Product Focus: Pocket Squares Inspired by Japan

Two of our most popular designs come from the Ukiyo-e genre: a Japanese art movement which flourished from the 17th to 19th centuries.

Ukiyo-e Genre

Following the establishment of the Edo government in Tokyo, the merchant classes soon began to prosper as a result of the rapid economic growth. With extra income, they began to patronise the arts, theatres and geishas. The term "ukiyo" literally means "floating world" and came to be synonymous with this new lavish lifestyle. Printed works that depicted this lifestyle were soon popular with the same people who were now able to afford such artworks. Popular subject matters included women, actors, sumo wrestlers, samurais, history and folklore, and landscapes.

The earlier works were generally printed with little colour, but later on, colour began to be used as standard. Each work, while designed by the artist, was in fact a collaboration between several craftsmen. The artist designed the print, a carver cut the woodblocks, a printer inked and pressed the blocks, and all this was often financed by a publisher who promoted and distributed the products. 

The Great Wave of Kanagawa by Hokusai is perhaps the best known work from the time. 

The Great Wave off Kanagawa by Hokusai

Founder Quote

"The colours in both these designs really pop out, making for such versatile squares. I particularly love the red tones in Yada Gorosaemon Sukateke, as this pairs so well with my favourite jacket from our collection, the Brown Superfine Hopsack Jacket which has subtle hints of red in it. The sheer variety of colours and patterns within each square ensures that you can wear this square with most outfits. Given that the Olympics are being held in Japan this summer, I'll be wearing both of these squares on rotation in the coming months."

Elliott Rampley, Co-founder

The Artist: Utagawa Kuniyoshi

Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1798-1861) is one of the last great masters of the ukiyo-e genre, and was mostly known for portrayals of famous samurai and legendary heroes. In his art, he was able to represent a sense of action in the samurais faces and behaviour, often depicted in combat. Kuniyoshi also made prints of more traditional subjects such as landscapes, or bijin-ga - a term to describe pictures of beautiful women in Japanese art.

Kuniyoshi's work is held in the permanent collections of many museums worldwide, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.

Utagawa-Kuniyoshi Self-Portrait 1839

Self portrait, 1839

The Compositions

Both these pocket squares depict samurais in action and seemingly about to strike their opponent. By choosing only to show one character in such detail, he is able to present a range of emotion and action on the face of each samurai. Samurais were fighters in the earlier days of the class (pre 1600), but during the relative peace of the Edo period they became bureaucrats, intellectuals, poets, or philosophers as well. 

Both original artworks are relatively small at 37.1cm x 25.1cm and were completed in 1852 towards the end of his life.. The inscriptions seen on the artwork refer to the calligrapher, the artist and the title of the painting. 

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