Inoue Yasumi cannot imagine doing anything else other than being the co-founder, executive director, head designer and muse of Japanese artisanal clothier 45R. But there was a time she didn't think she would be an apparel designer, despite the fact that she was born in a family that sold ready-to-wear and bespoke kimonos.
Yasumi, who was in town to grace the official opening of 45R's first store in Singapore at Capitol Piazza, recalled that growing up, the weavers and seamstresses in her neighbourhood would give her bits and pieces of fabric to make outfits for her dolls. Not only did that ignite her creativity, it probably also birthed her brand's core philosophy of “materials first”, where the production process starts with the selection of materials (top of the range, of course), rather than with design conceptualisation.
The brand story
Named after the 45-rpm record (the first vinyl to be released in colour, thus reflecting the brand's aim for originality), 45R's meticulous material-sourcing and labour-intensive fabrication techniques have earned the brand a reputation for quality, a trait most evident in its use of the ai indigo for its denim.
Once reserved for Japanese aristocrats and samurais, the precious ai dye is derived from the extremely rare tadeai plant. The label insists on using traditional methods to produce the indigo paste. The year-long process takes place under the guidance of one of only five masters left in Japan, while to create the dye involves a deep-rooted partnership with top Japanese dye houses that appreciate and commit to 45R's philosophy and values.
Hand-dyed as yarn — not fabric — each garment achieves a rich, distinctive shade. Nicknamed “Japan blue”, it is characterised by a sharper and stronger tone than the usual indigo offerings. Achieving the hue requires a one-week preparation that involves tying 980 yarns together to be dyed in a special machine that employs the rope-dye technique. To achieve the fullest colour, skeins of yarn are then dyed by hand over and over again over the course of two weeks. It takes a further three weeks for the yarn to be spun into cones, before being woven into fabric.
In addition to Japan blue, 45R's artisans have created a jaw-dropping spectrum of 22 original shades of indigo.
Why the fascination with indigo?
It's a universal colour that transcends time and geographical barriers, Yasumi points out. And here's a bonus: As denim, the well-loved classic is always new — every wash and wear changes the colour, she says. Over time, the piece bears a patina and expresses an extension of your personality.
This epic level of artistry extends beyond denim to every garment that bears the 45R label. Some of the techniques master craftsmen execute by hand include spinning cotton into yarn, silk-screening, wood block-printing and sewing — which explains why designs are available in limited quantity, and turning 45R into an unexpected exponent of stealth luxe.
It can take up to a year for Yasumi's team to push through a design from conceptualisation to boutique floor, with not a single garment advancing to production until it is worn and put to the test by the team. No detail escapes attention, from the design of inner pockets (which could bring discomfort to the wearer) to the positioning of button holes for easy accessibility.
On 45R's latest range
Its fastidious pursuit of quality aside, the brand exemplifies earthy elegance. In its latest The Horses' View collection, the equestrian-inspired silhouette translates to a tapered fit for its range of trousers and Umahiko jeans (one of 45R's three silhouettes for jeans) that can be tucked into knee-high leather boots effortlessly. The Autumn/Winter 2015 collection pays tribute to the wild horses that trot pass 45R's flagship store in Japan. Key fabrics of the collection include tweed, velvet and the ultra-smooth Suvin cotton (otherwise known as the silk of cotton). As Suvin can look flat after weaving, 45R combs its pieces to create volume.
Prints this season see whimsical horse shoes and reins painstakingly silkscreened and wood-blocked entirely by hand. No one piece is the same, but collectively they narrate the story of 45R's relentless pursuit of understated luxury.