Drawing his inspiration from Japanese tradition and culture, Michail Gkinis creates wearable art in the form of versatile, ever-transforming garments that embrace Japanese craftsmanship and promote diversity and sustainability
Michail Gkinis was raised with a soundtrack of sewing machines, patterns being drawn and fabrics cut, as his mother was a garment maker who ran an atelier with her sister. It’s no wonder that aesthetics entered his realm of interests from a very young age. Born in Thessaloniki, Michail was raised in the same city, reaching adulthood in the ‘90s – a true member of Generation X, growing up with MTV, punk, and electronic music, the first video games, and the fall of the Berlin wall. He studied fashion design and technology at the London College of Fashion, where he also identified his perfect medium of expression.
He now knew how to send his message to the rest of the world: by designing clothes. Michail settled in Tokyo in 2006, from where he runs the clothing brand Michail Gkinis Aoyama. It was in the British capital that the Land of the Rising Sun first caught his eye. Back in the day, he delved deep into Japanese culture and tradition as well as more contemporary art forms, the Tokyo electro music scene, and the strong avant-garde tendencies of the Japanese fashion scene that dominated the mid-80s, which gave rise to designers who achieved global fame. “All these elements were powerfully infused into me and a fierce desire to travel there was born,” he explains.
So, in 2006, he sets off for Japan to chase his dream “with a single suitcase, a collection I designed in my college years, and a ticket.” The black-and-white films of Akira Kurosawa and Kenji Mizoguchi, as well as Junichiro Tanizaki’s book “In Praise of Shadows” motivated him to choose Tokyo as his final destination. Kimonos and samurais set the scene to craft his stories and dress his heroes. Together with his wife and partner, Yuko Aoyama, Michail opened a workshop and store in Todoroki. “By choosing to combine our two names in the name of the collection, we demonstrate how we come from different cultures but express ourselves as a single hybrid creative team,” Michail explains with a smile.
The couple wants to reinterpret Japanese aesthetics and culture. “I’m inspired by nature, Japanese civilization, architecture, and traditional arts. At the workshop, we are working on two separate creative paths, based on the expression of beauty and art. We rely on Japanese craftsmanship and knowledge to complete our creations, while our mission is to continue the cultural heritage of Japanese textiles. To achieve our goals, we have created two lines of garments. One is Wearable Art Stole, centered around the traditional long scarf, which we process in a more industrialized manner. All fabrics are sourced from Japanese companies with
tradition and expertise. Our second project is Kimono Modernization, which is personalized and has a haute couture character. Working around the concepts of diversity, sustainability, and zero waste, we upcycle old and vintage kimonos. We thought we could provide a solution to the problem of many families in Japan who no longer wear their old kimonos, while also sending a message of tradition and showcasing the beauty of the kimono to the new
Versatility is a key characteristic of Michail Gkinis’s creations. “Each is designed to transform into several variations and worn on different occasions, depending on the user’s personality and lifestyle,” he explains. One shining example of this approach is a new type of coat that can transform into many diverse shapes, which received an award at DFA Hong Kong 2021 – while another big milestone was their Tokyo Fashion Award back in 2011, in the third year of the brand’s life.
So, what is Michail’s dream? What are his future ambitions? “Our vision is for the Wearable Art Stole to become a connection point for people with different personalities and cultures. To establish a new category of clothing that transcends boundaries and body shapes, skin color, and idiosyncrasies.” As a visual artist, he encourages people to embrace every aspect of their creativity, with his motto being apropos: “Bring out your inner creativity.”