Seven years ago, Hawaii fashion designer Amos Kotomori was looking at his bedroom and realized that the bedspread was a lost opportunity to display art.
"Most people only think of walls, but the bedspread is usually the largest surface in a room to place art," he said, vowing to make the redesign of the bedspread his next project.
Sidetracked by producing his Kotomori and Bodhi menswear lines and his work as a design consultant for Jim Thompson — The Thai Silk Co., in Thailand, he’s returned to the idea of art on a square piece of fabric — on a smaller scale — with a collection of vibrant giclee-print scarves.
The collection launches today through Sunday at Neiman Marcus, coinciding with the fifth anniversary of Kotomori’s menswear launch. The designer will be at the Ala Moana Center store from noon to 3 p.m. Friday and Saturday, in the third-floor Man’s Store to greet customers and help with selections.
Although the aesthetic that guides his textile design for Jim Thompson would seem comparable to the way he envisions his scarves, Kotomori said, "It’s a whole different concept from working with textiles, where the design isn’t complete until it’s cut and the juxtaposition of the print on the body is what it’s supposed to look like."
His scarf designs reflect the seven months a year he now spends in Thailand, as well as his reconnection with his Japanese heritage and collection of antique obis. Featured in his work are plum blossoms and tie-dye banana leaf imagery, as well as sak yant tattoo designs representing the secret language of Southeast Asian monks. Most in Hawaii will recognize the artwork as being vaguely Asian, but they are also abstract enough to have the kind of broad appeal necessary as the designer continues to expand his business.
Kotomori says the Jim Thompson design house has helped him aim at an international audience. The company’s founder is credited with saving Thailand’s dying silk industry following World War II, when machine-made textiles from Europe and Japan were displacing the handwoven silks produced by farmers.
Thompson disappeared under mysterious circumstances in 1967, but his company thrives today as an international design house specializing in silk apparel, as well as leather and fabric purses, accessories and home furnishings. Its vertical production system involves control of products from start to finish, from raising silkworms, to processing the cocoons, weaving and dyeing the silk threads, fabric production, printing, sewing and leather-working.
Although it’s rare for the company to give credit to any individual designer, Kotomori recently won his own label within the company, Jim Thompson by Kotomori. He is the only designer in the apparel/textile division to receive such notice.
"Working at Jim Thompson really raised the bar for me," Kotomori said. "It helped me determine what I want to do and what I can do. A large part of that was learning to compromise, because all artists eventually ask, ‘How do you learn to make art a business without compromising your creativity?’ "
Kotomori was never one to make such compromises. As a child of 8, after attending one day of Japanese language school, he decided "it was so structured that I told my mom I wasn’t going back." He never learned calligraphy, but that didn’t stop him from taking sumi — (ink) and brush in hand — in hand to create a language of his own for his textiles.
"It’s more of a feeling to me, and people see what they want to see in it."
Even at Jim Thompson he was resistant to embracing the company’s emphasis on perfection and exotic beauty. "Designs are very precise, repetitive, often mirrored, and my work isn’t. I like things a little off and they said, ‘If you can’t be Jim Thompson can you at least be a cousin?’"
In Thailand, where the elephant, a signifier of royal power and a spiritual mentor, figures heavily in art and the designs of Jim Thompson, Kotomori said he was willing to create as many elephant designs as they wanted, as long as he could do it his way. Looking beyond the obvious elephant imagery, Kotomori was intrigued by the sun spots on an elephant’s ear and used those for the basis of a print that became a top seller for the company.
"It’s that ‘wabi sabi’ idea of being perfect in an imperfect way. That’s what makes it human and makes you want to stop to look at it."
AMOS KOTOMORI COLLECTIONS
>> Where: Neiman Marcus, The Man’s Store, third floor
>> When: On view during store hours today through Sunday; the designer will be in the store noon to 3 p.m. Friday and Saturday
>> Julie Wong: Meet the jewelry designer and view her new collections 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Saturday.
>> Barton Perreira trunk show: See the latest in opticals and special-fit frames in Accessories on the first floor during store hours through Sunday.
>> Vince GWP event: Receive a Vince bracelet with a regular-priced purchase of $350 or more in women’s Vince merchandise, in CUSP, first floor.
>> Manolo Blahnik trunk show: View the latest shoe collection 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. through Saturday, in Ladies Shoes, first floor.
>> Giorgio Armani 40th anniversary passport event: Refreshments and informal modeling, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday in Designer Sportswear, second floor.