October 5, 2015

Before Being Maiko Kurogouchi of mame

The sound of air spewing out from the A/C grew louder and then fainter; the second hand of the clock on the wall resounded overdramatically as it dutifully ticked out the seconds one after another. From the window I could see browning mountain ridges and chimney smoke drifting by from some unknown source. I returned my gaze back inside the room, only to turn my eyes back outside again, but by then there was no longer any sign of the smoke.

She is always abrupt. On any day she might suddenly post onto social media a scene that seems to correctly encapsulate all the worldʼs beauty. And from that I will learn that she has set out on yet another creative journey.

"Windows"—every one of them that she has captured during her travels appears to brim with pathos. This may be because she took them in the winter. Or because she caught a cold. Or because I am no longer by her side.

These are accounts from my trip with her through a still snowy Tohoku, travel memories that colored the days before and after, and tracings from the 10-plus years that we spent together.

The silence was abruptly broken by her sweet, girlish voice. Triggered by the sound of her voice reading out thread sizes, the hazy contours gradually began to take shape. The drawing room on the second floor—it was a race against time when the embroidery threads had to be picked out there under the natural light. With the sun already setting and the room filling up with a growing expanse of shadow, only the window stood out sharply as if to show where it was positioned.

When visiting the factories, she would give greetings in a voice unimaginably loud for her smaller-than-average frame. Her expressions and voice were unfamiliar to me at those moments. And it was very stirring to witness—for those were moments when I could glimpse the effort she had put into completing the tailored clothes that I would merely be sliding my arms into.

Even those almost depressingly delicate and enchanting garments were originally born not from magic but from the hands of people. She spread out sketches, laid out color samples, and swiftly but deliberately reeled in the ideas inside her head. All of the pieces fell perfectly into place through this seemingly rough, highly analog procedure, as if everything had been determined from the start.

The people also responded to her requests in an analog manner. While showing her their sketches, they drove their pens and scribbled down memos that were then compiled into specification sheets. One by one, the different parts were given their best possible expression through this process so that they could eventually see the light of day on a special stage that would be prepared for them some time later.

When she stood firmly upon that stage on her two feet, she was only able to stay standing with the support of the countless people who had lent their shoulders for her to lean on. Their support reflected at the same time the weight of the responsibility that she carried.

"Well, I grew up running around in the mountains of Nagano."

This seemed to be a habitual saying of the good-natured, well-mannered woman with a strong sense of honor. But it also sounded like an expression of her humility towards the praise she received; it also sounded like a curse meant as an admonishment for herself. What it proved was that everyone possesses childhood memories of the land where they were born and raised and that she, too, was somebodyʼs child, just like all those people of the past who had etched their names into history.

The Tohoku winter was white. We could only cower before its vast purity; we simply fell silent in the face of the boundless world of white that rushed passed our windows. Only when we spotted a pause within the whiteness could we pick up the threads of our conversation.

It was astonishing how she and I saw entirely different things, even when we were standing beside each other looking out at the same scenes. The scenes she sought to see were different. This was made vividly clear by passing them through her filter.

What she frames is not superficial beauty; rather, she captures the vicissitudes of her subjects—the subtle vibrations pulsing up and down to a breath or beat. She will not miss even the smallest perceptible unit of life that may be budding or that must have once been present. And to her, everything in an ever-changing scene—its entire existence—is at once both the background and the main subject.

With great sensitivity, she can instantaneously sense the vibrations in the air and even the invisible waves that people unconsciously exude. This is why the things she shows seem to be tinged with a hint of sadness.

This may perhaps be a misfortune for her. One needs to be able to be insensitive, or else this world is much too full of unreason, and she, having grown up amidst those magnificent mountains, is much too amenable.

Yes—what this is is a call of encouragement and a confession from that best friend who resolved to part ways to carry a different fate, walking away from she who, without waiting for the scabs to fall, continues to take on fresh wounds while moving on to shine ever brighter.



  • Photography : Kenshu Shintsubo

Maiko Kurogouchi. Born 1985 in Nagano, Japan. Started her own design label mame and established the Kurogouchi Design Office in 2010 at the age of 25. Recognized for releasing PVC bags alongside her apparel designs. Awarded the Newcomerʼs Award/Shiseido Encouragement Prize at the 32nd Mainichi Fashion Grand Prix 2014.