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COS x Tabata Shibori celebrates the Japanese art of Shibori

“We wanted to create this feeling of water,” says COS design director Karin Gustafsson about a new collection using the millennia-old Japanese batik technique. ShiboriThe intricate process means “to wring, squeeze or press.” It is achieved by placing the fabric into complex folds, which are then dyed before being unrolled to reveal the remaining pattern constellations that resemble flowers and animals, or dripping streaks that evoke running water.

The trip took her and her team to the ancient city of Kyoto, Japan's historic capital, first settled in the 7th century and thriving thanks to its plentiful water supply, from lush mountain lakes and lush rivers – the Kamo-gawa in the east and the Katsura-gawa in the west – to its large natural water table, accessible through the thousands of wells throughout the city. Water also helped Kyoto become synonymous with ritual and craft, as it supported the making of sake and tofu, the dyeing of fabrics, Ikebana and tea ceremonies, even the making of kimonos.

COS x Tabata Shibori: the story behind the collection

The 14-piece capsule includes menswear, womenswear and accessories

(Image credit: Courtesy of COS)

“Wherever you go in the city, all street names and districts are always connected to water,” says Shibori Craftsman Kazuki Tabata, whose eponymous Kyoto-based studio Tabata Shibori collaborated with COS on the limited edition collection. “Everything is water.”

We're talking in an upstairs suite at the Six Senses Hotel in Kyoto, which recently opened in the historic Higashiyama district, a stone's throw from the Toyokuni Shrine, built in the 16th century to commemorate the shogun Toyotomi Hideyoshi. The setting is a fitting backdrop for the project: the hotel was inspired by Kyoto's Heian era, a time of flourishing craftsmanship. This is best embodied by the 504 Raku tiles depicting nearby Mount Kurama above the hotel's reception, created by ceramic artisan Yoshimura Rakunyu in a process that took over two years.

COS Tabata Shibori Batik Collection

Shibori dyeing creates intricate folds in the fabric and can take up to three weeks.

(Image credit: Courtesy of COS)

“Craftsmanship has always been important to COS because we always wanted to create fashion and design that lasts beyond the season,” says Gustafsson, who came into contact with Tabata through local connections after being inspired by the art of Shibori in creating the brand’s S/S 2024 collection. “It didn’t feel right for us to try Shibori [ourselves]it was important for us to go to a real craftsman to realise that there is so much more to it.'

Tabata, who was approached on Instagram to take on the project, initially thought he was being pranked as he had never worked on a project of this magnitude before. When he realised the approach was genuine, he agreed and gave Gustafsson and her team access to his wealth of Shibori For some designs, including one seen on a scarf from the collection, he takes up to three weeks just to create hundreds of careful, origami-like folds in the fabric before dipping it in dye (the latter process takes just a few moments; the fabric is then rinsed and washed before finally being unrolled to reveal the pattern dyed with the reserve dye).

COS Tabata Shibori Batik Collection

COS design director Karin Gustafsson wanted the pieces to convey “the feeling of water”

(Image credit: Courtesy of COS)

“I saw that the craftsman was leaving in Japan,” says Tabata, who was studying light and music at the Osaka School of Sound Arts at the Visual Arts College when his uncle, a Shibori Craftsman, died. “I thought: If nobody does Shibori then it will also disappear. So I took it up. I really wanted to carry on the tradition.' After thousands of hours of perfecting the craft, he discovered Kyoto's Shiboria complex version of the technique that creates a pattern reminiscent of the spots on fawns, and takes several days to create the tight rows and folds required for the unique design. It has since become his specialty.

In the collection itself, which includes men's, women's and accessories, some of his unique designs are translated as prints onto the airy garments, capturing a mood of fluidity and lightness appropriate for the summer collection. “Mr Tabata's work really informed the design of the collection,” says Gustafsson. “We wanted to continue this idea of ​​fluidity in the artwork, so we translated his designs onto different fabrics and using different techniques.” This includes a version of the design woven into the fabric of a men's jacket and shorts like traditional Indonesian ikat, while on other pieces – like an airy kaftan dress – Tabata's work appears to float above the surface.

COS Tabata Shibori Batik Collection

One of Tabata Shibori's designs after being unfolded and rinsed

(Image credit: Courtesy of COS)

And despite Tabata’s years of experience in mastering certain Shibori techniques, says Gustafsson, the unpredictable digressions of the dye embody the Japanese concept of Wabi-Sabi – the acceptance of imperfections and mistakes and the belief in the ephemeral nature of beauty. “I think the beauty of imperfection is important,” says Gustafsson. “I think materials change over a lifetime through wear and tear, and that should be accepted rather than viewed as a negative. It's amazing to see a garment that has lasted a lifetime and has been enhanced through mending.”