Outside of traditional celebrations and period dramas, kimonos aren't often worn in the Western world. And yet, the comfort of the wrap and its classic design are so widely recognized and loved. With Koro Kimono, Sophie Hart-Walsh and Tara Postma are reviving the fashion—and in a festive form. These South London-based designers have fused the deeply historic with modern inspiration and eccentric textiles and the resulting article of clothing is more than leisurewear, it's for everywhere. The business began as a completely bespoke service; each product made on Hart-Walsh's mother's dining room table. Koro Kimono still offers custom-made services and encourages customers to stop by their studio, but their ready-made line is equally as celebratory.
"I asked for a kimono for my 17th birthday after seeing one in a vintage shop for the first time," Hart-Walsh (who, aside from being one of the brand's two masterminds, also daylights as a costume designer in the film industry) tells CH. "I never wore mine at all in the end and it wasn’t until working on the film '47 Ronin' that I even really tried a kimono on. Since the film was set in 18th Japan, I was surrounded by kimonos. I had to do tons of research, gather historical images, learn about obi-tying and wore all kinds of different shapes." After all the research, fittings and insight, she—evidently—fell for the design and its history. "What draws me to them still is the way they drape, how they hang off you, make you feel so elegant, improve your posture, give you power—and yet are so comfortable," she says.
Hart-Walsh's business partner Postma had an equally significant love affair with the garment. "I was always searching for vintage kimonos to sell in my shop, Threads, as I love the simplicity of the shape yet how wonderfully decadent and stunningly beautiful they can be," she says. After three years in business, Postma sold her vintage store (only a few months ago) to focus on Koro. She made her first kimono as a Christmas gift for her younger brother. "From there," she says, "Sophie and I started making some for ourselves and experimenting with different fabrics and it just took off."
As there aren't many people casually wearing kimonos out on the streets, the duo emphasizes their versatile wearability: "We wear them everywhere and hope that our customers feel the same. We think these kimonos really come into their own in the summer. Festivals, country walks, days in the park, nights out in the light, holidays, pool visits, even just meandering around the house, our kimonos were made with these things in mind." Their first range was constructed from African cotton, chosen as it's "bright but tough." Both Hart-Walsh and Postma walk around Brixton and Peckham seeking brightly colored geometric prints and, while many antique kimonos are delicate, the duo says, "We wanted our kimonos to be beautiful and unique but practical and wearable. They always make us feel great and quite decadent but the main thing we hope people feel is, they are a really easy way to feel much more glamorous, cooler, well put together."
Since working together, the pair has figured out where their personal strengths lie. "Tara is much more chic and elegant in her approach and loves things to be clean and fresh and uncluttered," Hart-Walsh explains. "Sophie finds this a challenge as she is a natural collector and loves to be surrounded by things. Everything she does is messy but exuberant," adds Postma. Together, they've found balance in business and it's reflected in their products. "We make all our decisions as a pair from the drawing board, right down to the packaging. We work very well together in spite of often having radically different opinions about things," the duo adds. Each kimono blends elegance with eccentricity and ultimately yields an item you cannot find anywhere else—a modernized, relevant refresh on traditional attire.
Koro Kimonos are available online with prices ranging from £45 to £75.
Images courtesy of Koro Kimono