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A Renewed Interest in Traditional Wrap

A kimono and obi sale draws hordes who want the garments for Halloween or 'interior accessories.' Some people just want to wear them.


This weekend's Vintage Kimono & Obi show at the Torrance Cultural Arts Center had all the energy and anticipation of the annual Barneys sale. There was a fair amount of jockeying for mirror space, which was at a premium, but the shoppers--mostly middle-aged women--were infinitely well behaved as they browsed through racks holding some 6,000 imported kimonos and obis.

Shirley Sakamoto-Ryan of Calabasas and her friend Cindy Toguchi-Siu of San Pedro--both veterans of the biannual sale organized by the Marina del Rey-based company, Texuba--arrived at 8:30 Saturday morning, half an hour before the doors opened. They wanted first crack at the traditional garments, which had been bought in Japan by Texuba owner Ruby Uehara, who has been in the kimono business for 21 years. (Texuba, said Uehara, stands for "textile exuberance." And although she sells some new kimonos, which are gowns, and obis, which are sashes, most were made between the 1920s and 1970s.)

"The advice we've been given," said Sakamoto-Ryan, "is to go in and grab, and check quality later. Then you discard. On the second run-through, you look at other people's discards."

Two hours after they had arrived, the plastic laundry baskets provided upon admission were filled. "I like the children's patterns, the real '60s-looking ones," said Sakamoto-Ryan, showing off a pink-and-green design with big red flowers. "This reminds me of the Powerpuff Girls."

Like many of the approximately 2,000 people who attended the two-day show, Sakamoto-Ryan planned to turn her purchases into "interior accessories," such as pillows, curtains and drapes. Toguchi-Siu makes handbags with the textiles, which she sells at local boutiques such as Craftique in San Pedro. Both women spent about $500 on Saturday and planned to return Sunday for more.

Eric McCloskey, a record store manager, drove in from Whittier with a couple of friends. "This is the third sale I've been to," he said. "The first time I came because I was going to be a geisha for Halloween." This time he had come to buy not just for himself ("to collect") but also for his grandmother. "She makes dolls and doll clothing," he said, "so I am looking for small patterns."

Some shoppers actually planned to wear the kimonos they bought. Eight-year-old Danielle Irwin of Redondo Beach, for instance, chose a silk baby-pink number with gold flecks--her first kimono--for a "Fashions From the Past" festival at her school. "I like to wear kimonos," she explained, "because they're long and pretty and the sleeves are big." And, she added, "I like Japan."

Leslie Bayard, owner of Leslie Boutique in Studio City, bought one kimono for herself on Saturday and about 50 others to resell. "I've been thinking about going to Japan," said Bayard, "but I think it's cheaper here."

Kimonos started at $15 for what Uehara's literature described as "either very common, very plain or just gosh darn ugly" and soared into the thousands for an elaborately embroidered wedding kimono.

Not everyone was happy with the prices or the selection. Loredana Marenzi, who has been shopping the Texuba sales since they began five years ago, uses the vintage fabrics for her Loredana Studios purses, which are sold locally at Harari boutiques. "You used to be able to buy a whole kimono for what she's [Uehara's] selling a sleeve for," said Marenzi.

Uehara confirmed that prices have gone up. That's because the gowns, which she scours Japan for two to four times a year, are getting harder to find. "In the past few years," she said "the industry has totally changed. For years and years, the Japanese would laugh at us Americans for buying these because it made no sense to them; it was so familiar to them. Now they've decided it's great stuff too. They have books and TV shows on making exquisite fashions out of old kimonos. That's caused huge supplies to disappear overnight. So prices have gone wild."

For more information, Texuba's Web site is at

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