[Visiting Scholar] Silke Hofmann[Visiting Scholar] Silke Hofmann
KYOTO Design Lab, Kyoto Institute of Technology
JASSO Visiting Scholar
December 1, 2017 – March 31, 2018
Silke Hofmann is a PhD student in the School of Design at the Royal College of Art (RCA), London. Her research is co-supervised by the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design and funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. She has a BA in Fashion Design from the Fashion Institute of Technology, New York and an MA in Fashion Knitwear from Central Saint Martin’s, University of the Arts, London.
Prior to her PhD studies, Silke worked internationally as a prêt-à-porter women’s wear designer.
Silke is interested in the conceptual framework of consumer-inclusion and user-experience in fashion design. Her PhD research centres on the experiences of breast cancer survivors with currently available post-mastectomy lingerie. She is investigating the roles product aesthetics and functionality play in the physical and emotional recovery process after mastectomy surgery. In order to foreground consumer needs and aspirations, Silke is experimenting with alternative survey methods and fashion design tools, such as a modular base template that facilitates the design of customized mock-up bras by individuals.
In Japan, she explored the use of different iterations of traditional Japanese washi paper as a textile material for prototyping. In addition, Silke initiated a cross-cultural dialogue with stakeholders of the Japanese breast cancer community, which she will continue after her residency.
Work with the KYOTO Design Lab, Kyoto Institute of Technology, local Kyoto artisans and Japanese fashion houses
The distinctly gentle and natural appearance of washi would suggest its suitability for vulnerable users. The combination of cloth-like properties, such as tear strength and folding endurance alongside its paper qualities, such as a writable and glueable surface, might predestine washi as a prototyping material for fashion design experiments.
During her residency at the Kyoto Institute of Technology (KIT), Silke aimed to improve three conditions of washi, in order to facilitate the functional needs of her modular base templates:
b. To prevent possible irritation of survivor’s skin, which might be sensitized by chemotherapy and radiation treatments, washi’s surface texture needed to be softened and smoothed, without losing its permeability.
c. The moderate manufacturing costs of modular base templates were an additional factor to be considered.
Initially, three approaches towards achieving these aims were addressed:
b. Silke conducted low-tech material experiments at KIT facilities. Mass-produced shoji washi, commonly found at hardware stores, was softened by kneading the paper before treating it with heat-bonding techniques. Conventional woven, lightweight, iron-on fusible textile was used to create a supportive grid structure. By placing the warp grains of two layers of fusible in a right angle towards each other and heat-bonding them to the underside of a washi sheet, the paper’s tear strength drastically improved. However, the natural softness and drape were respectively impaired and sensory discomfort was enhanced, due to the exposed synthetic fusible fibres (fig.01).
c. A literature search into Japanese papermaking for tailoring purposes finally led to investigative field research.
Arranged by Professor Satoko Okubayashi from KIT’s Department of Advanced Fibro Science, Silke visited the archive of the Kyoto Costume Institute (KCI), where fashion historian and curator Naoko Tsutusui introduced her to traditional Japanese paper clothes, kamiko. KCI’s costume collection encompasses kamiko ranging from historic washi undergarments of the Endo Period (from the 16th century) (fig.02) to exhibits of contemporary Japanese fashion designers, who occasionally revisit this national cultural heritage material in their prasctice, such as Comme des Garçons and Issey Miyake. An on-site study of the exhibits, focussing on material compositions and tailoring techniques, confirmed washi as a versatile material for fashion design.
Daphne Mohajer Va Peraran, the fashion designer and PhD candidate at Bunka University Tokyo, whose research encompasses kamiko, mentioned Shiroishi city in Miyagi Prefecture as central to Japans historic kamiko production. The garment industry’s shrinking demand for kamiko had reduced practising craftsmen in Shiroishi to the artisan family of Tadao and Mashiko Endo, who continue to produce kamiko for the ceremonial garments of a major Japanese Buddhist festival, Omizutori. Issey Miyake had purchased same Omizutori kamiko from the Endos for his renowned fall/winter 1982 kamiko collection. The designer had stayed in close contact with the family until their mill closed in 2016. During a visit at the Miyake Issey Foundation archives in Tokyo, archival supervisor, Masako Omori confirmed Shiroishi as the sole kamiko manufacturer for Issey Miyake.
In order to pick up the kamiko trail at the Omizutori festival, Silke travelled to Todai-ji Temple in Nara Prefecture on March 12th, 2018, where she visited the nightly climax of the festival. A sacred water-drawing ritual, open to the public, was performed at Nigatusudo Hall between 1:00 and 3:00 am. Silke witnessed two monks leading the procession, wearing, what looked like immaculate and new, kamiko robes (fig.04). A fellow festival visitor, Kyoto washi print artisan Ko Kado introduced Silke to his washi supplier. Yoshinao Sugihara, a merchant of bespoke washi and an avid washi collector with an extensive archive, tracked the new Omizutori kamiko to the village of Echizen in Fukui Prefecture. Together with Ko Kado, Yoshinao Sugihara and Dr Mariko Takagi, a graphic design professor at Doshisha University and design book author, who has previously published on washi, Silke visited the mill of Iwano Ichibe IX in Echizen. The 85-year-old washi artisan is a Ningen Kokuhoa, a Living National Treasure of Japan (fig. 05).
In regard to the three additional material conditions that Silke set out to improve for her modular base templates (1. enhanced tear strength, 2. soft and smooth, but permeable surface, 3. moderate price point) Iwano Ichibe IX advised against the Omizutori kamiko and offered a washi that is specifically composed for professional samurai blade cleaning. A 100% plant-derived material, this washi excels in durability, due to the use of particularly long fibres, and in softness, due to the purity and quality of the base material.
A pilot session, in which KIT design students Emma Huffman and Marine Zorea customized modular base templates made of kamiko, into individual mock-up bras, was video recorded at the KIT photo studio (fig. 06 and 07).
Dialogue with stakeholders of the Japanese breast cancer community and lingerie industry
Arranged by her supervisor, Professor Julia Cassim of KYOTO Design Lab, Silke visited the Wacoal Human Science Research Centre in Kyoto. Besides conducting basic research in relation to female beauty, comfort and health, the Japanese lingerie manufacturer Wacoal maintains a post-mastectomy lingerie division with a dedicated wing of secluded fitting quarters at their Kyoto location, the Remamma Room (fig.08). Remamma manager Eriko Nishimura introduced the attentively designed premises and the extensive post-operative and post-mastectomy product-line of bras and panties, nightwear, tops and swimwear, as well as a collection of external breast prosthesis (fig. 09).
During an introduction to the guided fitting process, it became apparent that approaches towards fitting differed greatly between cultures. European countries such as the United Kingdom and Germany take a more functional approach. Wacoal’s effort to create a pleasant experience for vulnerable customers might resonate with Japanese custom, found in other aspects of this culture. Conscious sensory settings of the Remamma Room, such as lighting, colours, sounds or music, as well as the demeanour of trained personnel, seem carefully choreographed to harmonize the customer’s dispositions. Whereas fitting processes in Germany are regulated by the national health insurance and take place in specialist stores, which sell an array of auxiliary products, from shoe inserts, walking aids to bedpans and also mastectomy lingerie.
The observation of this choreography experience was confirmed and refined in a conversation with Masako Akiyama, co-founder of Maggie’s Centre Tokyo and nursing professor for end-of -ife care (fig.10). Masako Akiyama reflected on the importance of time as space. She described offering ample listening time to individuals living with cancer as a safe and comforting space that would rarely be provided in other areas of life as a patient.
Against the backdrop of diverse cultures with a common aim towards harmonizing customer experiences for individuals living with cancer, the idea of entering into a cross-cultural dialogue might be a useful approach going forward.