My neighborhood is not known for its sartorial elegance. There are cute and perky girls who look great in the latest trends, many of which come straight from Tokyo, but they're cute, not drop dead. But then we live in a city where a visitor from San Francisco once said, "The people are so earthy, so real so Paul Bunyonesque." And that was at least ten years before grunge took over--Seattle has always had the dowdy and well-made garb of old money or the utilitarian clothing of fishermen and loggers.
So when I saw a coat on the street outside my apartment that was unlike I had ever seen in my life, I almost stopped moving. It looked something like this:
The woman who wore it looked as though she'd been born with it on--it was part of her, when it could well have overwhelmed her. Briefly I wondered where she was from and then carried on with my errands.
When I returned, I did stop in my tracks. In the window of Kobo, a neighborhood shop/gallery was a coat, much like the one I had seen earlier. It floated like a soap bubble or a spiderweb caught in fabric. I went into the shop that I rarely ever frequent and asked "What is that coat in the window? It's the most beautiful piece of clothing I've ever seen."
"Come and meet the designer," I was told, and was led to a room filled with color and fabric collage and clothes that looked as though they would dissolve at a single touch.
As a woman smiled at me, I blurted. "I saw you earlier today and I thought you were the most perfectly dressed person. I almost stopped to tell you."
"Here is the designer," she gestured toward a woman who was much sturdier than she, with the hands of a worker, eyes filled with a kind of divine madness, and a genuinely warm smile.
The clothes were magnetizing me. I moved toward them, trying not to moan and reaching out with one fingertip. "The colors," I breathed. "They are natural," the designer said, "for the blue, I use a plant." "Indigo," I murmured and she smiled, "Yes."
I was drowning in the blues: turquoise, aqua, deep blue. It was like walking through a tide pool, with many magical objects shimmering through the hues. The fabric was a treasure trove of textures and small pieces of flotsam, bits of beach glass and shells and silkworm larva that looked like gold leaf.
"Put something on," the designer said and I said, "I'm too big." "No," she said and her companion held out one of the deep blue overdresses. Tentatively I put one arm in a sleeve, then the other, and stood before a mirror, spellbound.
There is an enchantment connected to Hatsumi Yoshida's clothes. When a piece is on the body, it belongs there. I stood with the same look of belonging to the fabric that I had noticed as part of the beautiful woman on the street earlier in the day. These clothes become whoever puts them on.
And they are playful--a Chanel-cut jacket became a piece of ribbon candy, something that could be worn every day as part of the owner's life. A lace scarf that looked as evanescent as sea foam became a bolero, then when turned upside down, a long jacket. Necklaces that resembled regal Elizabethan collars were designed to be scrunched into different shapes once on the body.
For art, none of these things were expensive, For me, all of it was. I finally began to say goodbye, looking wistfully at the beauty that I wanted so much to own.
"Wait," Hatsumi said, "I have something to give customers." She held out a little bag filled with tiny gleaming beaded pins that looked like a child's dream of silkworms. "But I'm not a customer," I protested. She put a number of different colors on the counter and said, "Choose one."
I went home still wrapped in the magic of her clothes. I dreamed of them and the next morning I went out and bought art to keep, a piece of forest and sea on a bag with a long string of beads to keep it on my shoulder. I carried it when I followed some dragon and lion dancers through the streets where I live and it felt as though it had always been with me.
Hatsumi Yoshida's studio is in Bali, a place I had never wanted to go--until now. You can see her work at www.studiosuna.com