For the past two weeks, all eyes have been on Tokyo’s new Olympic Stadium, designed by Kengo Kuma, where a global symphony of culture, sportiness and community has united the world. Like many of Kuma’s impressive yet sustainable structures, the wood-heavy venue is in part a tribute to traditional Japanese design that values harmony between man and nature. Nowhere is this long-standing aesthetic value more evident than in Kyoto, an ancient city whose modest structures still attract tourists and taste-makers alike. And now Gucci is the newest company to take up the city’s myriad charms and amazing architecture with its recently opened “Gucci in Kyoto”.
Under the name Kyoto “Japan’s sister city of Florence” – the latter is the place where Gucci was founded – the Italian company decided to continue its 100th anniversary celebration in the island state with several events. For the first time, Gucci staged fashion, jewelry and watch presentations in two local temples (both UNESCO World Heritage Sites): Kiyomizu-dera and Ninna-ji. And through August 15, the public can also join the celebrations by visiting the Gucci Bamboo House, a pop-up experience that flanks Gucci’s iconic Bamboo handbags.
For the exhibition, Gucci a Machiya– a traditional Japanese wooden town house typically inhabited by merchants and artisans – formerly known as the Kawasaki Residence. Although these houses have existed since the Heian period, this building was constructed during the Taishō era of the 1920s (the same time that Gucci’s founding).
Accordingly Japan Property Central, the townhouse in central Kyoto, has fashion in its bones: it was originally built for a wealthy cotton merchant and eventually served as a kimono museum after it was sold to the Kawasaki family. Despite its current designation as a cultural asset of the city of Kyoto, the house threatened to be demolished only two years ago. However, Gucci has since been able to provide additional funding.
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The structure was known for its mix of eastern and western architectural features, a juxtaposition that Gucci creative director Alessandro Michele explored in the company’s products. The Gucci Bamboo House follows the basic structure of a Machiya: It’s long and narrow with an enclosed courtyard, which in this case is rich in natural bamboo. Minimalist design has been retained in some rooms, such as the tatami-floored tea ceremony room, which was remodeled under the supervision of tea master Sokyu Nara. Other areas have received the eclectic Gucci treatment – most notably the library, which has patterned chairs and a curated selection of books set on Gucci floral wallpaper.
Additional details include a Sho work of art by calligraphy artist Shisyu and Shoji paper plates adorned with the Gucci monogram. Large-format sculptural works of art by contemporary bamboo artist Tanabe Chikuunsai IV serve as a complementary backdrop for a range of bamboo handbags that the brand first launched on the market in 1947. Also on display are updated versions of the Diana handbag, a vintage design from the 1990s that Gucci recently reissued with bamboo handles and removable neon leather belts.
Since the anniversary year will still last a few months, there is no telling in which ornate city or historical landmark Gucci will appear next. Given Alessandro Michele’s endless imagination and instinct for reinvention, anything is possible.