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Retro Japan makes another comeback

by Mio Yamada

Hightide for Showa

Stationery manufacturer Hightide is having a very nostalgic moment. Actually, with their frequent nods to no-frills old-school office supplies, quite a lot of Hightide’s series of folders, pen cases, diaries and other desk items evoke fond memories of a more analog past. But the company’s New Retro lineup goes the whole hog.

Launched last summer, New Retro’s initial products looked like they came straight out of Japan’s Showa Era (1926-89): soft-cover pocket notebooks with tiny pencils tucked into the spines, PVC book covers with heat-bonded edges, plastic primary-school odōgu-bako stationery boxes, and pleather kisslock change purses — almost all printed with gold lettering and a bird emblem. This year, Hightide added plastic ballpoint pens and small cases, and also brought the brand into the present by applying the retro designs to iPhone cases. With prices ranging from ¥281 for a pen to ¥2,808 for the notebook-style iPhone case, New Retro is a charming celebration of how some things that were once considered “cheap and cheerful” but functional can still be design classics.

hightide.co.jp/newretro

Double-sided visions

Tenugui (small cotton towels), which have been around since the Heian Period (794-1185), became particularly popular by the Edo Period (1603-1868). Though less commonly used as towels today, their colorful printed designs still make them attractive gift wrappings, wall hangings, table runners and even scarves. Taking all of this to heart, textile dyeing company Takeno Senko Ltd. was inspired by kasane no irome — the meticulously chosen color combinations of robes that were worn in layers by Heian court women — for its Hirali lineup of new-style tenugui. The concept may hark back to a bygone era, but the series has a distinctively modern approach to traditional motifs that turns patterns into an array of bold geometric shapes and stripes in both vivid and pastel colors.

The real innovation, though, comes in the form of technique: Hirali fabrics are double-sided dyed, meaning that unlike other tenugui, which are printed on one side only, there’s no less-attractive “reverse” side. It sounds simple, but ensuring that pigment applied to the flip-side of a textile doesn’t bleed through to ruin or change the color and pattern on the other side is no mean feat.

In fact, 60-year-old artisan Eiji Kakuno is currently the only tenugui dyeing expert who has achieved and perfected the process.

Printed using a specialized roller dyeing machine, Kakuno’s tenugui not only sport sharply defined patterns on both sides, but those patterns are completely different colors. The dye has to saturate the cotton to achieve an even finish and yet somehow there is no overlapping or bleeding. Kakuno is now also applying this technique to different textiles, having just released a range of Hirali gossamery gauze stoles and absorbent kitchen towels.

Hirali tenugui are ¥1,404 each, for details of other items, visit the website.

takenosenko.jp/hirali

Well that works

Bagworks Co., Ltd. carries a lot of baggage — but in a good way. Established in 1954, it has been designing and making specialized backpacks and totes, medical bags, luggage items and other custom-order utility bags for decades. When it launched Bagworks, its own lifestyle brand in 2012, it came as no surprise that the entire range drew inspiration from real workers’ bags, including some classic versions.

With names like Milkman, Electricman and Newspaperman, each Bagworks remake retains the functional features of its namesake’s original, but has been tweaked to fit a contemporary lifestyle. One of the brand’s first designs, the minimalist tote Milkman (pictured above, ¥6,264), for example, is almost identical to a Showa-Era milk-delivery person’s bag. It’s made of durable waterproof tarpaulin, has extra-strong wide straps and an inner pocket that formally would have been used to store loose change. It even has eyelet holes in its base, which originally allowed any milk spillages to drain.

Bagworks’ newest addition to a line up of around 20 styles, which even includes a tarpaulin remake of a convenience store plastic carrier, is the Fisherman. Like an angler’s tote, it’s waterproof inside and out and is ideal for the dreary wet weather ahead. It also has watertight zips and can be rolled up for easy storage. The Fisherman isn’t available to purchase yet, but keep an eye on the Bagworks website for more details.

www.bagworks.co.jp