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Developing a Collector’s Passion for Vintage Japanese Kimono

by David Pike (10/12/12).

Kimono collector Naomi Graham Hormozi wearing one of her favorite pieces, a Taisho-era purple furisode hikizuri. It is one of the prized pieces in her collection.

She says she I took a gamble on buying it and it paid off! The silk is so butter soft and the colors are simply gorgeous. She feels very fortunately to have it in her collection

I recently interviewed Naomi Graham Hormozi, a textile artist/freelance designer/homemaker in the San Francisco Bay Area, about her extensive collection of vintage Japanese kimono, haori and obi. Kimono—the traditional Japanese T-shaped, straight-lined robes worn by men, women and children—is a category of collectibles that is a relatively easy one to get into, as long as you do your homework first. The word “kimono,” which literally means a “thing to wear” (ki “wear” and mono “thing” but has come to denote these full-length robes.

David Pike: When did you start buying kimono? Did you start out buying thinking of building a collection?

Naomi Graham Hormozi: I started buying kimono in 2002. My first kimono was a kurotomesode. It wasn’t purchased with the intent to start a collection.

David Pike: How did you become interested in buying them?

Naomi Graham Hormozi: I’ve had a lifetime interest in traditional Japanese arts, along with a deep appreciation of textiles and fashion from around the world. Kimono initially stood out to me as I found them not only to be a wearable garment, but an individual piece of art form.

David Pike: What is your philosophy for buying?

Naomi Graham Hormozi: My philosophy is two, actually: first, buy to wear; and second, buy quality over quantity. I do occasionally make exceptions on the “buy to wear” bit if I find a piece that really captivates me. I also focus almost exclusively on the Greater Taisho Era (1900 to 1930) with a few exceptions.

A blue Meiji-era uchikake with suzume and sasa.

A blue & pink shibori juban.

David Pike: What are your main interests regarding kimono?

Naomi Graham Hormozi: My main interest is a combination of Taisho period, motifs and kimono as an everyday fashion.

David Pike: How many pieces do you have?

Naomi Graham Hormozi: Oh, I’ve lost count . . .

David Pike: What do you think were the biggest challenges you faced as a beginning buying?

Naomi Graham Hormozi: Finances. Kimono collecting on a budget can be extremely hard but you eventually learn how and where to look. Additionally, I had to fight with my natural inclination to go towards black kimono.

David Pike: As a collector who has experience, what are your biggest challenges now?

A ro duck juban.

A red & white shibori furisode juban.

Naomi Graham Hormozi: When I first started collecting, Taisho Roman style still wasn’t terribly popular, so I was able to locate amazing pieces within my budget and without too much opposition. These days, though, it’s a very highly sought after style, both within and outside of Japan, so they’ve become harder to obtain. But, with experience comes patience—I’m far more willing to just sit and wait for a piece that takes my breath away than what I would have been at the beginning of my collection.

David Pike: Do you still make mistakes in purchases?

Naomi Graham Hormozi: Occasionally I do. Because I’m very selective about what I purchase these days, it generally tends to be a result of the seller not being entirely honest about the condition of a piece.

David Pike: Hindsight is 20/20. What would you do different if you were to start over?

Naomi Graham Hormozi: I’m not sure that there’s much I would do different as I believe that any mistakes I made only made me stronger as a collector. Also, I was very fortunate enough that I identified my passion for Taisho period very early on in my collecting, so I’ve been able to focus on quality rather than quantity.

David Pike: How often on average do you purchase?

Naomi Graham Hormozi: I go through phases. Sometimes I might purchase a few kimono a week for a month, then not purchase anything for quite some time.

A Taisho-era Art Deco haori with various flowers, Charles Rennie Mackintosh roses and swallows.

A yellow, purple and red shibori haori with bamboo.

David Pike: What was your first piece? Do you still own it?

Naomi Graham Hormozi: My first piece was a mid-Showa kurotomesode with a motif of various pine trees. I do still have it, however, I’m planning on giving it away on the Immortal Geisha Forums.

David Pike: What are some of your best pieces? Oh man, I need to think about this one!

David Pike: What is the process after you buy a piece? I would like to know how you get to know a new piece; research a new piece.

Naomi Graham Hormozi: I’m extremely observant with auctions and will often do all the research while the auction is going on, or while I’m waiting for a piece I purchased from an online store to arrive. When the piece finally arrives, I hang it up to photograph it. Once I’ve photographed, I go over the piece very carefully, looking for details I may have missed in the auction. One thing I always look for is for any evidence of mending or unusual tailoring. Not so much because I’m concerned, but rather, fascinated! There’s nothing I love more than owning a piece that you can very clearly see must have been a well-loved kimono, or one that has been altered to fit different generations of family.

David Pike: How often do you sell a piece from your collection?

A Taisho-era irotomesode hybrid with Charles Rennie Makintosh-style roses, narcissus and baby pine.

A Taisho-era striped sea gull dounuki.

Naomi Graham Hormozi: Up until this year, I hadn’t sold any pieces. Unfortunately, I have very limited storage room, so I just very recently went through my collection, trying to be extremely selective and realistic about whether I would one, wear a piece or not, and two, if I wouldn’t wear it, was it a piece with a motif with special meaning or an unusual construction technique and if it calls out enough to me to keep as a collectors piece. Anything not fitting into the two above, I’ve been selling.

David Pike: How do you display the kimono in your collection?

Naomi Graham Hormozi: I generally don’t display any of my kimono in person. With a toddler and two cats, it’s a bit of a hairy (literally!) thing to do. I do, however, rotate through displaying haori as I can keep them out of reach. I like to switch through them based on seasons. Also, I try to photograph each kimono as I receive them and keep an online gallery of them on Flickr.

David Pike: How do you deal with what I would call the clutter associated with collecting?

Naomi Graham Hormozi: Over the years I’ve optimized my storage solution to reduce the clutter. I have two Taisho-period tansu, five under-the-bed storage containers and a large bookcase that I use for my kimono, haori (kimono jackets) and obi (sash or belt). Additionally, I have smaller, individual containers for dressing accessories, obi age, obijime, han-eri, etc. I find that the very rectangular and flat nature of kimono make them extremely easy to store. These days, I find most of the clutter happens after I’ve worn a kimono—you can’t just fold everything up immediately as it needs to air. This is generally fine if it’s just you having worn kimono, but when it’s your entire family and friends, the airing gets a little cluttered!

David Pike: What do you hope to do with your collection?

A hand-painted sailboat and gull nagoya obi.

A noh obi.

Naomi Graham Hormozi: I hope that as my daughter grows older, she’ll appreciate the beauty of kimono and that my collection can be passed onto her. If she doesn’t, ultimately, I plan on donating it to the Asian Arts Museum here in San Francisco (or the equivalent in Australia, if I’ve moved back).

David Pike: What does your husband think about your collecting activities?

Naomi Graham Hormozi: He is extremely supportive and enjoys wearing kimono himself. He’s also quite the enabler at times!

David Pike: Have you ever thought about giving up?

Naomi Graham Hormozi: No. I do go through quiet spells, but it’s usually because I do have other collections and interests. I also collect antique geisha postcards, vintage sewing patterns and I sew both as a hobby and side business. I find I focus on each collection in cycles.

David Pike: What is the longest you have gone without purchasing something?

Naomi Graham Hormozi: I think my longest hiatus was about a year and a half—it was after I had my daughter and I clearly had other things on mind than kimono!

David Pike: Do you have regrets about pieces you didn’t purchase?

Naomi Graham Hormozi: No. I like to remind myself that something better will come along. That piece of advice hasn’t failed me yet!

Thoughts for Other Collectors

David Pike: Do you have advice to someone who is new to buying kimono?

Naomi Graham Hormozi: Think carefully about why they want to purchase kimono. Are they purchasing purely to collect or are they wishing to wear kimono? The criteria will be vastly different.

A Taisho-era indigo Chūya Hikinuki obi with gan.

A Taisho-era green Chūya Hikinuki obi with tsuzumi and botan and brocade landscape scenes on reverse

David Pike: What do you say to someone who is trying to build a collection as a means to build wealth, that is, people whose goal is to have the pieces appreciate in value?

Naomi Graham Hormozi: I would highly recommend that they study not only the various textile methods (such as fabric weaves, dying techniques, etc.), but also motifs, folklore and even historical events which will help them identify out-of-the-ordinary kimono and rare motifs.

I would also generally recommend focusing on pre-World War Two, however, there are a number of amazing, out-of-the ordinary modern kimono. Additionaly, some kimono, such as geisha or maiko hikizuri, stage kimono, uchikake, etc., do appreciate in value quite well, however one shouldn’t disregard regular, everyday kimono.

David Pike: Do you think it is possible to build a collection on a “pocket money” budget?

Naomi Graham Hormozi: Absolutely, because that’s how I started! You just need to learn where to look, both on and off line, along with having some serious self-discipline and avoid being caught up in bid wars on auctions.

David Pike: What are the best places to buy?

Naomi Graham Hormozi: One of my favorite places is Shiraku in San Francisco’s Japantown. Outside of that, I generally use the Yahoo Japan Auctions and Ichiroya, sometimes eBay.

David Pike: What are the best places to avoid?

Naomi Graham Hormozi: I would recommend avoiding tourist-type shops and conventions until you’ve become familiar with authentic kimono vs. “Made in China” tourist kimono. It’s a mistake I’ve seen happen quite often, both in person and in online kimono communities.

Kimono collector Naomi Graham Hormozi wearing a vintage tsuzumi meisen kimono with hakata obi.

The same vintage tsuzumi meisen kimono with hakata obi as seen from behind.

Immortal Geisha

David Pike: How did you get interested in geisha?

Naomi Graham Hormozi: I’ve had a life-long interest in various traditional arts of Japan and I just naturally became interested in them as artists.

David Pike: When did you start Immortal Geisha?

Naomi Graham Hormozi: The ImmortalGeisha.com website was started in 2001, with the forum launched in 2002.

David Pike: How much time do you spend doing administration work a week?

Kimono collector Naomi Graham Hormozi, with her husband and daughter, dressed for the 19th annual Kimono Day in San Francisco’s Japantown.

Naomi Graham Hormozi: Over the years we’ve developed a wonderful membership base for the forums that really doesn’t need too much moderation. It is a little unusual for an online forum, but it speaks volumes of the maturity and good nature of the members. This means we generally don’t need to focus too many hours to administration work. However, when I’m in the process of doing upgrades, additions or a redesign—I can easily spend up to six or more hours a day working on it until completed. These upgrades can take anywhere from a week to a month, depending on the extent of work involved.

David Pike: What are some of the benefits of running such a popular and well visited site?

Naomi Graham Hormozi: The amazing people I’ve had a chance to meet over the years who have become dear friends and to just have a place to talk and share a common passion.

David Pike: How about some of the drawbacks?

Naomi Graham Hormozi: Unfortunately, we do occasionally attract people who wish to cause trouble and ruffle a few feathers. This generally happens only once in a blue moon, but when it does happen, it tends to be quite time-consuming and stressful as we try to resolve the situation.

David Pike: Do you have any plans for the future of I.G.?

Naomi Graham Hormozi: I am slowly transferring the Immortal Geisha Wiki to eventually be the main website and to make it more community based in terms of contribution. Unfortunately, over the years, I’ve had less time to devote to researching and providing the results, but many members of the forum do their own research and I’d like to provide an area for them to share.

I would like to thank Naomi for her generosity in letting me use her photos for this article.

David Pike is a Worthologist who specializes in items from Japan, including porcelain.

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