Fruits of Osaka

Konnichiwa! Kawaii! You have a small face!

May 30, 2020

Adventures in Japan

I was recently lucky enough to spend 3 fun weeks in Japan, after being invited by Hankyu Department Store to take part in their annual British Fair in Osaka. 

I’d never been to Japan before, but it had been a dream for the past 10 years to sell in Japan so it really was a dream come true! Before going I was pretty nervous, because I’d so hyped the place up for the past 10 years – but what if it wasn’t ‘all that’? And more so, what if the Japanese didn’t like me or my hats??? I had sent over 100 hats to Osaka – and what was I going to do with them if they were all returned??

As I sat on the plane and hit play on Rocketman, I thought about my studio-mate Chloe who was costume assistant on the film. Then oddly enough, I looked up, and there was Chloe, walking straight past me down the aisle. Pure coincidence. We had no idea the other was going to Japan, let alone being on the same flight to Osaka. After a brief chat and her agreeing to get me a backstage ticket to a Hot Chip concert in Osaka two days later, I thought; “That’s it, this is going to be a FANTASTIC trip”, and my nerves rapidly turned into excitement. 

Upon arriving at the Hankyu Department Store with the other Brits, we were greeted with the most magnificent display of quintessential Britishness. There was a millennial pink taxi, a Notting Hill style pastel house, and Union Jacks everywhere. Despite the Union Jacks, it was very tasteful; Hankyu had obviously put a lot of time, money, and effort into the event.

I was happy to find the Sahar Millinery display between the Cambridge Satchel Company and Harrods, and to meet managers from each, who had also flown over for the event. I was showing primarily my Autumn Winter Collection, both day wear and occasionwear, and had a few new styles, namely the tall asymmetric Trilbies, and the teardrop fascinators. 

The fair was on for a total of 7 days, so after a day of set up and a lovely welcoming ceremony (including samurai / martial arts / dance performances and my first taste of truly incredible sushi), we opened. And it was heaving! We had plenty of support – sales staff, translators, and people to actually take payments. 

After three hours I’d still not made a sale.I found myself starting to panic in a downward spiral of disappointment, and questioning all my life decisions. (I’m hoping anyone trying to make a living from their creative work relates to this and I’m not the only one who spirals so quickly!) I went for a cup of tea (English Breakfast tea with milk – I needed comfort) and came back 20 minutes later, to find that my first sale had happened without me. So from then on I knew I needed to be there in the background, for anyone who wanted to meet the designer, and allow the salespeople to do their job. 

From then on it was pure fun. I got to meet a plethora of interesting, friendly, cool Japanese people, and I spent most of my time gawking over their incredible, impeccable sense of style and fashion. I was humbled with every sale – to find that the coolest-dressed people in the world like my hats was an incredible feeling, and confirmation that my last decade of hard work had been worth it.

This is Misa, she rocked up to the British Fair wearing a Kimono with a tartan and Union Jack belt, DM leopard print shoes, Vivienne Westwood earnings, and bought my pink pillbox hat to go with it all!

To say it was fun is not to say it was easy. The days were 10am to 8pm or 9pm every day for 7 days straight. Also, I wasn’t the only one staring – I frequently had groups of women talking about me, pointing, laughing – not in a bad way – they were just enthusiastically speaking about me and I simply couldn’t understand what was being said. I heard certain words over and over – ‘Suteki’ which I learnt meant ‘lovely / special’, and about 50 times a day I heard ‘Kawaii’ (pronounced Ka-why-ee) with fingers pointing at me, which means cute. Cheers guys, feeling the love. Another time I asked the translator what was being said; imagine my surprise when she said ‘Oh it’s ok, they’re just saying “You have a small face’’’. Um, what?! …. But it is really a thing – I heard that around 10 times a day! Turns out, it’s a massive compliment over there, and I have one, so that’s fine then. 

There were so many best moments. Here’s one of many: I met this guy on day 2, and the reason why I noticed him was – Look! We’re wearing basically the same thing! Both in cowboy collar tips and black asymmetric trilbies with shiny stuff! So I started calling him my ‘Japanese Grandad’. Then, two days later, he came back, to bring me a present! And that’s not all – Look! We’re twinning AGAIN!!! Both in all-over leopard print! 

Here are a few of many best moments and best dressed – there were SO MANY, this is just a few: 

These two dancers, who look like they should be in a pop punk girl band, I didn’t realise it at the time, but I fit right in! Bought those pompom lilac hats and successfully combined fluffy and punk. 

Coolest best dressed girl ever who rocks those tartan trousers, and bought my plainest hat. Probably sensible given the outfit.

Cutest girl in Osaka, bought a pink bow pillbox veiled hat and has since visited me in my London studio.

An older couple – very common to see older couples looking fabulously stylish – often the woman in layers of black textures as this lady is.

Some happy customers in their hats. I loved that all ages loved my hats! And the guys too – I sold one hat to a man and need to do more unisex for next time:

And a special thanks to those who made it possible! 

My agent Akiho, Coco the best saleswoman I’ve ever met, Top-Dog Yui, Rosie, Jennifer, Sandra’ Dream Team!

After this event I then went on to Kyoto, had a couple of days of recovery and sightseeing in this achingly beautiful and peaceful city, then started with my pop-up shop in a lovely little vintage store called Gris-Gris. Gris-Gris is situated in trendy Sanjo Street, opposite Paul Smith and a vintage kimono store. I was absolutely shattered, but thankfully Gris-Gris was calm, and run by the coolest, nicest, sweetest, and most fun couple I’ve ever met. Meet Nori and Aki:

After the weekend of exceptionally great sales, meeting more wonderful people (and this time being able to spend more time with them, which was lovely), I left my hats in the capable hands of Nori and Aki, and got the the bullet train to Tokyo, where I met Hitomi, my make-up artist from over a decade ago, when I was first starting out. 

I thought I’d experienced busy, in London and Osaka, but Tokyo was another level! Here’s me trying to be zen whilst crossing Shibuya Crossing:

Tokyo was a research trip for me, as I’d like to extend my Sahar Millinery pop-up tour to Tokyo next year (watch this space, something is brewing).

Next up, my holiday began, and I went to the Art Islands. Yes, you heard that right, the ART ISLANDS!!!! A cluster of islands which has been regenerated through art!!!! There is so much to say about these islands that I will do a separate blog post. Part Two, coming up soon…..

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