Hakobu Brand Designer Miho Suenaga Browne on Japanese Design, Work and More

I discovered Suenaga Browne’s stylish handbags online and I knew I had to talk to her. This was a great opportunity. I’ve always admired the natural simplicity and philosophy of Japanese aesthetics. I find this particular designer’s fusion of traditional Japanese and Western cultures quite interesting.

Here is what she revealed about herself and her work:

Tell me more about the function of your products.

The name “Hakobu” comes from the Japanese word “hakobu” or “to carry.” I chose that name because I wanted to make products that people could easily carry with them whenever they left the house. I want people to look and feel stylish with products that are well-designed and easy to use during their daily routines or when they go somewhere special.

Hakobu designs bring together elements from Tokyo, Japan, where I grew up, as well as elements from the US. Combining these elements, I focus on creating unique designs that have a friendly, familiar feel to them. I create designs that are sophisticated and Japanese in their simplicity. And I think one of the true charms of Hakobu is that all of our products are handmade and unique. Each is made only once. That allows our customers the joy of having a one-of-a-kind item, something truly personal they can add to their look.

Describe your creative process.

My creative process for Hakobu involves several steps.

hakobuFirst, in order to design a sewing pattern for a product, I do research and gather lots of information. Hakobu designs involve adding American and European elements to Japanese elements, as well as adding contemporary elements to traditional elements. I therefore spend time researching Japanese and Western traditions and fashions, both online and on paper, to bring those four areas together.

For example, my Azuma bag is a contemporary approach to a way of carrying goods that was used in the Edo period in Japan. And my Hakobu bag is a contemporary approach to kinchaku drawstring bags that were used for personal items also during the Edo period; this I have made into a true handbag. Both meant designing original patterns. And I have altered both types of bags to make them contemporary and easier to use. I have added magnetic snaps, changed sizes and combined Japanese and Western fabrics.

Most Hakobu products are based on traditional Japanese items, while the fabric patterns combine both Japanese and Western elements.

When I select fabrics, I look for different characteristics. When selecting Japanese fabrics, I look for those that are reminiscent of traditional designs and those that convey a sense of the four seasons and Japanese culture. When selecting Western fabrics, I look for things that inspire me, things that remind me of American television shows I watched as a kid, movies, European art and places I have visited.

Bringing Japanese, Western, traditional and contemporary elements together, ideas tend to come to me when looking at fabrics. With the shapes decided, I go from there and create each Hakobu product. This is something that is intuitive and therefore hard to describe… but in the end, Hakobu products represent my personal experiences.

Have you ever danced in the rain?

I have not, though I have been dancing since I was a student! I used to do cheerleading, and I have also learned hula. 

The question reminds me of the film “Singing in the Rain.” Dancing so smoothly and singing “I am dancing and singing in the rain….” I really like that scene.

What is your perfect breakfast?

I love the breakfasts you get at Japanese hot spring ryokan (hotels). Rice, grilled fish, miso soup, seaweed, and Japanese omelets. This is a traditional breakfast in Japan that is so simple and so good.

But honestly, usually I do not have time, so my breakfast is often just coffee and toast.

What question do you hate to answer?

I tend to be rather straightforward, and rarely am I embarrassed or feel the need to hide anything, so no question really bothers me. I don’t like attacking, negative questions, though.

In general, Japanese people are said to be quiet and shy. But personally, I do not think that’s quite accurate. I think that Japanese people tend to say their opinions when appropriate, but also resist being self-assertive when it is not appropriate.

The film you can watch over and over again…

“Roman Holiday.” I feel really drawn to Audrey Hepburn’s character (Princess Ann), who is so beautiful, yet playful and unpretentious. This character embodies the kind of women I admire.

As this is an old romantic comedy, this movie does not have the sexual elements of contemporary movies. This, together with the beautiful streets of Rome, the fashions and expressions of characters, and how it is filmed makes for a beautiful movie. Watching it puts me in a really good mood. I will never get tired of it.

The best piece of career advice someone has given to you is…

That would be “You should open your own store.” My husband, who did something similar with his own artwork, encouraged me to start.

Starting the Hakobu brand was a big decision and required a lot of energy. I had plenty of questions early on: “what kinds of things do people like?;” “how can I explain my products simply so people understand?” etc. I had doubts, too: “Will people buy this?” When I opened Hakobu, it took time before the first product sold, and I felt quite a lot of frustration. But my husband encouraged me to look at it long-term — “make good products and people will come.” And my family and friends have always been there, supporting and cheering me on. I have made it this far because of them.

Having started this brand, it has connected me with websites like this one, with people on social media and has allowed me to see things and meet people I never knew before. I am really glad I decided to take that first step and start.

I want to thank Lena for this opportunity. Truly, thank you!

Currently, the designer resides in Tokyo and continues to develop her brand. If you’d like to learn more about Hakobu and its creations, visit www.hakobubrand.com 

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A Cut Above: Things You May Want To Know About Bias Cut

Have you once noticed that certain, relatively simple clothing pieces tend to adapt to your body without being skin tight? Maybe the fabric feels like a second skin,clinging naturally to your curves and enabling your body to move freely?
You probably aren’t aware of it but the garment was most likely created using a bias-cut technique. Never heard of this? Don’t worry, you aren’t alone. Read on and I’ll give you the lowdown on this style. (Also, as a bonus, I’ll share with you some awesome inspirations for your next shopping marathon.)

Let’s start with a bit of history and an introduction to the brilliant French designer, Madeleine Vionnet. During the early 20th century – an era of corsets and padding – the progressive Vionnet introduced comfortable bias-cut garments that a woman could put on easily. She found her inspiration in Greco-Roman art in Italy.

 

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ca. 1931 — Model wearing pale crepe romain pajamas by Vionnet holding long flowing scarf,
in Grecian-style pose — Image by © Condé Nast Archive/CORBIS

 
Unlike a traditional cut on the straight grain, the bias-cut technique is performed in diagonal direction of the  cloth. The process takes a lot of fabric and a lot of skill. This is the reason that quite often the mass-produced imitation of  designer garment  doesn’t bring out the best of the body as easily as the designer original.

But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself. Back to the genius of Madeleine Vionnet.

Japanese designer Issey Miyake once said: “the impression (of Vionnet’s clothing) was similar to the wonder one feels at the sight of a woman emerging from bathing, draped only in a single piece of beautiful cloth.”

And he wasn’t her only admirer. She influenced Halston, John Galliano, Comme des Garçons and many other famous contemporary designers. 

If you have a curvy body and you are not a big fan of structural clothes, you may want to consider a bias-cut piece that gently accentuates your lines while floating freely around the body.

Found on www.style.com

Lanvin Pre-Fall 2015. Found on http://www.style.com

A great investment would be a minimalistic bias-cut dress that can be dressed up and dressed down. It’s especially a great choice if you have a busy lifestyle. 

Jason Wu Bias-Cut Silk-Panel Shirtdress


 

Layered asymmetric hem dress


La Petite Robe di Chiara Boni Melania Off-the-Shoulder Ruch-Skirt Cocktail Dress


 

Eileen Fisher Sleeveless Silk Asymmetric Dress


 

 For more ideas and inspirations follow my Pinterest board “Bias Cut” by clicking here.

Wishing you a wonderful summer! 

Ciao,

Lena.