Rebirthing kimono

Updated: Mar 31, 2019

I have been privileged to be involved in the most amazing cross cultural collaboration. Invited by Noriko Collins of Kimono Kollab to redesign a kimono to be worn in by Hatenkohro, a Japanese metal circus performance group touring New Zealand, Russia, China, Japan and Romania with a new album entitled Phoenix. Kimono Kollab 'rescues' traditional kimono by transforming them into new garments.

“I was stricken by the tragedy of all these beautiful kimonos collecting dust in warehouses. They were pieces of history, once proudly worn and cherished, each with an intricate story woven into its fabric. I couldn’t bear the thought of them being tossed away like so many pieces of worthless trash. I had to do something. And so the idea for Kimono Kollab was born.” - Noriko Collins 

The Narrative - these are the threads I followed that led to the rebirthing of this kimono for the performer Jigoroh, with a New Zealand 'twist'.


The original Shiro Muku I was given to work with.

The Phoenix symbolises rising from the flames and is the title of Hatenkohro’s new album.

From what I know about Jigoroh, his performance is dramatic and fluid, and he has a strong stage presence. In Te Ao Maori this is known as mana – prestige.


I chose plants that yield gold as the main colour for the kimono symbolic of the heat of the flames and representing courage, passion, glamour and glitz.

I chose a smokey purple for the second colour to represent the cooler outer part of the flames. Purple is a spiritual colour representing dignity (mana) and peace.

The pattern from the leaf arrangement represents the feathers of the Phoenix.


Planning and testing colours and prints.

The leaf prints are from plants harvested from my local neighbourhood and establish my connection to Aotearoa. I communicate this through my pepeha and this forms my New Zealand spin on the work. Pepeha is a way of introducing yourself according to Māori protocol. It tells people who you are by sharing your connections with the people and places that are significant to you.


Ko Karen Williamson tōku ingoa

Ko Warkworth tōku kainga

Ko Mahurangi tōku awa

Ko Tamahunga tōku maunga

Ko Ngati Tau Iwi tōku iwi


My name is Karen Williamson.

Warkworth is my home

Mahurangi is my river

Tamahunga is my mountain

Tau Iwi is my iwi.


My choice of plant matter

Casuarina. Harvested from the farm where I live. I see the trees from my house window.

Kawakawa and Rangiora picked from the nearby ngahere (bush) growing on the banks of a tributary of the Mahurangi river.

Eucalyptus Silver Dollar – from a tree growing within sight of Mount Tamahunga.

Gold dye from coreopsis flowers from a friend’s garden in central Warkworth.

The purple is from a dye called logwood, it’s the wild card grown in Brazil.

There is a random pohutukawa leaf that somehow got into the bundle – I don’t know how but this is the nature of eco dyeing. Things have a life of their own!

Tau Iwi refers to people who are non-Māori, whose ancestry is from another land.

My birth home is England with heritage to Celtic origins of Scotland and Wales. The celts have a historical tradition of being foragers, as am I.

I now fully embrace New Zealand as my home and hence, I am also reborn.

I am the Phoenix.



The finished work travelled from my home to Wellington and Auckland and was worn by Jigoro at Auckland's Japan Day. I got to meet Jigoro at the performance which completed the circle of creativity for me. Seeing it moving on a dynamic and dramatic body, how it worked and partnered with the other costumes and then being thanked in person by Jigoro felt rewarding and affirming. And I have a deeper understanding of kimono and keen for more collaborations with Kimono Kollab.



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All imagery copyrighted to Karen Williamson and may not be reproduced in any way without  express permission.