Snorkeling, graphology, numismatics—anything goes in the world of hobbies. Still, the one that inspired Hiroyuki Horihata and Makiko Sekiguchi’s Matohu line is surprising: kimono wearing. In 2001 Sekiguchi, a fan of the traditional Japanese garb, bought a blue wool style for her husband, Horihata (she boasts about 50 kimonos herself). The couple began wearing them together on weekends, and to this day they slip into the robes—further punctuating them with zori thong sandals—every Saturday and Sunday, whether inside their home or outside, in the urban whirl of Tokyo.
“For me, it was an inner revelation,” Horihata says, “because when I walked in the street, I felt like a foreigner in Japan. Nobody wears kimonos now.” He adds that when he puts one on, his stance shifts slightly, and his behavior changes, too. “Makiko and I, we began talking about the essence of the kimono and thinking deeply about the Japanese sensibility.”
They translated those musings into a collection, Matohu (pronounced MA-TO-U). Since launching it in 2005, Horihata and Sekiguchi have subtly mined the motifs of traditional Japanese culture, recasting them as gracefully molded coats, delicate textured tops and wrap dresses (think Memoirs of a Geisha, not Diane von Furstenberg). The spring lineup, for instance, takes inspiration from the country’s centuries-old Oribe style of pottery. “Playful,” says Horihata, is a key word for the season’s fragile yet upbeat fashions: crinkled, paper-thin jackets and skirts splashed with colorful prints.
The story of Matohu, though, goes beyond its creators’ weekend kimono strolls. Starting in 1998 Horihata and Sekiguchi, each now 39, put in five-year stints at major houses: he at Rei Kawakubo’s Comme des Garçons and she at Yohji Yamamoto, positions neither is comfortable discussing. “We try to avoid [talking about] it in Japan,” Horihata says. “They are too influential, and we don’t want people to think about them before looking at our collection.”
Certainly, the clothes do not appear obviously derivative. “They are both modernists,” Horihata says. “We are inspired by origins. But the creative method and technical background are the same, because we learned from them.” Nevertheless, Yamamoto’s and Kawakubo’s shadows loom large; each of them, after all, ultimately directed the couple to their careers.
A native of Sakai, a port city of Japan, Horihata was on track to become a philosopher. He was working on his master’s degree at Kyoto’s Doshisha University, with a focus on Immanuel Kant. (This explains why he turns to German when at a loss for a speedy Japanese-to-English translation.) Then, in 1994, he attended a fashion exhibit at the Kyoto Costume Institute. It proved his defining moment. “I saw the collections of Issey Miyake, Comme des Garçons and Yohji Yamamoto—my first time knowing them—and was very impressed,” Horihata recalls, gesturing to his forearms and grazing his fingers along them. “I felt, how do you say….” He’s looking for the phrase “goose bumps.” The exhibit also included a screening of Wim Wenders’s provocative documentary on Yamamoto, Notebook on Cities and Clothes. Horihata was hooked.