Even in Kyoto, which is filled with artisans of all kinds of traditional crafts and wares, Yuto Tamoi-San holds a special place in my heart. He heads one of the largest silk-making companies in Japan, and his breathtakingly ethereal fabrics are renowned for their quality—coveted by geisha, the Imperial Family and couturiers around the world. We met years ago when we found the perfect material to tie on our Supple Moisture Rich Silk Cream, so it was a delight to collaborate with him again to create the new KINU Pure Silk Polishing Face Cloth. Because he is as special to us as his beautiful bolts of silk, I am honored to share part of his story with you.

Q: Why do you love working with silk, and what is most special about it to you?

A:  It’s no wonder that silk is considered the queen of all fabrics, and when you see silk of the highest quality it is truly magical. It even can be lifesaving, as in the case of a baby born with a rare skin disease. Being swaddled in pure white silk was the only thing that could relieve his pain and protect his skin. It also has unparalleled thermal qualities because of the way the fibers are structured, which is why people in extreme conditions like climbing Mount Everest always wear silk underwear. It’s also very strong and eco-friendly as well, which is an added benefit. I think some of the medical studies about silk being used to create artificial veins is incredibly exciting. This is because the silk fibers are made of proteins and amino acids that are very similar to the structure of our skin, which makes it perfect for a wide variety of uses.

Q: Did you always know you wanted to work with silk?

A: I am the third generation of my family to work with silk. Before I became president, I apprenticed in a Tokyo kimono store to gain a real appreciation for how the different textures and weaves come to life in these special garments. If I wasn’t working with silk, though, I think I would have loved to have been a baseball player or sportswriter!

Q: What do you wish more people knew about silk?

A: Kyoto is famous for developing a special kind of weave that requires very specific sophisticated skills and is not easily replicated. It was a tightly guarded secret for hundreds of years. It’s called chirimen, and it is woven in a very special way, essentially twisting the fibers as they go through the loom for a textured effect. This was the favored silk for the most elegant kimonos. It has a wonderful sheen and amazing color, it drapes well and holds shape well. It’s also edible and is said to improve the digestion by activating the kidneys.

Q: How can non-experts judge the quality of silk?

A: Look very closely to see whether the thread is evenly woven, as well as the shine on the surface. If there are bumps in the fabric or the surface is not completely smooth, sometimes you can tell that threads have been cut unevenly.

Q: You have such a beautiful garden attached to your workshop, do you go out there often?

A: The garden was created by Mirei. Shigemori, a renowned author and landscape designer who also created gardens at many temples, including Tōfuku-ji in Kyoto. It is a wonderful place for all of  us, we love to sit out there or even have our meetings there because it is so beautiful, calm and peaceful. 

Victoria Tsai
Chief Treasure Hunter

published May 2015

Design, Interviews
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Photo 2: Our Silk Purveyor, Yuto Tamoi-San, with Vicky at a kimono maker's Kyoto atelier.

Photo 3: Our Silk Purveyor, Yuto Tamoi-San, at work in his company atelier.

Photo 4: Tamoi-san showing some of his silks to a kimono maker in Kyoto.

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