Hats Incredible – Kijima Takayuki is a Japanese Milliner Proving The Art Of Hatmaking Is Alive and Kickin’
A good hat goes a long way. Or so my grandad always tells me as he props a small felt fedora on his almost completely bald head. As a kid, I found it fascinating, this signature accessory of his. I remember wondering why he was wearing that strange thing on his head – wool in the cold seasons, straw or canvas during the warm ones. Without a fault, he (to this day) always has something between his head and the sky. And it’s definitely not because of that old tradition of being closer to whoever/ whatever is up there – he’s notoriously anti-religion. It took me 20-odd years, intense scrutiny of horse racing attendees at Daily Mail and an interview with one of the biggest names in the industry to figure it all out – the feeling of having a hat on your head is unparalleled to any other. The confidence, the poise and the notion of self-importance – once that thing is on the head, you feel invincible. Not just a cap or a beanie – I’m talking a hat with a brim.
Originally designed to indicate social status, hats went from being all the rage to a real-life rarity, Ascot aside. But 6000 miles to the East from the racing course, a creative mind that obviously agrees with my grandad continues to elevate the idea of hats into contemporary fashion. His name is Kijima Takayuki and he’s Japan’s go-to person for headpiece collabs. This year, he’s teamed up with British heritage brand Sunspel on creating a capsule collection of light-weight fedora hats. Made out of upcycled paper, these headpieces combine a classic silhouette with innovation in textile. As he came all the way from Tokyo to launch the collection, I sat down with Takayuki and his translator to discuss all things hats.
Sunspel x Kijima Takayuki
Originally interested in being a fashion designer, Takayuki started his career as a milliner in 1990 as part of the atelier of Akio Hirata, a late hatmaker whose cult couture-level work dates all the way back the 1960s. “Being a clothes designer seemed too much, but if you become an accessories designer – you can go everywhere, enjoy any kind of fashion at the same time,” he tells me. After five years of working with the master, Takayuki embarked on a path of his own as he launched an atelier under the name Daikanyama Tokyo. This was a time when the divide between formal and street fashion was quite strict, and so was the world of hats. “There were very classic, old-fashioned hatmakers but they are not fashion people, so that was the big difference,” Takayuki remembers. In the two decades since his brand’s launch, this conversation has changed, partially thanks to the wave of hatters collaborating with brands that mixed the two categories. One of those collaborators was Takayuki, who changed the name of the brand into his namesake in 2013 as part of a global expansion. Undercover, Toga, Facetasm, Takahiromiyashita The Soloist… All these Tokyo-based brands started to break onto the international market, getting the attention of both the buyers and the journalists from all over the world. All of a sudden, it wasn’t just about Rei, Junya and Yohji – this was the next generation of Japanese creatives. And joining their groundbreaking designs were the hats crafted in collaboration with Kijima Takayuki. Does he still sees a big difference between the European and the Asian markets? “I’m struggling at convincing customers to touch and try, once they do this, they have a confidence. Somehow, I think European people have concrete ideas of what should be and what used to be. Before touching the hat, they have their own ideas.”
At Kijima Takayuki, there are two different lines. One are haute couture hats, crafted by hand in the atelier. For the other line, he is actually using a clothing factory to make the more mass-produced hats. Beyond just the brimmed hats, his selection now also features woven beanies and caps as well as berets and straw fedoras. It’s no wonder that Lady Gaga and Madonna have worn his designs, as he adapts his craftsmanship to both brands as well as the contemporary times we live in. His signature ready-to-wear pieces are all made for travelling, they are mouldable and waterproof – crafted with purpose in mind. His knack for functional innovation has also been reflected in his collaboration with Sunspel, a brand known for its modern-day interpretations of wardrobe classics. “My brand is the same, it looks very classic, but the materials are different in a slightly modern way of twisting it, to adjust to the modern life,” Takayuki says of the collab. The unisex fedora shape comes in four different shades of woven paper, working towards breathability and durability of the piece. Perfectly fitted for the wide range of Sunspel contempo classics.
As for the days ahead, they are looking bright for Takayuki and his fellow hatmakers. Even a glance at the just-ended AW19 catwalk shows, there’s a definite shift towards the upscale vision of both men’s and women’s fashion. What’s Takayuki’s forecast for the future of millinery? “I believe we are going back to a wider brim and I’m working in that direction too.” You heard it here first. Forget about dainty headpieces – wide is the way forward… And just like that, I (finally) became my grandfather’s favourite.
The Kijima Takayuki x Sunspel collection is available to shop online and in selected Sunspel stores.