PIECE of MEMORY
回憶起兩年前透過「創不同」（MaD, Make A Difference）的交流計劃（Exchange + Incubation for Creative Industries Practitioners programme），有幸得到和皆川明先生會面的機會，及後更超現實地得到他為我們度身設計的專屬習作：到minä perhonen的京都工作室，選一件下架的貨品來作重塑設計。
Behind the gigantic hole in the wall, the staff were quietly chatting and working. Their voices muffled by the constant hum of sewing machines. To the guests on the other side of the wall, the humming seemed to be narrating each and every step of the sewing process.
Two years ago, I was fortunate enough to have the chance to meet with Mr. Minagawa Akira under the Exchange + Incubation for Creative Industries Practitioners Programme organized by MaD (Make A Difference). Not only did I get to meet Mr. Minagawa in person, I also got the chance to visit minä perhonen in Kyoto and picked an off-shelf item for remodeling. That was a special assignment that Mr. Minagawa tailored for us programme participants and was such a surreal experience.
I can still remember the first visit to minä perhonen: As I gently pushed open the wooden door with a butterfly-shaped window frame, a friendly staff member greeted us and took us upstairs to a room on the third floor. Inside the room, there was only a long table, the minä chair, and some simple, yet exquisite, tools. The number of tools and even our working schedule were clearly stated; I was amazed by the studios’ serious work ethic.
PIECE on the fourth floor was where I often hung out. It is a unique space filled with up-cycle items made with left-over fabrics from previous collections. Smaller pieces of cloth are gathered and then packed into DIY goodie bags for sale. Because of their limited availability, each customer can only buy a maximum of two packs at a time. PIECE also provides customization services that use patchwork carefully designed by Mr. Minagawa to up-cycle old items.
很榮幸有機會穿著這麼美的制服在這充滿靈氣的地方工作，份外起勁，而且在這「Staff Only」的範圍裏工作，要遵守她們的規矩，入內一定要披上工作袍，離開時要放回原處，所有工具都必須保持整齊，間尺要天天清潔，即使是一瓶清水也不能放到工作枱上，而「Mottainai 」（Too good to Waste）的惜物精神更是要嚴守！縫紉機已設定為自動剪線頭模式，對我來說，在車衣間找不到線頭簡直是匪夷所思，但看著她們親善誠懇地以身作則，感覺反而舒服自然！
It was such an honor to be in minä perhonen’s work uniform and to work in such a wonderful space; I felt empowered. There were some rules to follow in the “Staff Only” area. For example, a work uniform must be worn and it should be returned when you leave the area, all tools must be kept neat and tidy, rulers must be cleaned every day, only necessities on the work table — not even a bottle of water is allowed, and the motto of “Mottainai,” which means too good to waste, must be strictly regarded. The sewing machines have been set with an automatic thread-trimming mode, I was incredibly surprised to never find trimmings on the floor or anywhere in the sewing room. Though there were quite a few rules to follow, every staff at minä perhonen set a good example for us to follow, and their kindness and sincerity were always comforting.
Working in an ancient building with such a long history, I’ve learnt to appreciate the beauty of incompleteness and deformity. I recall that every time I sat down to sew, I had to adjust my seat to ensure that the legs of the chair wouldn’t get stuck in the crack between bricks. Such an adjustment needed to be made at least ten times a day, but I didn’t find it annoying at all as I fell in love with those beautiful bricks. I felt a kinship towards people who also feel at ease with ancient objects.
Photography by Phoebe Wong
For my assignment, I chose a corduroy one-piece dress for remodeling. The remodeling process was similar to that of sculpturing in a sense that there were multiple possibilities to explore. To start with, I decided to follow minä perhonen’s classic Tambourine pattern and shortened the dress into a top with a short front and a longer back. I then put the drawstrings around neck and sleeve openings to enhance the three-dimensional sense of the top. Taking Egg, another signature of minä perhonen, as inspiration, the bottom part of the dress that was being cut off was used to make a hat that has a top shaped like a chrysanthemum. Both the top and the hat were decorated with the offcut that were trimmed to shape. The embroidery stitches that connected the patterned pieces with the main body part of the top and the hat are like small plants growing out among stone cracks.
I wandered in this ancient building, which was built in 1927, almost every day, and it became a morning ritual for me to look at the elegant staff carefully arranging flowers in an environment that was full of nature details. The Materiaali on the second floor keeps a fabric catalogue that allows customers to browse and choose from if they wish to order tailor made cloth bags. There is also a garment rental service that allows customers to loan out and experience minä’s clothing for a short time. Though unfortunately, this service has been temporarily suspended due to the pandemic.
The Galleria on the third floor showcases Mr. Minagawa’s designs as well as his art collection. Some of these works feature the elements of recycle and upcycle. Mr. Minagawa hopes that while the visitors browse through his works, they can also look at his favorite art pieces.
The three-day journey has given me a lot to think about. The smell of old buildings and the sound of walking on the old floor reminded me of the time I worked at the headquarters of agnès b. in Paris.
皆川明先生對可持續設計的想法，除了藉著設計來歌頌大自然外，他稱他的設計為long life design：「有情感的物件才能長久，最終有可能成為古董，代代相傳，這樣顧客才能感受到設計師所感。我相信人們有一種幸福的感覺是來自世界上有人用心設計及製作一件產品。」
I remember the day we met with Mr. Minagawa. He had just returned from Europe, and was nice enough to come meet and talk to us. The advice and recommendations he gave were so invaluable that I am realising them one by one…
Mr. Minagawa’s view on sustainable design goes beyond simple appreciation of nature. He considers it a “long life design.” He said, “Only those objects that we are emotionally connected to can stay long; they may eventually turn into antiques and be passed on from generation to generation. Customers have to connect with the designer so they can understand the designer’s aspiration. I believe that it makes people feel blessed knowing that there are people out there designing and creating products wholeheartedly.”
Amidst the pandemic, Mr. Minagawa shared some encouraging words, “I still have hopes. The global situation is gradually changing our views towards life and the future of fashion. I will continue to make clothes wholeheartedly and turn them into everyday clothes that are unique and special.”
During our chat in the coffee shop in Daikanyama Tsutaya Bookstore, a fan of Mr. Minagawa came over to show him a small backpack that she had sewn for her daughter with the fabrics bought from minä perhonen. Mr. Minagawa did not hesitate at all and immediately squatted down to put his autograph on the bag. I smile everytime I think of that scene. How lovely and sweet.
Now that overseas travel is banned, I can only read Mr. Minagawa’s online Textile Diary to get to know more about his designs and thoughts. Oh, how I wish to go to his latest exhibition in the Hyogo Prefectural Art Museum!