“Kimono Reimagined”: Mesa’s fashion program fuses tradition with modernity


Finished products of the “Kimono Reimagined” project on display in the Inamori Pavilion of Balboa Park’s Japanese Friendship Garden.

Francesca Clark, Staff Writer

An array of extravagant garments crafted by Mesa College students hang neatly on tall poles inside one of Balboa Park’s historic Japanese-style buildings – and there is more to these garments than just beauty. 


Embellished with azaleas and gardenias galore, the lower garden trail of the Japanese Friendship Garden ends at the Inamori Pavilion, which houses the “Kimono Reimagined” exhibit.  “A melding of tradition, fashion, and textile art,” this project challenged Fashion Program students to transform a traditional piece of Japanese clothing into a brand new outfit, reflective of 21st century fashion. Sixteen teams, each consisting of one student designer and one stitcher from the Visions Museums, display the results in the showroom of the Pavilion.


Text boards on the eastern wall detail how each product was conceptualized. Students drew inspiration from an array of sources – from gender inclusivity to high-fashion brands such as Comme des Garçons. It was critical to each team that the integrity and spirit of Japanese tradition remain intact with their finished product, while still reflecting modernity in a complete transformation. Learning how each team drew inspiration provides enriching insight into the designer’s fashion expertise and creative process.


San Diego’s Museum of Contemporary Art donated kimonos and haoris that would be transformed into the intricate pieces. Designers blindly reached into bags, and whichever article of clothing was drawn would be the material basis from which they were sewn. Once blueprints were locked in, designers sewed the majority of their own pieces before handing them over to their counterpart for finishing touches. Embellishments such as ribbon, jewels, and patchwork were added by stitchers to capture the eye and further individualize the pieces. 


Mesa College fashion student Hayden James fused Japanese traditionalism with tribal styles, and even derived some inspiration from the movie Black Panther. Though he typically gravitates toward women’s fashion, James went with a menswear piece for this project, venturing out of his comfort zone. The relatively plain, dark-colored kimono that James drew from the mystery bag presented a challenge for James, who strives to create unconventional pieces. It was important for him to uphold his signature style all the while – the boldness and flamboyance that makes each of his pieces distinctly “Hayden James”. 


“Incorporating flair in my menswear is so important to me,” James says. “I just let people stare. I let them wonder.” His piece for “Kimono Reimagined” certainly has flare – with an asymmetrical cut, emblem-like patchwork, and contrasts of dark and light colors.


James’s piece is one of the many works of art on display at the “Kimono Reimagined” exhibit – all of which showcase the incredible talent that resides not only at Mesa College, but at the Visions Museum of Textile Art. James notes that while the city has a bustling community of artists, San Diego has not built a reputation for the creativity that resides within. “San Diego isn’t known for having artistic influence. I want people to know that there is talent here.” 


Should you stop by the Japanese Friendship Garden before February 24th, you will be enchanted by the designs of the Mesa College Fashion Program, complemented by the handiwork of the Visions Museum of Textile Art.