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From Tokyo to Hartford

by Amelia Gray
FashionCareerCenter Columnist

Fashionistas of the world, Japanalia has three mandates for you: "Be comfortable. Be confidant. Look extraordinary."

From a small sewing shop in Hartford, CT, comes Japanalia, the brainchild of fashion designers Eiko Sakai and Dan Blow. The two started their fashion venture in Tokyo in 1976 and moved to Hartford in 1981 to continue their work. Fashion design school students should look to Eiko and Dan as examples of what a design house high on talent can do, even when it's low on space.

The Beginnings of Japanalia
Initially, the designers worked only with kimono silk. The fragile, expensive silk worked well for delicate costumes, but their growing clientele base was looking for a more contemporary sense of style. Eiko and Dan responded to their clients by bringing in an array of fabrics. They work with the fabric, creating clean, spare lines through minimal cutting. As they design to maintain the shape and fold of the fabric, Japanalia garments abstractly preserve the kimono cut and create a refined size that works with bodies of all shapes.

Each outfit is handcrafted and personalized, and their five-size system claims to be perfect for any body size. "This refined size concept can work to the advantage of every woman or man," boasts the Japanalia Web site.

Japanalia Booms with Famous Clientele
A local business at heart, Japanalia fans include Elly Jacobsen, administrator at Trinity College. "I wear Japanalia almost exclusively," she says. Japanalia clothing has been seen on soap operas and late-night, when comedienne Joan Jaffe wore the brand on "Saturday Night Live." Mary Travers of Peter, Paul & Mary is another reported fan.

One key to Japanalia's success is an ability to adapt. The climate in Hartford ranges between mild summers and colder winters, so Japanalia puts out very different collections from season to season. Layering is a common tactic, as the designers pair flowing skirts with long tunics on the women, or wide trousers under jackets with open collars for men. Fashion design school students can look to Japanalia to find a unique silhouette that achieves both elegant and casual looks.

Sources:
Japanalia

About the Author
Amelia Gray is a teacher and freelance writer in San Marcos, TX. Amelia earned a bachelor's degree in English literature from Arizona State University.