An interview with Kijima Takayuki
With more than 20 years of experience, Kijima Takayuki studied under the highly esteemed milliner Akio Hirata before going on to start his own collection. He has since made pieces that have been worn by Lady Gaga, Madonna and many Japanese celebrities. Sunspel carries Kijima hats exclusively, and for Spring Summer 2019 will launch an additional style that has been created especially by Kijima. The Sunspel x Kijima special is made from 100% paper fibre in a contemporary adaptation of a classic shape. Here we find out more about the seasonal style, as well as Kijima’s journey as a hatmaker.
Tell us a bit about your story and how you came to train as a hat-maker.
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.
At Sunspel, yarn and fabric is such an important starting point of each product – can you explain a little more about the paper material used for the SS19 Kijima x Sunspel special hat?
This material is very important for my summer collection. It is 100% paper fibre, which is very light, strong and breathable. I was studying the best ways to make this material work for the collection and found that you can fold and roll up the hat, which makes it very convenient for storing in a bag when travelling, but at the same time, it very quickly recovers its shape when you unfold it. I wanted to add a bit more Sunspel DNA, so I chose two blue colours from the Sunspel spring/summer collection for the ribbon.
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.
While for the current Sunspel collaboration I am focusing on paper fibre, for future collaborations I’d like to look at different materials and maybe even look at a winter collection. Hopefully we can continue working together and developing great products.
A selection of Kijima Takayuki hats are now available at Sunspel stores and sunspel.com.