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Dream Reweaver

There's Something Holy About Toshi Ichihara's Needles

February 25, 2001|ANNE-MARIE O'CONNOR

TOSHI ICHIHARA BLUSHES DEEPLY AS A CLIENT EXPLAINS why he wouldn't dream of taking his moth-eaten sweater to anyone but her. "It's black magic," says Jeff Cooper, a blue-jeaned, leather-jacketed stock trader who has driven his favorite Prada cashmere sweater all the way from Malibu to Beverly Hills for some of Ichihara's TLC. "If she doesn't fix it, I might as well throw it away," he sighs, fingering the holes left by his ravenous winged house guests. "What I keep asking Toshi is, 'Why don't you put a spell on these so moths won't eat them?' "

Clients have been expecting sorcery from this reweaver extraordinaire for 36 years. Working in a tiny Canon Drive office nestled between talent agencies, Ichihara may be one of Beverly Hills' most reluctant luminaries, but she's hardly obscure.

"She's the best," pronounces one longtime customer, picking up her fine wool pullover and laying out her husband's Scottish cashmere sweater with holes made by moths. "When she does a sweater, you would never know there was a hole in it."

Widowed at 20 after two years of marriage, Ichihara immigrated to the United States from Japan. "I didn't like people's prejudices to women there," she says. "I am ambitious. I have a brain. And I'm pretty tall. They hated tall women in Japan."

After short stints as a waitress and department-store clerk, she answered an ad for an apprentice reweaver. A few months at a weaving school stoked her enthusiasm and gave her confidence to purchase a retiring Beverly Drive reweaver's client list and desk for $200. Now in her second Canon Drive location, she has become such an institution that clients wait weeks for her to complete her handiwork.

Using fine, strong silk thread and wearing glasses for magnification, she painstakingly wields different-sized needles in her special invisible stitch and other techniques that she considers proprietary trade secrets.

"My work is very complicated. You need lots of concentration. It takes endless time. That's why it's so expensive," she says as she labors over a dime-sized hole in a blazer that will cost its owner $89 to fix.

Several generations of Hollywood stars--from Jack Benny to Kevin Costner--have benefited from her skills. Not that Ichihara is into the whole celebrity thing.

"Why do you ask about such famous people?" she scolds, looking up from the blazer. "Most of the people who come here are normal people. Customers make me so happy. I love them."

She works her usual hours even when suffering from chronic allergies. She recently returned from a two-week stress leave. "I'm a month behind," she frets. "Always my mind is on business. I want to be good for America. I won't retire. My customers need me."

She smiles with the tiniest bit of pride. "Sometimes I do feel like I'm a magic maker," she says, then reverts back to her usual modesty. "But I'm not."

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