possibly argue that Jesus himself chose to commit suicide by not fighting nor running away - assuming the tale of crucifixion is true. Without all that satellites and geotagging Instagram features dude could have easily run off to the Alps and married a fellow shepherd. Though the act of ending his life wasn’t carried out with his own hands, he succumbed to a fate that had been handed down to him. Religious defenders have argued that if one does it in a self-sacrificial manner, such as firefighters and military personnels, that makes it commendable. But to save oneself from pain and suffering is an immoral act, considering the fact that both occasions leave behind grieving families and friends. Without invoking the logical fallacy of ‘because the bible says so’, it’s hard to argue why a person who suffers so deeply should not have the choice to end their misery. I don't know what it's like to go through a life so bad that suicide becomes a better alternative. However, I would argue that we didn’t have the choice to be born into this world, perhaps the least we could have is the right to not continue suffering should life becomes acutely unbearable. If indeed as religions argue that we have been given the ‘gift of life’, then surely like a gift, we can decide what we would like to do with it.

From our consumption to our most deeply-held beliefs, every aspect of our lives is mired in hypocrisy. A short paragraph on a heavy topic such as suicide certainly does not do it any justice. Perhaps one day I can continue writing about this topic. It might end up being a showdown between Hume and Kant.

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Nijo Castle outpost


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