Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Style Salvage Speaks to... Kuni Awai

Style Salvage Speaks to... Kuni Awai.

The b brand is one that always strives to offer a modern and accessible concept, cohesive throughout the store and in its eponymous magazine, clothing and shoe collections. Last Friday when we caught up with the creative minds behind b magazine, they discussed how exciting and vibrant the b world was and how much it influenced each issue. With each visit to this mecca of contemporary design this regular shopper is left with a new discovery or idea to pursue. From the designers the stock to the people who shop there or those involved in the store in some way, it is clear that it is more a lifestyle than a store. Everything from the clothes hanging on the rails to the artwork displayed within it to the people which inhabit it, b is full of surprises. I encountered one such surprise back in February at the brand's AW10 presentation courtesy of Kuni Awai's accessories.

Cast your mind back to last season's fashion month, the Tom Finch designed wooden landscape combined beautifully with the jaded aristocrats wardrobe and made this city loving boy want to dress up and explore the great outdoors. In addition to the plaid suit, a beautiful backpack in thick felt and suede captured my attention and to this day, I long to add it to my ever growing collection. I was fortunate enough to grab a few words with Matthew Murphy at the presentation and he informed me that the accessories had been created by a familiar store face, Kuni Awai. Awai has been part of the b family for four years and in SS10, she began adding wonderfully crafted accessories to the collections and ultimately the shop floor. For AW10, in addition to the breathtaking backpack the range includes bumbags, totes, shoulder bags and a cardholder. The moment the stock arrived in store, I just had to feature the designs in more detail (any excuse to see the backpack again). So, armed with my camera I ventured to the store to learn more about the craftswoman behind the range...

SS: What were your inspirations, dreams and the driving catalyst for launching in to the world of accessories?
Kuni Awai: My craft is a way for me to communicate with the world, it’s not been a dream so much as a passion. I love working with natural materials, creating sculptural objects using traditional techniques. I am very fortunate that I’ve met so many lovely people who’ve taught me about craftsmanship over the years and in that sense I remain a student, someone that is always open to learning. I would never have dreamed that I might have my own label in a million years, my friends, colleagues and mentors influence has led me to where I am now.

SS: Collaboration with creative talent is an integral part of the bstore brand identity, what is your background in accessories design and how have the team encouraged and supported you in your efforts?
Kuni Awai: My background is in shoemaking, having studied at Cordwainers in London. I went on to serve as an apprentice to a bespoke shoemaker, then having worked at b Store for a while in the shop we identified the need to stock more accessories and it was a this point that I was first given the opportunity to make leather belts. I went on, in 2009, to make a range of bags in collaboration with Jason Hughes, b Store's creative director for the Spring Summer catwalk show. Both Matthew and Kirk have always been very supportive and encouraging - there could not be the AWAI brand without them!!

SS: What were the first and last item you remember designing?
Kuni Awai: My earliest memories of designing are a three-dimensional card for a friend when I was perhaps 5 or 6 years old and around the same time a wooden puzzle I made in my grandfather's workshop (he designed and built boats) in Japan. It could be that this is where my love of natural materials, wood, leather and paper have developed from.

The most recent projects I've been working on are designs for origami gift-wrapping for Dunhill (if you have a chance to visit Bourdon House, you will see Japanese style wrapped boxes there)

SS: As all of your designs are expertly handmade in London, craft and local manufacture are obviously very important to you. Can you talk us through some of the process involved in creating your accessories? What can you tell us about the workshop?
Kuni Awai: I mostly work alone, working by hand and without the aid of machines. For example, all finishing and the straps are hand sewn on the rucksack. But an exception would be the felt bags which were machine stitched by someone else.

The first stage is a sketched design on paper before I go on to think about construction and measurements and then sampling. Sometime I start making things earlier on but most of the items come together more fully in the sampling process.

It is very important for me to source and produce everything in the UK, giving me more control and a closer relationship with the end product.

SS: b Store's AW10 collection took inspiration from the great outdoors. It explored the idea of a jaded aristocrat exploring his country estate whilst he and his family dress accordingly for each conceivable occasion, from rambling attire to full on evening dandy with a two piece plaid suit. Your accessories compliment the collection extremely well. How closely did you work with Matthew, Kirk and Jason when designing the collection?
Kuni Awai: The guys talk through the concepts of each collection at an early stage, discussing inspiration and themes. It has been always a close collaborative relationship, including of course direction from Jason and Natasha.

For AW10 they gave direction for the presentation from a styling point of view, to consider rucksacks with a mountaineering look and bumbags for hunting in the woods for example. The choice of the materials was to compliment/associate with the footwear, in a similar way people in countryside might dress. For the women, the card case necklace match with the evening shoes, and the men's rucksack is made in waterproof thick felts.

SS: Even though the presentation was back in February I still have a strong image of the backpack and can't wait to see it in store. I know that this is a difficult question but do you have any favourite designs? 
Kuni Awai: The rucksack, as this this is the most time consuming to make and therefore it is very satisfying to finish!

SS: Your designs are currently available at bstore but will soon be available on Lambs Conduit street thanks to the lovely Darkroom. How did you meet Rhonda and Lulu? Is the buy different to bstore? Kuni Awai: I first met Rhonda and Lulu as friends of Matthew and Kirk and as customers of B Store. They first noticed my bags at the b Store showroom in Paris and contacted me to work on a range for their shop. For Darkroom I've made variations on some of the products in the range created for b Store, adjusting the size and colours to better suit their customers. Yes, big thanks to the Darkroom girls, I was kind of shocked (and happy) how quickly they ordered after I visited them!

SS: How would you like to see the Awai brand evolve in the coming seasons? Kuni Awai: Although next season I've taken a break to focus on the brand's direction, I can tell you that I'm working on a collection tailored to the requirements of each of the stores that I presently work with. These designs are predominantly made out of soft and saddle leathers - the materials I feel most passionate about.

I'm looking forward to watch the brand develop over the coming seasons and am already looking to add Awai's designs to my accessories arsenal (I've already purchased the black leather belt). In addition to taking the talking us through the evolution of her brand, Awai offered an exclusive look at her recently shot look book which I can happily share with you. If you go down to the woods today, you're sure of a big surprise...

Look Book images courtesy of Kuni Awai.


Brandon said...

I can see why you fell in love with that rucksak Steve, the colours are so versatile and the whole bag looks luxe. Hopefully they'll arrive stateside some time.

Unknown said...

Interesting product. I like it--I think. I wish I could see it in person....


Modereporters said...

I love backpacks!!

Style Salvage Steve said...

Brandon Acton Bond: Fingers crossed. I'm confident that the Awai brand will grow and grow over the upcoming seasons.
James Gershwin: I'm pretty sure you'd fall for their charms if you saw them in person.
Modereporters: Me too!


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