Pagong Spring Fashion Show

March 21, 2010

On Saturday I photographed the Pagong spring fashion show. Surprisingly, it is only their second show to date but they are planning more and in other countries, namely Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia (Pagong is available at Isetan Department Store in Singapore, Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur). I have been wearing Pagong clothes and been interested in the company for several years now. I also interviewed Company Director Kameda-san in 2007 for the ‘Kyoto Lives’ issue of Kyoto Journal. At that time, Kameda-san told me that Pagong were not interested in expanding or going international. It seems that things might have changed on that score, perhaps prompted by the economic downturn in the last couple of years. Naturally Kameda-san was a little preoccupied on Saturday so we didn’t have much of a chance to talk to him about his plans. He didn’t even seem to remember me even though I hailed him with, ‘Hisashiburi’, but it might have just been a case of the typical Kyoto reserve.

The last time I spoke with Kameda-san he told me how his inspiration for the company had originally come from aloha shirts. His family has a long history of kimono production but obviously demand for kimono these days isn’t so great. Looking for an alternative, he heard the story of Japanese emigrants to Hawaii who cut up their kimono to create aloha shirts. Kameda-san took the idea and created Pagong, originally producing men’s shirts in cotton or silk. Since the foundation of the company in 2002 it has branched into women’s fashion and women by far make up the majority of Pagong’s clientele. This was clear at the fashion show on Saturday where women outweighed men by about ten to one.

The summer line for Pagong is mostly made up of their usual strong colours and bold designs. New apparel for 2010 included: a striking u-shaped top with a pattern of red, black, white and yellow and a different pattern on the back; a 3/4 sleeve white blouse with Chinese neck-line, printed with blue, black and red chrysanthemums; a v-neck hip-length top with side-tying sash in pastel purple, turquoise and glittering silver; a purple v-neck dress with a bold pattern down one side; and a colourful men’s shirt in pink, blue, green and yellow multiple overlaid designs. Pagong now has three shops in Kyoto – their honten (main shop), a Gion shop and a new shop in Kyoto Station. They also have another brand called Sanjo (the shop is on Sanjo) which favours chiffon dresses and blouses in pastel colours. The new summer line for Sanjo is bright and breezy with floaty long-line tops that made me wish I had much longer legs.

After the show we were shown around the factory. It’s incredible that Pagong can produce such a large range of clothing and accessories when they only have five people working in the factory. As we watched the artisan making up dye from the powdered pigments, one of the staff explained that if it is out by a gram or two it can ruin the whole batch. Much of the skill for kyo-yuzen 京友禅 (Kyoto dyeing tradition), is the mixing of the dye and the choice of colours for each pattern. Each colour must be laid down separately so the complexity of the pattern and number of colours determines the number of times it has to be printed. Some pieces take more than 20 different colours.

One of the new designs Kameda-san was keen to show off was an aloha shirt with a design taken from a work in the Tokyo National Museum. Kameda-san explained how he had to obtain special permission to use the image featuring a giant prawn. Having seen his stock of kimono patterns in the factory warehouse, I was surprised at this decision. He literally has hundreds of designs as his disposal but he has an innovative streak, witnessed in his development of a manga about Pagong, and his new haunted house concept. The latter sprang from a collaboration with detective film director Professor Kaizo Hayashi. Part of the Pagong factory has been turned into a haunted house for Pagong members, and apparently features chilling special effects.

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