Above Image: The Zen garden at the Higashiyama Jisho-ji temple.
“Kyoto’s rich history, vibrant culture, and exquisite craftsmanship have always captivated my imagination,” says designer Jiun Ho, whose latest collection is named for the Japanese city he first visited at the age of nine. Here we find out how the designer, who launched his eponymous furnishings firm 23 years ago, translated the landscape, art, and spiritual traditions—even the cuisine—of the former capital city into a fascinating line of indoor and outdoor textiles.
What compelled you to create a collection that honors this special city?
Kyoto holds a special place in my heart. Japan feels like an expedition to an alternate universe, but in Kyoto, which has blossomed into the nation’s cultural nucleus, it comes together in a heightened sense. It fosters tranquil coexistence, a reflection of its embrace of Zen Buddhism. Strolling down narrow alleyways, geisha and maiko add to the allure—their kimonos, adorned with captivating patterns, colors, and textures, reflect such artistry. That same enchantment extends to Kytoto’s renowned temples, especially Kiyomizu-dera and Higashiyama Jisho-ji.
The designer Jiun Ho; the Kondo or main hall of Higashiyama Jisho-ji temple.
Please tell us about your process, from seeing something that moves you to designing a textile.
I’ll pick one design, Hanakago, to express that. The Hanakago textile is a tribute to my passions: photography, curiosity, analysis, and craftsmanship. Its inception traces back to a captivating flower basket that I discovered on a trip to Kyoto. I photographed it, then when I started this collection. I delved into its construction and intricate pattern. Analyzing the weave served as a launchpad, but that was only the beginning. The journey then led to contemplating its tactile quality and envisioning its role in interior spaces, which determined whether it should be woven or printed.
“The Hanakago textile is a tribute to my passions: photography, curiosity, analysis, and craftsmanship.”
The Hanakago collection.
Aside from objects like the basket, tatami, and raku pottery, you also delved into Japanese cuisine for inspiration, yes?
Yes, and a good example is the design of Umami. The term umami translates to a multifaceted flavor in Japanese culinary traditions. When examining the Umami pattern closely, one can discern its complex weave, meticulously crafted by intertwining all-natural fibers. This weaving mirrors the layers of flavor that define the concept of umami. Just as umami tantalizes the taste buds, this collection seeks to captivate the senses.
That culinary element also plays into Kyoto’s colorways, with names like Toro, Wasabi, and Shiso. Tell us about your interest in cooking.
I grew up in Kuala Lumpur, and part of our national character is to be eating one meal while having passionate conversations about what we’ll be having for our next one. So, yes—I’m a foodie! I love having friends over to share what I’ve cooked, and often it’s from the garden of my home in Sonoma. Those passions found their way into Kyoto’s designs, which represent the diverse ingredients and vibrant colors of Japanese cuisine. My travels often result in suitcases brimming with treasures like miso and matcha, and an array of sauces. This collection is a manifestation of that epicurean exploration.
You’ve designed other place-driven collections, like Kalahari, inspired by your time in Africa. Why is a global outlook important to your work?
Travel is a transformative force that imparts a unique seasoning to my creative endeavors. It’s when I have ventured beyond familiar boundaries that my work has evolved the most. The more I embark on journeys and accumulate my personal and meaningful treasure trove of experiences, the more I am reinvigorated as a designer, and my design sensibilities flourish.