Summer Fabrics: Boro Boro

boro boro, the traditional Japanese patchwork that began as peasant clothing centuries ago has made a reappearance on the New York and Paris runways.   Boro boro is a textile technique that celebrates the beauty in something frayed, decaying or repaired.  There is a belief in Japan that when something has been damaged and mended, it becomes more beautiful.

Left, traditional Japanese “Boro” patchwork, right, look from the Greg Lauren Spring 2016 Collection

In New York, Designer Greg Lauren took this traditional textile technique and modernized it for his Spring 2016 collection.  But this is a designer who is used to working with unconventional materials in unconventional ways.  Greg Lauren found his way into fashion while developing an art exhibition featuring menswear in an unconventional material.  The blazers, jackets and suits were crafted entirely out of paper. Formal, yet fragile.  He attributes this body of work, titled “Alteration,” as the project that technically turned him into a fashion designer. In order to make jackets and suits out of Japanese paper, he had to learn how to sew and cut basic patterns. “I hand-sewed approximately 50 of the most iconic menswear garments that I was taught were the foundation of any man’s wardrobe,” he says. He did this for two reasons: “to celebrate them and to say goodbye to them.” In pictures, the pieces looked like structured toiles of garments you’d maybe find at a tailor’s shop.

When the exhibition aired, Greg challenged himself to create a wearable blazer for himself for the occasion.  It proved a daunting but not impossible task.  He fashioned a jacket from paint stained canvas spotted in his studio.  His pride at being able to realize this imperfect but wearable garment helped him see that he had a voice was in fashion design.

It can be said that the serendipitous nature of finding that paint splattered canvas sparked his imagination to source materials in the boro boro tradition.  It is interesting given that the boro boro art of repair did not begin as an abstract philosophy but was born of necessity: “Boro textiles were the domain of the ordinary man and represented a collective, impoverished past.

These days Greg Lauren likes playing around with antique boro fabrics. “I’ll run to a [seamstress] with a little piece of boro and say, ‘Let’s put this on the collar.’” His favorite items to experiment with are old duffle bags. “We take our time,” he admits. “It’s not cost effective or time efficient but a lot of care goes into every detail. These textiles may have their origins in austerity and utilitarian design but the sophistication of the repeated repair means each piece is completely unique and as such gives the fabric a sculptural and considered presence.

Greg Lauren installation at Dover Street Market in New York

In Paris, Junya Watanabe also featured a boro style collection for Spring 2016.  There was a certain beauty in Watanabe’s collection. Everything was infected by the boro technique in some way with pattern and color, or through the geometric array adding a heightened level of refinement. Nothing was left untouched not a Breton stripe, not a double-breasted suit in a navy shadow plaid, not a Bermuda short, nor Watanabe’s signature inside-out pieces. The patchwork gave each outfit a strong character; the tribal add-ons compounded it creating the myth of an enlightened traveler returning home.

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