“Hanabishi”, in Japanese, means flower diamond, and it originated as a simple decorative pattern.
It is not a reference to a real flower in nature. It is purely a design element that is visually pleasing with broad appeal. But it was always way more than that to me. And it is the beginning of my story for this brand, Carol Koch Sterling.
My love of Japan started in childhood. When I was about 8 years old, we received an oversized picture book called, Japanese Fairy Tales from my aunt and uncle as a gift. (1) It was illustrated with images of people in fancy multi-layered kimono, ornate hair styles, and beautiful faces. (2) I loved looking at those pictures for years and the book stayed in my family long after the spine had cracked, and the corners frayed.
Japan stayed in my life, too – a high school boyfriend came from Yokohama. I was fortunate enough to be able to take two years of Japanese language at one of the only public schools in the nation that offered it. Here is how I learned to write my name in katakana. (Carol is ki-ya-ro-ru) (3) When I graduated, I moved to New York City to work in the fashion industry and I even got to travel to Tokyo for business. I loved those long trips overseas. There was something about Asian cultures that resonated with me. I started collecting images and objects that reminded me of Japan and the other places I’d traveled to, but I didn’t quite know what to do with them at the time. (4-10)
While working in New York City I sometimes used my lunch hour to browse at the Design Inspiration Bookshop, which was located right in the Garment District where I worked. There I discovered a book of kamon, the family crests often seen on the center back of a kimono. What a treasure! (11) Like the fairy tale book from my childhood, I couldn’t stop looking at it. One year I hand-made Christmas cards inspired by the kamon I’d come to love and printed them up to send to close friends. (12) Later I hand-painted ceramic items with some of my favorite kamon and gave them as gifts. (13, 14)
In my career as an accessories designer, first in belts and later in jewelry, I continued to travel throughout Asia. I visited Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Mainland China, and Thailand, but for some reason I remained fascinated by Japanese culture in particular. After a while, though, I was also itching to stop working for other brands and start my own. I knew I still wanted to create something using the kamon – those perfectly balanced design elements. But I held off, thinking, “I can’t believe someone hasn’t done this already. I need to keep researching.”
Eventually I moved to California and began my life as a vintage-style jewelry designer. A book I found at The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)’s Japanese Pavilion (16) was particularly intriguing to me. It was a history of Japanese people in Hawaii, and how resourceful they had to be to survive, including re-purposing old kimonos. (17) I liked this idea and started going to antique kimono shows, (18) collecting and looking for interesting fabrics to design with. (19, 20, 21) Sometimes I would dis-assemble the vintage kimonos, stitch by stitch, and remake them into decorative pillow covers. (22) It was painstaking work, but I found it therapeutic in some way, imagining the hands who once stitched this garment together, long ago. The gently worn fabric was so soft, it was worth the effort. Later I would use the scraps to create kimono-fabric-clad earring cards for display in a market, or for gifting. (23)
I collected origami papers, too, (24) and books about Japanese costume and textiles. (25) I loved visiting downtown Los Angeles’s Little Tokyo, (27 – 4 items) always stopping to buy ceramics or other decorative objects (28). Plus, there is the excellent Japanese American Musuem there. (29, 29a)
Eventually I was tired of traveling for business all the time and wanted to start a family. I took time off from working full time and started up some new creative hobbies, like mosaics and welding. When an industry friend of mine recommended taking classes with a master jeweler, I decided, “Why not try to make some of my own ideas for those kamon-inspired jewelry pieces in sterling silver?” There, under the direction of this highly skilled 90 year old jewelry artist, I hand-carved my first wax model as a three-dimensional version of the rhomboid hanabishi from the kamon book I’d gotten in back New York. That original mold is still in use. (30)
Decades later, I was still reminiscing about that Japanese Fairy Tales book that so influenced me as a young girl, and was serendipitously able to find it, in relative decent condition, in an online search. When I received the book I ordered, it showed the same kind of worn features as the one I remembered from childhood. (31) Could it be my original book come back to me? It sure felt like it had. Maybe that was just the sign I needed to keep going forward with my fledgling idea to create a jewelry collection inspired by this simple, yet elegant hanabishi motif. And that’s what I did. That hand-carved model was my first piece, and it just blossomed from there. (32, 33 a-b, 34)
There are currently four variations within the Hanabishi collection – the Fan Shape (or half-flower) Hanabishi, the Square Flower Hanabishi, the Rhomboid Hanabishi which is like a diamond shape, and the Oval Hanabishi. All have the same triple-scalloped, four-petal arrangement and a center dot. Each version comes in several sizes to cover all jewelry categories – necklaces, bracelets, and earrings. (35-38)
I continue to seek out images that have the diamond flower whenever I travel. I’ve seen furniture, clothing, tattoos, gift wrap, vintage sword hilts, textiles, and restaurant logos that use this motif. Here are several items decorated with hanabishi.
I don’t know about you, but whenever I’ve searched the internet for kamon-inspired jewelry, I’ve never found pieces I really liked. So I am happy to be the one to provide this to everyone out there who has been looking for this, too. I am hoping to connect with those who, like me, have a love of Japan, and want that little nugget of beauty that can be worn every day. This is my passion. This is what I want to give back to the world. (49)
You can see all the hanabishi-motifed jewelry items available from the online shop by their different shapes here.
If you like images of contemporary people in kimonos, check out my friend Kaz Matamura’s Facebook page for her project called, 100 Kimonos. Here’s the link https://www.facebook.com/pg/100kimono/photos/?ref=page_internal
I even modeled for this for fun. (51)
A few favorite Asian-flavored pieces from my own personal wardrobe (52-56)
I also enjoy reading novels with all kinds of Asian characters set in Japan, China, Korea, and the USA.