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Way Of The Samurai: Exploring The Fine Art Of Japanese Tailoring

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The following article has been sponsored by M.J. Bale

In the Iwate Prefecture, a 4-hour train journey from Tokyo’s bustling streets, lies the city of Ichinoseki-shi.

To the north is Hiraizumi, noted for its Buddhist temples, gardens and archaeological sites. In the centre is Tsuriyama Park, famed for its cherry blossoms and panoramic views. To the east is Geibikei Gorge, beloved for its dramatic scenery. And just outside Ichinoseki is something equally special you won’t find in any guidebook.

The place in question is M.J. Bale’s tailoring workshop, a family-run business that has been in operation since the 1950s. The suits are custom and hand-finished, crafted by artisans with silk kimono-making heritage. More than 50 hours of construction go into the making of a single suit.

Overseeing it all is Kaneko, Japanese Tailoring Master and M.J. Bale’s keeper of standards. Twice a year Kaneko visits Australia for custom appointments, and this year we had the good fortune to see the extraordinary man in action.

A Master Tailor’s Tale

Kenichi Kaneko was born in Tokyo in 1966, son of a bespoke tailor and silk kimono maker. Day after day, Kaneko watched his father hand-sew suits for clients and the early seeds of his passion for tailoring were planted.

After attending a technical college to study pattern making and fashion design, Kaneko worked under a Shi Sho (Japanese for ‘Master Tailor’) at a Tokyo apparel company. In 1998, following 11 years of tutelage with his mentor, Kaneko took a job in New York and designed for a roster of clients that included Brooks Brothers and Burberry.

Kaneko returned to Japan in 1999. In 2003 he was offered the position of General Manager of the tailoring workshop in Ichinoseki. Seven years later he began collaborating with M.J. Bale to make the brand’s custom suits and the rest, as they say, is history.

East Meets West

Matt Jensen, CEO & Founder of M.J. Bale, met Kaneko in the mid-2000s through friends in the industry, but it wasn’t his first brush with the island nation. “I’ve always had a very strong affinity with Japan,” he explains, “the food, the culture and the tradition.”

Jensen found himself particularly impressed with the country’s sartorial accomplishments. “Japanese tailors are so highly skilled and knowledgeable when it comes to constructing suits,” he says. “I put Japanese tailors right up there in terms of skill as the English and Italians. They just have an intuitive knack for craftsmanship.”

Kaneko notes many similarities between Japanese and Italian tailoring – particularly the emphasis on details and hand finishing, and a soft construction in the jacket – but also notes key differences. Italians are bold when it comes to fabrics, cuffs and other details, while the Japanese are more restrained in their choices.

And where does Australia fit into all this? Well, that’s where we come in.

Flawless Made To Measure Methodology

We were lucky to catch Kaneko during one of his semi-annual excursions to Australia. Getting a made to measure suit is the pinnacle of the men’s fashion experience, and getting it made by a master like Kaneko is the pinnacle of that pinnacle.

The first step in the process is to book your by-appointment only fitting. Every detail is hammered out during that first meeting, from button count, to lapel width, to lining, to monogrammed initials. M.J. Bale take particular pride in their selection of fabrics, which are sourced from leading mills around the world. Most are from Italy, with select options from England and Japan.

Once your specifications have been noted and your measurements have been taken, the information is relayed to the Ichinoseki workshop. For the next 6-8 weeks, you practice patience while your suit is carefully crafted over dozens of hours.

Following its return, a second fitting is used to make any final adjustments. When there are none left to be made, your magnificently tailored made to measure suit is put in your eager hands, ready to take its rightful place as the pride of your wardrobe.

Why A Samurai Suit Is Special

A Samurai Suit is a cut above the rest. First, there’s the simple joy of knowing you own something so unique. Not only is it a one-of-a-kind piece, tailored to fit your body and style perfectly, it’s also an anomaly. How many men, even Australia’s best dressed, can say they had a Japanese suit made without purchasing plane tickets?

Second, of course, is the process itself. This is a premium experience from start to finish. The service is exemplary, and the hand-finished, fully-canvased result will serve you well for years to come.

And finally, there’s Kaneko himself. The man is truly a master of his craft, who lives and breathes the art of tailoring. “I like making clothes and fixing clothes that are fitted to the customer,” he says. “My soul tells me that when I can make one person happy, I am happy. I want to reflect this philosophy on to my work as well.”

It’s that kind of dedication that gives life to the most exceptional menswear.

M.J. Bale‘s made in Japan custom suits start from $1,500, including complimentary alterations. Appointments are made via custom@mjbale.com or by calling (02) 8208 8800.

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