Inspiration can come from almost anywhere. A lunchtime stroll; a few lines from an article; a short film on Instagram or anecdote told from a friend. To be inspired, for me, isn’t always a “eureka” moment; it doesn’t need to be a solution to a problem, or the starting point for a project. It can be as simple as something I find interesting or beautiful — that, over time, can feed into my creative work and perspective.
Back when I was studying graphic design, I would always turn to books on Japanese design. I have always been fascinated by the typography and clean-lined aesthetic, which has fed into some of my own work over the years. That’s why when I first came across photographs of 19th Century Japanese Figherfighter Coats, I knew I wouldn’t forget them. These incredible pieces are most often displayed in modern day museums inside-out to showcase their fantastic interiors. Crafted during Japan’s Edo Period (1603-1868) they were worn by firefighters who fought blazes across cities, where crowded living in wooden buildings was commonplace.
Made of thick quilting, these coats would be soaked in water to help protect the firefighters in their dangerous job. And while on the exterior, these long coats were not so different to those in modern day, when reversed their insides reveal incredible imagery — depicting stories of bravery, heroes and creatures from legend and Japanese history.
Each one of these coats could take weeks to create — and it’s easy to see why. The layered quilting process is known as sashiko (“little stabs”), while the dying method (tsutsugaki) involves the use of rice paste and allows for the creation of these intricate and stunning designs.
What inspires me about these Japanese Figherfighter Coats? I think it’s probably the combination of their utilitarian function and beauty — alongside the considered craftsmanship. They are bold and stunning examples of graphic design and are reflective of the characters, typography and symmetry I’ve always loved and continue to infuse into my own work.
Design should be, in many instances, purposeful; but also, visually appealing. And in the best case scenario, be able to tell a story too. These 19th Century works of art, created to protect those on the job, seem to do just that.