The Silkman Cometh

Japanese designer Akihiko Izukura

A textile fashioned by hand," says Japanese designer Akihiko Izukura, "shows the character and emotions of the person who creates it." When he decided to join his family's silk-weaving business in the 1960s, he discovered that in order to reinvent the future he must first study the past. "Although there were many skilled weavers in my house," he says of his home in Nishijin, the textile district in Kyoto, "I had no one to teach me about the origins of the silk thread and about the ancient techniques, so I had to work on my own."

For the next three decades, Izukura studied textile techniques—some dating as far back as 500 b.c.—while developing a revolutionary signature style, which blends weaving, knitting, braiding, and twining into complex patterns of endless variety. Today, his collection includes everything from translucent silk scarves, diaphanous and delicate as spiderwebs, to heavy, traditional kimonos, considered the finest in Japan.

"There's an incredible sense of poetry in his pieces," says Lynn Felsher, who is curating an exhibition of Izukura's fabrics in Manhattan at The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology this month. "They are completely unprecedented yet based on very old traditions, thus bridging the past and future."

This dichotomy is apparent in Izukura's sensational gold-threaded obi sashes, some of which take up to three years to produce. Whereas in Japan obi are still a functional part of a woman's kimono (artfully tied around the waist), many Western homes have appropriated them into decorative works of art. "They look beautiful as wall decorations, almost like scrolls," says Robert Homma, co-owner of New York's Dimson Homma, which carries Izukura's textiles. "I also know people who use them as pillow covers and table runners."

To ensure the highest quality in his obi, Izukura uses only long-filament silk threads, ecru in color, which measure about 3,000 feet and are evenly thick. After dying them with natural products, such as cloves, onions, chestnuts, or pomegranates, he strings the threads into one of his patented looms, and begins to weave. The results are startlingly imaginative and improvisational—colorful patterns flow into smooth, unadorned surfaces, then reemerge without betraying a single seam. Each obi is unique.

Recently, Izukura has become concerned with providing a continuum for future generations. "I have developed many of my techniques instinctively," he says, "but finally I have decided to try to explain them to others. My ancestors inspired me in my research so long ago, and if I am the only one who knows their techniques, then they will once again disappear, forgotten and unused."

Textiles may be purchased at Dimson Homma. Silk obi range from $4,200 to $5,000. 20 East 67th Street, New York, NY 10021; 212-439-7950;

"Infinity: The Textiles of Akihiko Izukura" is on view at The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology through September 15th. Building E, southwest corner of Seventh Avenue at 27th Street, New York, NY 10001; 212-217-7999;