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July 28, 2011 / Karen Hill Anton

Clothing creativity out of the mix

Nanao, after her graduation from RISD

April 9, 1992

My eldest daughter Nanao, was born in Odense, Denmark. She was given a Japanese name because a friend who visited Japan suggested it and I liked the sound. Our friend, who’d first heard the name through his acquaintance with the contemporary poet, Nanao Sakaki, thought it might only be a man’s name in Japan. I said: “Oh well, it doesn’t matter. We’ll probably never be in Japan anyway.” So much for reading the future. (When Nanao was 6, she chose kanji for her name that denotes it as feminine.)

Nanao is studying textile design and is now in her fourth year at the Rhode Island School of Design. Her work has received quite a lot of praise, and in her last evaluations her teachers described her textiles as “masterful” and “breathtaking”. I, of course, agree with their assessment. Combining a naturally fine sense of color and design with the knowledge and skill she’s acquired about yarn, dyeing and weaving, the cloth she produces is stunning. Many friends here feel her work has the look of traditional Japanese fabric, particularly kasuri. A lot of her weaving reminds me of West African textiles. Nanao says much of her fabric design is influenced by motifs she saw during a term studying in Mexico. Clearly, the work is original.

And she’s pretty original herself, as her creativity also shows in the way she dresses. She’t got her own special style — and it can result in some pretty strange outfits.

A few summers ago when we were visiting San Francisco, I watched as she prepared to get dressed before we were to go out shopping. She put on a vintage dress, something from the 1920s she’d found in a thrift shop. It was made of a chiffon-like material and had little things that sparkled embedded in the cloth. She wore black tights and black shoes similar to ballet slippers. Several necklaces and bracelets, many earrings, and rings on every finger were the accessories that completed this outfit. And oh yes — over this costume she work a hooded athletic jacket. Hmmm. Interesting.

“Nanao, would you like to borrow one of my jackets?” I offered. I said this is an offhand way, casually, careful not to let any sounds of disapproval surface in my voice, I thought.

“No. What’s wrong with the one I’m wearing?”

“Oh, nothing. It’s jus that it’s got paint stains all over it.”

“That’s because I worked in it.”

I already knew how the jacket got the way it was. Nanao had worked at a summer job helping a friend who was helping his father, an architect who restored houses of historical significance in New York state.

Later at a department store she picked out a pair of jeans (which still later, she took back to the apartment where we staying and soaked in a tub of bleach until they were almost white.)

As we stood at the cash register paying for the jeans, the salesman, a young man whose name tag identified him as being of Japanese descent, said, “Excuse me, but I have to tell you how fantastic you look! You have such incredible style!”

After realizing he was not addressing his enthusiastic praise to me, I looked around to see who he was talking to. But there was no mistaking the object of his admiration as Nanao gave him a shy “Thank you.”

“And your jacket,” he went on, “where’d you get it? I love it!” She told him it was just an old jacket, but he wanted to know how she’d gotten the paint stains on it!

For a minute I thought he was going to offer her money for a jacket I had wanted to pay her not to wear!


© Karen Hill Anton and “Crossing Cultures” 1990-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Karen Hill Anton and “Crossing Cultures” with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


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