Sunspel x Kijima Takayuki

This season, we're thrilled to announce a second collaboration with the renowned hatmaker Kijima Takayuki, marking his brand's 10th anniversary with an exclusive cap.

Crafted from our signature Supima cotton Q75 mesh fabric, this special piece blends Kijima's 20-plus years of exceptional craftsmanship with our iconic material. The Japanese brand is known for elevating classic silhouettes with a modern twist and has meticulously designed this hat to be soft, comfortable and unmistakably contemporary.

Our Q75 fabric is unique. It was first developed in the 1950s by Peter Hill, the great-grandson of our founder, to be cool and breathable in the heat of the Riviera and it’s the foundation of our Riviera Polo Shirt which was tailored for Daniel Craig’s James Bond. Mesh fabrics are an integral part of Sunspel’s DNA, dating back to our foundation in Nottingham, the lacemaking capital of the world in 1860 and Q75 - an innovative fabric that’s designed for pure comfort - epitomises who we are as a brand.

 

This cap has a special 6-panel construction which gives it a contemporary look and super-soft feel. Kijima explains some of the challenges he faced when designing it, offering an insight into the craftsmanship he is famous for: “Because the fabric is soft, it’s difficult to achieve a clean silhouette as is. To add stiffness, therefore, I layered two pieces of cotton fabric with the main fabric pattern and then sewed them together before assembling. This method creates a more exquisite texture compared to using regular interfacing. Additionally, it means the product can be washed which creates puckering and allows the piece to age nicely.”

The hat is our second collaboration with the Japanese hatmakers. For our previous, we interviewed Kijima about his career, hat making and what it was like to train under the legendary milliner Akio Hirata.

 


 

Tell us a bit about your story and how you came to train as a hatmaker.

I always loved fashion very much, and I was wearing many kinds of different styles, from classic to punk to very trendy fashion. I thought if I became a clothing designer I would have to choose just one style, which I didn’t want to do, so I became a hat designer, so I could enjoy working in many different styles.

Once I decided to be a hat designer I went to hat-making school in Tokyo for a year. It is managed by one of the most famous hat designers in the world, Akio Hirata. He is a haute-couture hatmaker, and his atelier is famous for very creative, but also very classic design. For example, the Emperor Akihito’s family wears Mr Hirata’s hats.

I learned the basics of how to make hats there and, by chance, when I graduated, Mr Hirata’s personal atelier needed one more person to employ. So naturally I put myself forward, and luckily for me I got the job. I worked as Mr Hirata’s assistant for five years, between 1991 and 1996. At the time there was a bubble economy in Japan: so many designer brands were making hats. I was able to work with Yohji Yamamoto, Comme des Garçons and Issey Miyake. All these big brands were coming with very different materials and different ideas, which required me to be very flexible and to adjust quickly. I learned a lot during that time.

In 1996, I decided to become independent and I started my own brand.

What do you personally like about designing and making hats?

For me, the whole process is very interesting. From choosing the material to choosing patterns to deciding where the stitches need to be. All of these things make a huge difference in the process of building up the hat. I make the hat sample by myself from scratch, so if suddenly I change my mind, or I want to change the stitching or the pattern I can do it by myself, which I enjoy very much.

England has quite a traditional history of millinery, how do you think this is similar to millinery in Japan?

The classic way of building hats is almost the same between Japan and England. But the way I make hats is completely different from any other place. The two big differences between the Kijima line and any other are as follows: I have experienced haute couture hatmaking, so one of my lines is made entirely by hand in my ateliers. For the other line, I use a factory. However, the difference is that most people would use a hat factory, but I use a clothing factory. This is because I don’t want the factory to already have a concrete idea in mind, like ‘a hat needs to be this’ or ‘a hat needs to be that’. So for that line I can be very flexible, and more free.

Can you talk us through the craftsmanship and construction techniques you use to make your hats? What are the advantages of handmade compared to mass production?

For example, if you look at the brim of one of my felt hats made by hand in the atelier, you can see the stitching is different to one made with a machine. If you look at the underside of the brim you can’t see any stitching at all on the handmade example, but the stitches are visible on the machine-made one. It’s possible to be much more precise and careful stitching by hand. Also on the brim, the hand-stitched method produces a less flat, softer, more flexible result. Every other hatmaker reserves this technique for women’s styles, but I like to use it on my men’s lines too. Usually men’s hats are very stiff and very hard, but my men’s hats are softer.

Tell us a bit about how the collaboration with Sunspel came about.

The Sunspel buying staff found me at trade shows and started buying my products. Sunspel’s president, Nick Brooke, liked my hats and felt that they would resonate well with a Sunspel consumer. From there, we started to discuss the possibility of a collaboration. At the time I was showing my hats in Europe, but not very widely so few Europeans were familiar with the brand.

I really enjoy working with Sunspel. It has a rich history and authenticity, but adapted to modern tastes, which is similar to my core concept. So I respect these things. I know Sunspel’s character, so based on that I enjoy thinking about how I can put some of my DNA into the project, and achieve a balance that makes some unique products.

What does the future of your hat design look like? Will you be experimenting with more unusual materials?

The way I look at hats is this: I really have to look at the current clothing fashion first and think, ‘What kind of hat could fit with the next season’s clothing line?’ Not just whether the hats will be big or small or wide or narrow, but I more think in terms of, ‘OK, most of the designers are presenting this and the street market is wearing this. So with those clothes, what type of hat could be cool or popular?’ That’s the way to think. So I need to see the clothing market first, and then I can decide. The simple way of looking at it is, even if you see a fantastic hat, if that doesn’t fit to your wardrobe, you won’t buy it.

 

Shop the Sunspel x Kijima Hat