CITY ó It has been 37 years since Elizabeth Wilson
opened Asiatica, a shop known for one-of-a-kind garments
made from vintage kimonos and other unusual fabrics,
sewn in a large studio on site. But you can also find
elegant housewares and unique gifts, including jewelry,
jewelry bags, paper goods and soaps.
is particularly proud of the shopís role over the
years as an incubator of new talent, as well as its
unrivaled archive of antique kimono fabrics.
did Asiatica start?
have a degree in art history and taught Chinese and
Japanese art. After I moved to Kansas City and married
Marc Wilson, curator of Asian art at the Nelson-Atkins
Museum of Art (who went on to become director for 28
years), I taught at KU and UMKC.
decided I didnít want to be an academic and teamed up
with a woman in Kansas City and opened a store with
functional Japanese and Chinese things. We started
buying old kimono and had to figure out: What are we
going to do with these beautiful fabrics?
Western women donít look good in a kimono, and I didnít
want to make pillows. My partner, Fifi White, said,
"Letís make clothes." It started out simply.
We made one style of shirt, and it grew from there.
go to Japan and buy kimono, and when I return we take
them apart and recycle them. We have a pattern-maker,
and all of our clothes are made from our own designs.
This is couture. Itís not "art to wear," and
itís not costumes. These are clothes for urban people
and women who want something unique.
who buys them?
percent of our business is in other cities. We sell to
private clients and do trunk shows all over the country.
This season, we have trunk shows in September, October
the Asiatica philosophy?
buy things I like. I like to show something people havenít
tend to associate Asiatica with clothing, but thereís
more to the story. I go to Japan every year and look for
beautiful things: old kimono, paper goods, ceramics,
little vases are made by a Japanese artist who blows
them into wood and it burns the box. We have soap from
the finest inn in Kyoto. A box of six cakes,
hand-milled, costs $48. We have fabric flowers, made in
Kyoto, out of our scrap. We also carry scarves, jewelry
and dishes that we buy from Japan.
dishes are quite affordable.
love dishes. You can buy sweet porcelain bowls for $25
or less, and theyíre perfect for blueberries,
raspberries and ice cream. We also have Japanese
stoneware plates you can put in the dishwasher. Theyíre
$48 a piece.
me about these paper goods. The shapes are so
from a line called Wasara that includes 13 different
shapes of bowls, plates and cups. The cost is $12 for
from six to a dozen pieces. We were the first in America
to carry them.
textiles are clearly your first love.
use avant-garde Japanese fabrics, made from polyester
and paper, and polyester and metal. We have a line of
scarves made from tied-dyed silk. The fabric is twisted
and tied, dyed wet and probably heated to keep the
texture. We also carry tenugui napkins. Tenugui are the
cotton towels that sushi chefs tie around their heads.
You can buy a packet of 10 for $35.
of these kimonos can stand alone as artworks.
one we have on display is a type called "boro,"
which means rag, and is all the rage at the moment. Boro
garments are patched indigo cotton, and people like them
for their beaten-up look. The patching and stitching
make for a beautiful object.
doing a cooperative project with KC CO, the leather
accessories company founded by Dominic Scalise. Weíve
done a line of bags made from leftover cotton and
canvas, and weíve asked him to do the leather handles.
me about this room with all the bins of rolled fabric.
least once a month I lead a tour for a local college and
also high schools. This room is filled with 40 years of
scrap, all sorted by color. They should be collected on
a database. This is a treasure trove. Itís an
incredible archive of 20th-century kimono designs. It
makes my heart start beating faster.