The clothes that Junichi Abe creates under the label Kolor have a magnificent just-rolled-out-of-bed quality. They are crumpled, lived-in and perfectly imperfect, and come in cocooning shapes that are as comfortable as they are precise. Trousers are loose, with raw hemlines that can dangle down or roll up; outerwear has the softness of knitwear; precious details—embroidery, frills, a satin ribbon—pop up on utilitarian pieces, adding nuance. A jacket starts life on top as a woolen bomber, only to morph halfway down into something else, and end up at the bottom as a cardigan. A knitted piece is treated as a tailored one. Colors are dense yet watery, like a gouache with a hint of fragility. There is a sense of endless morphing to Abe’s modular wardrobe, the kind of hazy fluidity that you might get when you are half asleep and cannot decide whether you’re in the real world or still in the realm of dreams.
“I am inspired by the accumulation of feelings of everyday life,” Abe says laconically. He launched Kolor in 2004 after working for nearly five years for Junya Watanabe. “Lightness, softness, the thinness of the textile, volume, fits and cuts of the garments, proportion and constitution of the fastenings, the degree of stiffness and flexibility of the interfacings, whether a garment should be tumble-dried or air-dried: all these elements have to be precisely thought-out and considered in order for me to proceed with my work,” he continues. The approach is hands-on, the process experimental and the results intensely utilitarian, albeit in an off-kilter kind of way.
Abe has the rare ability to let experimentalism disappear into garments that look surprisingly simple, with a hint of brutalism and wabi-sabi (as in “nothing lasts, nothing is finished, nothing is perfect”). Nothing screams “designer”, though it is actually based on a radical reassessment of proportion and fabrication. The notion of the sartorial hybrid is central for Abe, who says, “Even with a plain fabric, we can process yarn before weaving it into a cloth, or we can change the texture by changing its final process. Therefore, if it is hybrid material, I think there is much more possibility for it.”
Abe is also interested in continuity—evolution over seasonal revolution. “To me, the significance of designing is not something that needs a concept,” he explains. “Having a concept is useful only if it is a way to get a design answer. Having different concepts each season doesn’t have much meaning for me while I am creating something.” Abe has no interest in shocking people with what they have never seen. “Designing like that is too simple,” he says matter-of-factly. Kolor is about subtlety: a constant rearranging of a given set of elements into endless permutations. “Every season, I start from the same point,” he says. “Why am I doing this job? What does it mean? Even though I never find the final answer, I start from these questions and then find along the way what I should do. For me, fashion is a way to reconsider and rethink myself. I sometimes feel that the idea of ‘classic’ is useful to show people a new feeling. What I would like to express through my collection is a vague nuance or mood which is uncertain and hazy.” He certainly delivers. Kolor is pragmatic dressing for, in the sociologist Zygmunt Bauman’s description, a world of liquid modernity.