I have always liked a nicely turned-out guy, someone who bothers to wear something a little different that makes him stand out from the crowd. So, at a fashion show, when I saw a guy wearing a cool jacket that looked kind of kimono-like, I said, "Nice jacket" which led to an introduction to Aaron Mollin, the maker, himself.
I have to confess, I am not normally a big fan of Western clothing made out of old kimono. They are often untailored sack-like dresses and I think that the designs look much better on the real kimono shape, where they were designed to go. I really prefer old kimono used as kimono, but this brand offers something a little bit different that makes it stand out from the others I have seen. The main product of Ichijiku, Aaron Mollin's brand, is a smartly tailored jacket.
From Toronto to Tokyo
Mollin, 39, comes from Toronto, Canada, and first came to Japan as a student at Kyoto University. This was a turning point in his life that had up to that time consisted of anime, music, and videogames. After graduating he returned to Japan many times working various jobs such as a bar manager in Kyoto and a salaryman in Tokyo at a music company. Then, Mollin decided he wanted to be a lawyer. After graduating from law school, he returned to Japan in 2015.
But he always had a creative spark hidden away, and in 2018 something happened to set his artistic project on the road. It was when he visited a woman's home in Gion, Kyoto. The woman showed him her collection of kimono. She explained to him how the different dyeing and weaving techniques were made and she gave him about 30 items. He became really interested in the variety and quality of the textiles and wondered if he could make something using kimono to showcase their loveliness to the world.
Mollin started out by making a few neckties and they were popular in Canada. Later, wanting to expand his offerings, he set his sights on using tanmono (kimono fabric bolts). He gathered a wide variety of fabrics and has about 250 in his collection on top of his many kimono.
Mollin designed a men's jacket, but he sees it as genderless because it is made out of kimono fabrics, and most of the fabrics are for women's kimono. He also has a lot of female customers. The jacket, tailored in Japan, is single-breasted with beautifully finished pockets and a double-standing buttonhole on the left lapel.
He wants people to keep his jackets for a long time, even to pass them on, like kimono, so he sticks to this one classical style of jacket. That means he is not interested in making something based on a trend that will last only a season or two. He is targeting mainly an overseas market. If foreigners think it is cool, he thinks that this will make the Japanese realize how cool kimono actually is.
Mollin started Ichijiku in May 2018 and has a showroom in Yoyogi Uehara in Tokyo. The studio is minimalist but the chairs are upholstered in stencilled kimono fabric. It gives a beautiful accent to the minimalist space. There is a shelf of different kinds of neckties on display. When he opens some sliding doors the jacket collection is revealed.
He only sees two sets of customers per day. Customers can view a selection of jackets that are on display. They are made variously from different types of tsumugi, stencil-dyed patterns, and shibori and yuzen dyeing. Additionally, customers can also view Mollin's collection of tanmono, where there are even more types of fabric available. He also has roles of dyeing samples which create great patchwork effects when tailored into jackets.
It is possible to have a standard-size jacket tailored and sent securely overseas within six weeks. Customers can even order an entirely fitted jacket or a suit tailored to their own needs, but this requires several fittings. Not all kimono fabrics are strong enough to make a whole suit, as trousers get a lot of wear, but Mollin says that the tsumugi and thicker woven silks are strong enough.
Mollin loves the fact that the making of kimono leaves no waste and he tries to use all of the fabric. He really wants to be a sustainable brand. That is why he is using dead stock kimono bolts both sourced from markets and some also from weaving workshops with people he has a relationship with. By doing this, he hopes to encourage the workshops to continue.
People can love the jackets and pass them on. Although Mollin is open to working on projects with other brands, he wants them to be sustainable brands.
In November 2023, Mollin released a second style of jacket — a bomber jacket. These became popular in the mid-20th Century and have maintained their popularity over the years. They never go out of style.
The bomber jackets, also tailored in Japan, have the regular stretchy cuffs and collars and are also beautifully finished. They favor patterns that are in one place, as is the case on formal kimono, or on a man's underwear, which can be used on the back section of the jacket. These jackets look like a very exciting new addition to the offerings as not everyone has a lot of use for a more formal jacket. I am interested to see how Mollin's reach will grow and how it will create more interest in Japanese kimono and textile culture.
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Author: Sheila Cliffe
Read other columns on kimono by the author.