Viewed from afar, it looks plain and unadorned Traditional dying technique for imprinting countless intricate patterns on the cloth

The pride of the samurai and the playful innovation of the ordinary people

 Edo Komon is a traditional single-colour dyeing technique that dates back to the Edo period. Countless intricate patterns, known as komon, are imprinted onto the cloth via reverse dyeing. Because the patterns are so fine, the cloth appears to be a solid color when viewed from afar. Edo Komon is a particularly refined and elegant form of the "Edo no Iki" style characterized by a playful yet tasteful spirit.
 Edo Komon is inspired by the ceremonial outfits called kamishimo that were worn by samurai warriors in the Edo period. As with modern-day suits, which tend to be highly standardized, the samurai initially used the colour and patterning of the fabric as a way to express their wealth and social status and distinguish themselves from other clans. However, the Edo government subsequently issued an edict banning ostentatious forms of ceremonial outfit and encouraging frugality. As a result, plain fabrics in colours such as indigo, black, and brown with no patterning became the norm.

Nevertheless, samurai were exploring new ways to express their wealth and status clandestinely. They discovered a technique called komon-zome that involved printing intricate patterns across the entire fabric. Samurai would exhort their staff to devise ever more detailed and intricate patterns in competition with the other clans.
 In time, the komon-zome style started to appear on the kimonos worn by Kabuki actors—the fashion influencers of their time—and was no longer the exclusive domain of the samurai. And eventually it spread to the ordinary people of Edo (modern-day Tokyo). Unlike the samurai, with their lofty aesthetic sensibilities, the ordinary people were more interested in patterns based on familiar everyday things such as flowers, household items, work tools, vegetables, and animals. This was the Edo no Iki style, defined by a casual yet joyous sensibility that serves as the inspiration for the freedom and playfulness inherent in Edo Komon.

Exquisite craftsmanship by experienced artisans

 Dye workers use highly intricate templates prepared by master craftsmen to produce the distinctive Edo Komon patterns. It takes great skill and precision to carve the templates, which measure about 20-30 cm square. The template is positioned on the base fabric, then coated with a barrier paste of charcoal mixed with adhesive (typically glutinous rice or rice bran). The barrier paste prevents the dye from reaching the fabric. The template is then repositioned. The template must be aligned very carefully so as to leave no evidence of a seam or join between adjacent positions. Templates have tiny holes called okuriboshi that are used for alignment. The more detailed the patterning, the greater care is required in aligning the template.
 Once the barrier paste has been applied to the entire surface of the fabric using the template, the next step is dyeing the fabric, a process called shigoki-zome. The barrier paste produces white patterns where the dye cannot reach the fabric. The dyed pieces are sprinkled with sawdust, to prevent accidental contact, and then steamed. The fabric is checked over for colour fastness, then rinsed and left to dry naturally in the sun. Edo Komon is made the traditional way, using all-natural materials such as sawdust and rice bran.

Edo Komon meets European fashion

 Yuichi Hirose, the fourth-generation owner of 100-year-old Hirose Dyeworks, is committed to preserving the Edo Komon tradition while at the same time creating designs that appeal to modern sensibilities. "It's a painstaking and repetitive process where everything is done by hand and you can't take any shortcuts," says Hirose. "But it's worth it because you get an end product of incredible warmth and beauty, something that you could never achieve with mass-produced machine-made fabrics."
 The Edo Komon stole is one of many products designed by Hirose specifically for overseas markets. The stole is made with the same traditional dyeing technique but uses a dedicated fabric that is different to the normal kimono cloth. When a kimono cloth is being dyed, the template is only repositioned vertically. For the stole, which is much wider than a kimono, the template also has to be repositioned horizontally. After a great deal of time and effort with template artisans, Hirose has managed to create an Edo Komon stole that is truly unique.
 Through ongoing engagement with overseas markets over several decades, with a particular focus on the culture and fashion sense of countries such as France, Hirose has developed a number of unique and innovative product concepts.  Hirose says that these experiences have introduced him to a range of patterns used in countries around the world. "I'm interested in using the traditional Edo Komon technique to explore a variety of different patterns and ideas and push the boundaries of what's possible," he explains. "I like the idea of Paris Komon patterns or New York Komon patterns, for instance."
 In his bid to popularize Edo Komon by introducing new ideas and patterns to the world, Hirose is staying true to the spirit of the Edo people of hundreds of years ago.