Two hours late to the audition, a leggy model scrambled in to Matohu’s showroom. After she presented her portfolio of photos to the designers and performed a short runway strut, she picked up her things, gave a bow and quickly left.
One week before their scheduled fashion show, Noriyuki Horihata and Akiko Sekiguchi of Matohu were just getting down to hammering out the details. Horihata sighed, “Nothing’s decided yet but we need to finalize the lineup at the atelier tonight. It’s like this every six months.”
Expectations were to be especially high for this collection, as the duo had received the New Designer Award at the prestigious Mainichi Fashion Grand Prix in September. Still with only nine collections to their brand’s name, they have been steadily gaining trust and admiration for their particular style of East-meets-West and old-meets-new designs.
“People mistakenly think we are trying to revive the kimono, but we don’t use obi belts, there are no traditional motifs, and we never use kimono fabric as-is,” said Horihata.
What Matohu creates are instead long column robes and the odd dress and pants made with techniques and textiles revived from ancient Japanese dressmaking. The cuts are contemporary, and the patterns are pop. Each collection has an era or antique object serving as the inspiration from which the artisanal techniques for the pieces derive.
The last collection was based on rogue Japanese warriors from 500 years ago called kabukimono, and it featured armorlike blocks of intricate jacquard and a fuzzy jacket sprayed with gold leaf. “We work closely with the textile mills to invent new fabrics inspired by old ones,” Horihata explained. “Sometimes it takes years to get one just right.”
In a play of fate, the duo met on their first day in class at the renowned Bunka Fashion College in Tokyo’s central Shinjuku district, then honed their skills there by professionally creating costumes for stage shows together.
While Sekiguchi had been on the path to fashion since she was young, the philosophy-graduate Horihata arrived there via an epiphany that came while watching a documentary on Yohji Yamamoto. “In the film Yohji said, ‘When you’re creating, you get to forget about time,’ and I wanted to get lost in something like that too,” Horihata recalled.
After graduating from Bunka they each paid five years of dues as patterners at Comme des Garcons and Yohji Yamamoto respectively, before moving to London to work at Bora Aksu.
“We had offers to work as interns in the big maisons but we were professionals and looked to work and learn as such,” said Sekiguchi. By then, the two already had it in mind to open their own atelier upon their return to Japan.
Finally, in March 2005, they established their company named Lewsten, and a year later they presented their brand Matohu at Japan Fashion Week. Their audience, which began as a group small enough to fit into a loft, has now grown to reach full capacity at Tokyo Midtown’s most spacious hall.
On the day of their latest show, Horihata and Sekiguchi were calmly working backstage as the models were fitted into the newest robes made of geometric jacquard, and pieces made of a unique fabric that went from bronze to green in a play on the naturally aging patina of pottery bowls. “It’s based on the 400-year-old Oribe pottery,” explained Sekiguchi and Horihata, “and that was considered very avant garde in its time.”
The runway was broken up into rooms by sheer curtains, and lighting on the walls mimicked sunlight filtering through circular windows. The models slowly shuffled down the catwalk spinning in turns, all in a play on the tea ceremony.
It was a reminder that even good fashion can be slow and thoughtful.
Interestingly, meanwhile, the way matohu is pronounced in Japanese sounds like “to wear” — but also “let’s wait.”
Casting light on the brand’s name and its creators’ thinking, Horihata said, “I’m very tired of the way the fashion industry works, with the seasons speeding up and everyone searching for the next big thing. I think after our next collection we will do something differently and take more time with our pieces.” Just like in that film about Mr. Yamamoto — losing themselves in creation.