Prove your humanity

Marching to the beat of their own Watusi warrior drums, designers Mao and Juno of handcrafted leather goods brand Kitayama Studio create bags that combine uniqueness and versatility. With a revolutionary angle.  

Persistent but abstinent, principled but unsophisticated, superior but interesting: The Kitayama Studio personality. 

Fashion and Revolution

Revolution: “A forcible overthrow of a government or social order, in favor of a new system.” The Oxford Dictionary. The body of work that is China Fashion has hit puberty — in a positive way — and with that a revolution has dawned. Fashion has the power to reflect the ongoings in any society at any given time — give or take that remark with some slinky wiggle room — what you put on, becomes part of your identity. Before we look at a future accessorized with the sultry seasoning a Kitayama Studio bag has to offer, we briefly look at a bold past: Fashion, ever the rebel rebel…

Think 18th century French leftist sans-culottes who stood for pro-labor and pro-equality ideals. Writes French historian Albert Soboul: “The sans-culottes often estimated a person’s worth by external appearance, deducing character from costume and political convictions from character.” Quite the revolutionary comeback from Marie-Antoinette’s wiggy style; a style which had become aristocratEEK for the masses. A revolutionary fashion statement — you may take that to la luciferous lettre.

Think the racial and class implications of the Zoot Suit Riots. In the midst of the tumultuous woes WWII was causing, young Mexican men in the LA areas dressed in the definition of an “oversized suit” called the Zoot suit,  were in this fashion — you make take that literally — able to jeer authority. The sent a message to a government they didn’t feel invested in them. Writes Refinery29,  with a little help from Parsons Fashion Archive Curator Beth Dincuff, “The Zoot suit used a lot of fabric, which was expensive during wartime, and is a super exaggerated fit. Sometimes the jacket goes down to the knee, which was a sign of wealth — and a lack of patriotism — when rationing was such a serious issue.” A revolution in racial protest.

Think Pussy Riot, the Russian feminist protest punk rock group based in Moscow. Founded in August 2011, the group staged unauthorized provocative “guerrilla performances” in unusual public places, which were made into music videos and posted on the Internet. The collective’s lyrical themes included feminism, LGBT rights, and opposition to Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom the group considered to be a dictator. Pussy Rioters Nadya Tolokonnikova and Masha Alyokhina were sentenced to two years in a labor camp for singing their “Punk Prayer” in a Moscow church. Looks-wise, the band’s brightly coloured balaclavas became a widely-recognised symbol. In sum, whether it be solid-colored dresses and balaclavas or a handkerchief and a hoodie at the G8 riots, protest culture helps unify youth by showing a sort of “anti-establishment” uniform. “The most dangerous censorship is self-censorship,” Alyokhina on 11 March, 2017, told audiences when visiting San Francisco for the premiere of “Revolution”, a Pussy Riot theater piece. From suffragettes to Pussies (or ponies) whose words can never be silenced… Revolution never ends. 

Circling back to China, then: Kitayama Studio and one Adolescence Revolution.


The Adolescence Revolution Collection by Kitayama Studio — AW16.


The Adolescence Revolution Collection by Kitayama Studio — AW16.

China’s 20-somethings, aka the post-95ers, are slowly stripping away the burdens of (self-) censorship and in doing so are creating some trailblazing momentum in their creation of a new identity.  

Adolescence Revolution

China, too, has seen its fair share of revolution. For now, we shall simply stick to the fashionable one in recent times, as opposed to delving into the qualms of the nation’s not-so brightly colored past. (One more on the military green side of the shady spectrum, one might say.)  If history has taught us anything, it is that sex and thinking about sexuality have had a strong impact on trends, fashion and our overall street scenery. China is now entering such an age of adolescence, in which the younger generations are exploring these themes on different levels. They are slowly stripping away the burdens of (self-) censorship and in doing so are creating some trailblazing innovative momentum in their creation of a new identity; the new “Made in China”.

Think sexuality; two examples:

Two days ahead of the Qixi Festival or Chinese Valentine’s day, on 8 August 2016, Unicef created a network of Chinese youth to call for China’s younger generations to make using condoms “cool” and protect themselves against HIV and other STIs. Writes Unicef, “Adolescents face a multitude of challenges in sexual and reproductive health, including sexual exploitation and abuse, unprotected sex and the subsequent STIs, unplanned pregnancies and unsafe abortions.” There you go. Ignorance can pose a  serious threat to these youngsters’ rights to develop themselves, protect themselves and, most importantly, live long and healthy lives. In creating such a network, Unicef took another step forward in stripping the taboos surrounding sex  and encouraging China’s 21st century sexual reformation — if I may call it that.

On another sexually revolutionizing note, China social trend site What’s On Weibo reports on 6 March, 2017,  how one “illustrated Chinese elementary school textbook has sparked debate on Sina Weibo [China’s Twitter] because of its open way of approaching sexual education.[…] The concept of homosexuality is introduced at the highest levels; teaching children that homosexuality is a natural thing.”Amen to that, another step forward and a kiss from the teacher — a rather “befitting” Flemish idiom to express praise. Moving on!


The Adolescence Revolution Collection by Kitayama Studio — AW16.

Such revolutions in Chinese thinking anno 2017 — whether they take place in terms of sexual awareness, gender issues or social change at large — manifest themselves in the realm of visibility, i.e. the ways people dress and start to think about beauty, clothing and accessories. Street style. Designers such as Mao and Juno of Kitayama Studio are prime examples of those 20-somethings. Always on the lookout for new and unbeaten paths to traverse; always in search of that ultimate marriage between comfort and style, fashion and tradition; always combining fashion and functionality. From the SS15 White Itoshioshi Collection to the SS16 Yakuza Moon and their leading-edge AW16 Adolescence Revolution Collections, these young creators of a new and revolutionary “Made in China” label have locked hands with highly-experienced craftsmen in order to make genuine premium-quality leather bags.

The art of accessorizing as presented within those wicked designer minds among Kitayama’s wild bunch has thus far produced some serious saucy minxery. With the lending hand from the brand’s Antwero-based Market(ing) Director Dan Li, Temper Magazine had the opportunity to bond with Juno and ask her all about the radly radical adolescent that is China Fashion and the revolution Kitayama Studio has in store!

Chinese people nowadays are starting to favor smaller brands which carry their own unique design rather than the big name brands. China is trying its very best to change the perception of that ‘Made in China’ label. 


Juno: “I am a true born and raised Beijinger. My choice to become a designer sprouted from the idea that, to me at least, design is an interesting field; one full of fresh ideas. I first studied Fashion Design and in fact became an accessories designer by chance — random, I know! I’d also like to have a go at graphic design, to be honest.”


The Wild Bunch Collection by Kitayama Studio — SS17.

Temper: What is Kitayama? What’s the jest behind it? 北山是什么样的品牌?其背景与品牌哲学是什么?

Juno: “Kitayama Studio is a handcrafted leather goods brand established by Mao and myself in Beijing, China. We are young designers who work with highly experienced craftsmen and utilise genuine premium-quality leather to create one-of-a-kind designer leather goods. The Kitayama design emphasises the beauty of simple form and clean line. In pursuit of functionality, our bags aim to mix comfort with looks, fashion with tradition, uniqueness with versatility. Persistent but abstinent, principled but unsophisticated, superior but interesting: We endow a bag with personality — preferably that of its owner.”


The Naoshima Collection by Kitayama Studio — AW15.

Temper: Tapping into that bag design… Clutch or handles? Long or short handles? Across the chest or straight down?

Juno: “In terms of dressing/style, I hold a strong preference for simple and ‘deconstructed’ fashions. I do also very much like finely crafted and luxurious feminine clothes. My take on the Spring/Summer and Autumn/Winter collections tends to be quite different, which reflects itself in my selection of colors and materials, as well as the size of the bags. ‘Baggy’ style wise, then… I like handbags, short handles and worn straight down.There you go!”

Temper: Bags and shoes are probably among the most revered (and at times rejected) accessories of the 20th/21st Century. How can one bag make or break an outfit? 

Juno: “Any woman needs to have at least one delicate clutch in her closet; you know, one easy to go with most of her outfits. Furthermore, she needs a comfortable and functional bag for going to work, as well as a convenient small shoulder bag for going out casually. In my opinion, shoes as well as bags, make for the most important finishing touch when ‘styling’ yourself. Aside from your basic bags, one bag that’s brightly colored or features some type of special material can highlight and vivify any outfit.”


The Adolescence Revolution Collection by Kitayama Studio — AW16.


The Adolescence Revolution Collection by Kitayama Studio — AW16.

Temper: What’s your position on the concept of “sustainability” — and sustainability within the current China Design Scene? Is it alive? What does Kitayama (aim to) contribute in this respect? 

Juno: “Truth be told, I have heard about this concept, yet it remains rather weak in our own design practice. In fact, the Chinese government at the moment [e.g. the National V standard] is now getting very strict about various issues related to environmental protection. It is possible that they will at some point in the near future set much stricter criteria for material production. Nevertheless, and from my personal point of view, I think producing leather goods can hardly be linked to environmental protection, even though water and air pollution could be reduced, using animal skin in itself has nothing to do with being environment-friendly. In our studio we use quality leather which adheres to all required environmental criteria. However, in order to be truly sustainable, I think we should avoid the usage of real leather and fur. This will depend on a multitude of factors, i.e. finding good quality artificial leather, getting the artificial leather to look genuine leather, and so on. We’ll try our very best!”


The Yakuza Moon Collection by Kitayama Studio — SS16.


The Naoshima Collection by Kitayama Studio — AW15.

Temper: Bags and the Chinese, then. How popular does the brand bag remain– and how about its “Made In China” knock-off?  

Juno: “In the past twenty years, famous brand bags proved extremely popular in China. However, their popularity has dwindled. Chinese people increasingly favor (and opt to buy) smaller brands which have their own unique design to them — rather than purchasing the big brands. In the meantime, China is trying its very best to change the connotation and impression of that formerly-pesky “Made in China” label. The Chinese are starting to appreciate their domestic brands. Plus, the quality and price balance of these domestic brands is at times better than that of the foreign brands. On a related style-note, then, when it comes to the art of accessorizing in China, I must say that Euro-American, Japanese and Korean fashion are currently wielding much influence with the younger generations of Chinese. Many tend to closely follow these fashion trends abroad.”


The Wild Bunch Collection by Kitayama Studio — SS17.

Temper: Chinese designers: Any favorites? Plus, how do you see Kitayama evolve within the overall China Fashion scene? 

Juno: “There are several foreign designer brands I like, but I do hold a special place for Chinese designer brands such as SANKUANZ and Angel Chen, shoe brands such as PURLICUE and KIM, and so on. I think Chinese design will garner more and more global attention in the future and in gaining that momentum, will continue to forge its own style-path. I hope Kitayama Studio will have the chance to create and provide a platform, as well as offer opportunities, for more designers to create and realize their designer views — rather than just having the focus on me, myself and I!”

Virginia Woolf once wrote, “Vain trifles as they seem, clothes have, they say, more important offices than to merely keep us warm. They change our view of the world and the world’s view of us.” When it comes to the art of dressing and accessorizing, don’t choke and cloak, if you will, but challenge the status quo. Besides, nothing screams fashion more than throwing a good old Temper tantrum. Adolescent or adult. 










Images: Copyright@Elsbeth van Paridon for Temper Magazine.

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Elsbeth van Paridon
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