Japan is world-renowned for being at the forefront of retail architecture and display so it was with real delight that I hopped on a flight to Tokyo earlier this year, in search of new trends and inspiration for various projects I was working on. Of course I wanted to visit in spring, in cherry blossom season, when the trees are at their prettiest. I stayed in Tokyo and Kyoto (at the wonderful Four Seasons there), at Gora Kadan, a former retreat of the Imperial Family, now a hotel, in Hakone National Park, about an hour from Tokyo. I also visited Hiroshima, which was chilling, but I felt, almost mandatory, to understand the impact of this event in our relatively recent past.
The frantic pace of Tokyo is tempered by the genteel manner of the Japanese. I was so struck by how polite and considerate they are, how delicate the Asian women, and how, despite the pace of life in a vast, non-stop city, they display perfect manners and exude a sense of inner calm. (I was also thrilled and honoured to dress one of the royal princesses, but that’s a story for another day.) Design, clothing and food – both its preparation and presentation, exquisite but understated – is approached with a sort of quiet reverence which I found utterly seductive.
So the psyche of the Japanese was revelatory, but also the culture – the temples of Kyoto, the countryside, their Zen gardens, their textiles. Less is definitely more, except when more is more – they seems to know how to perfectly balance excess (in intricate designs and embroideries on textiles, for instance) with restraint. The lines of the kimono influenced a number of my designs this season: I was privileged to meet real geishas, at a tea ceremony, wearing traditional kimonos, and see how the garments were constructed and wrapped. Everything is beautifully wrapped in Japan – from a small box of sweets to an elaborate gift. Origami is just a beautiful part of everyday life.
I visited museums of ancient Japanese art and a royal palace and I followed the cherry blossom-lined Philosopher’s Walk in Kyoto for miles. I soaked it all up. And I returned full of resolve to bring some of that Japanese sense of calm and order to my life. It’s not always possible, with a collection to be designed, and a diary full of dates in three cities!
But what I did take away with me from Japan was a notebook full of ideas, just waiting to be expressed. I hope you love them.