Tattered, threadbare kimonos at Shibui: why the designers want them

VIDEO: Dane Owen talks about the Boro, or "tattered rags" used to describe patched and repurposed kimonos.

If you ever venture across the Brooklyn Bridge to Dumbo, possibly headed for the ultra-hip (in a rustic way) Vinegar Hill House restaurant for brunch, make sure you stumble around the corner to visit Shibui.
Dane recently restored this Japanese Step Tansu. From the Facebook post: "I would say it was early Meiji c1880. It was made with hand forged nails and hinges . Mortised and tenoned joinery. Hinoki wood frame. I have 3 other Kaidan on the website, one is a little smaller but they are real so they have to be big enough to get to the second floor and deep enough so you wont fall off." 
It's a treasure trove of old Japan in a cavernous, cement floor garage. The owner Dane Owen, a Santa Fe native, pops up from behind a great wall of tansu (Japanese storage cabinets, no doubt the Ikea of old Japan at the time) as a walking Wikipedia of Japanese aesthetics and the pieces he's personally collected from the Japanese countryside. 

"It's so expensive for people to get rid of things - you can't just leave them on the roadside - so you can find some amazing pieces of craftsmanship you won't see in normal stores," he said. People don't just give you stuff, however - being a Gaijin, Dane has spent years earning the confidence and respect of local contacts who led him to his greatest finds. 

A Japanese fireman's kimono - layers of cotton you wet down before chopping down the combustible parts of houses. 
Dane lets you poke around in drawers and find all kinds of fascinating things, like axes and board games, sewing accoutrements, ceramics and ancient fabrics. You can get stuff for as little as free (usually charmingly chipped) to thousands of dollars. 

In the above video Dane talks about something we usually never see in the west - Boro ("tattered rags"). These are heavily patched and repaired kimonos, once a symbol of economic shame after the devastation of World War II, and now collector's items. 

"A little girl would wear one of these for 4 years - her only kimono," said Dane. When it was impossible to patch and strengthen further with sashiko (lines of straight stitching through layers of cloth), a kimono could be shredded into threads and then rewoven into quilt covers. Apparently designers like Ralph Lauren are seeking out these items to weave into their collections. In fact, I'm designing a bikeable yoga mat bag to add to my Traffic Cone Bag line, and thinking of adding a bit of Boro as trim. What has Boro got to do with yoga? Nothing, but what fun!

The fireman's kimono is a thick, multi-layered garment that was wet down as firefighters went in to battle a blaze. This often meant smashing shoji screens and ornately carved windows so flames wouldn't spread further. 

I picked up these two sake vases for around $15 each. Read about Shibui's ceramics.
A sewing station - you rest your arm on the lower surface and store needles in the little top drawer.

Unfortunately, Dane's move to a somewhat low-key area of Brooklyn means he hasn't been getting the kind of Japanophiles he needs to stay in business. Fans of Dane and Shibui implore you to check out his site and go visit his shop. He's discounted a lot of the stock heavily as he prepares for the inevitable unless we all rally to support him. Do you need or have room for a Japanese Sake vase? Of course you do. How about a multi-drawer ornate Tansu? Well tell someone who might!  At the very least, go Like him on Facebook.

Want more Japan? You can read about my Japan travels from Tokyo to Kyushu with a folding bike in my Galfromdownunder Upover blog

The gritty, cobbled-street environs of Vinegar Hill, where great sourdough pancakes and Japanese antiques collide ... photo by the Galfromdownunder in a Photoshop Elements frame of mind ...  
Fine Asian Wares and Antiques
306 Water Street (in DUMBO)
Brooklyn, NY 11201
Phone: 718-875-1119
Fax: 718-875-1921
E-mail: info@shibui.com

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