image of Barbara Bacigalupi
image of Japanese wood block print showing woman in kimono
with the
  Obi Sash
by Barbara Bacigalupi
Not too many years ago while I was visiting Honolulu, Hawaii, the Princess of Japan made her first official solo visit to the United States. What a delight to find that I was staying in the same hotel as she. When she returned each night in Western dress from various social appearances, she gave real meaning to the word elegance. Petite, exquisitely groomed, and refined, the Princess was the epitome of a most refined lady. And as her limousine pulled up each night, the hotel’s Japanese staff formed two lines and formally bowed to their Princess as she moved through the lobby to the hotel’s elevator. What a simple, yet impressive statement. In fact nothing was said as she moved past them, yet their gesture of deep respect said everything. From a lobby sofa vantage point, I also happened to see her return on the last night of her visit. This night she emerged from her limousine in full traditional Japanese dress with an exquisite obi holding her silk kimono in place. From that moment on I knew that I would find a way to bring Obi into my work.

When I really think back, I have known about obi for as long as I can remember. My guess is that I most likely encountered an obi for the first time at Gump’s in San Francisco, for those of you who remember this landmark store on Post Street, right off Union Square. It was a veritable jewel box filled with treasures from Japan and other parts of Asia. Every year at Christmas time I would go there with my family and relish the opportunity to see firsthand the Japanese folding screens, tansu, pearls and yes, the miniature trees that filled the Jade Room. What great times they were, and how influential they proved to be. My whole aesthetic was transformed in great part by that store. But once again, it’s all just part of living in the shadow of the Golden Gate that bridges our minds from the West to the East. I remember receiving a photo album as a gift from my parents one year. It was from Gump’s and the album’s cover was obi tapestry boasting gold metallic threads woven into an image of pine branches.

Time has passed; the original Gump’s store has moved to a larger, more modern space down the block, still offering a restrained amount of Japanese antiques, amidst a stunning art glass and the works of well-recognized American artists. Still a treasure chest I seek to visit often, but one that cannot ever replace my first images of the original Gump’s. So many years have intervened, and I was so unexpectedly delighted the first time that the china and crystal buyer from Gump’s ordered my TRULYHUMANmedallions as napkin rings. What a moment for me to find that I was worthy having my designs in a store whose hallmarks are, and always have been, superlative quality and a respect for Asian sensibilities.

All those memories remain with me, and I recently dedicated myself to finding ways to source 20th century obi directly from Japan. So it is with great joy, and respect for these venerable tapestries that I bring you my collection of obi, as well as my re-designs using pieces of obi that will hopefully allow many more of you to share in these treasures. For the present time we are focused on pillows and obi wall scrolls, but we hope to expand our lines to include personal accessories as well as those for the home.

For me, an aura of mystery has always surrounded the image of a woman in traditional Japanese dress. I can’t help but wonder what her life was really like as a geisha entertainer for the wealthy men of Japan -- Or as a courtesan, or even as the Princess of the royal family. Why is it so intriguing when the contour of a woman’s waistline is hidden under layers of silk kimono, held in place by an elaborate, heavy 14’ belt? Add to that, the special allure of a geisha whose enigmatic dark brown eyes piece through with a deftly painted pale face with ruby lips. Somehow the geisha’s gaze always seems to be transfixed on something beyond the present. But just what or who was she thinking about? I hope that you will ponder what her life was like as you view our collection of obi and consider whether you should bring a part of the Geisha life into yours. For her legacy is one of the finest traditions of graciousness that should forever be celebrated as an essential part of the history of all women.
About Obi and Their Four Types
Magazine Showing 36 Different Obi Patterns
Obi Wall Scrolls
Obi Decorative and Bedding Pillows
image of Japanese woman's face
Photo courtesy of I. Wada