For Amundra Gantömör, vintage kimonos are more than just a style fascination – they’re an entryway into Japanese culture. Now she’s designing her own.
It all began with a birthday present. Ten years ago, on her 25th birthday, Amundra Gantömör was given an antique silk kimono from her best friend. The beauty of the kimono, coral red and cream with floral patterns, captivated Gantömör immediately. “It was love at first sight,” she says. “I’ll never forget how that kimono felt on my skin when I tried it on for the first time. It made me shine.”
At the time, Gantömör was dissatisfied with her career – she had mainly been working for modelling and advertising agencies, an industry that left her unfulfilled. Inspired by her birthday present, and her burgeoning interest in traditional Japanese fashion, she decided to dedicate herself to the kimono. A year after receiving the gift, she began preparations to start her own business. “I wanted to do something where I can combine my passion for fashion with my desire to make other people happy,” she says.
The result was Aura, Gantömör’s vintage kimono store located in the heart of Neukölln, just a few hundred metres away from Maybachufer. The store specialises in artisanal silk kimonos from the 1920s to the 1980s, all of which are carefully selected from small-town vendors and auctions in Japan. This approach matches Gantömör’s belief in the artistic value of each individual kimono. “I have a great admiration for Japanese craftsmanship and how intricately kimonos were made,” she says. “I love the attention to detail. Each kimono exudes a different aura.”
On the inside, Aura is a proud display of colour, elegance and beauty. Although some of the kimonos are up to a century old, they are all in exceptionally good shape. The items on offer, available at varying prices, show the diversity of this traditional form of dress. Just some of the options include the yukata, a casual cotton summer kimono traditionally used as a bathrobe, as well as the fully patterned informal komon; the formal Kurotomesode has a black base with a colourful design along the hem. Haori, hip- or thigh-length formal jackets worn over a kimono, are also available.
Izumi Ose, Aura’s sourcing agent, spends half of the year in Japan and the other half in Berlin. When she is in Japan, Ose goes to villages and auctions around the country and picks out the kimonos, which she then either ships or brings back to Berlin herself. Ose, who is Japanese, has a deep understanding of the culture and traditions around kimonos. But for Gantömör – born in the Mongolian capital of Ulaanbaatar and raised by her fashion-editor grandmother in East Germany – the learning process has been longer and more intentional.
Kimonos, she says, are more than just a piece of clothing. To her, they are a form of “art on the skin”, and a “way of life”. Although she has been involved in the trade for more than a decade, she believes that there is still much to be learned. “It’s like a never-ending story. I learn something new every day – about the design, the fabric, the history and Japanese culture. It never gets boring.”
Through the kimono, Gantömör has developed a more general interest in Japan and its traditions. She recalls that her first visit there was particularly moving. “It was such a strange feeling because, although I have no family connection to Japan, I felt completely at home there. In a way, it felt like going back home.”
One element of Japanese culture that has strongly influenced her is the importance of sustainability. Informed by Shinto beliefs about animism, she explains, a soul (reikon) is believed to live within all existence and phenomena. As a consequence, everyday things – from ordinary objects to plants to mountains – are treated with great respect and care. Gantömör says her whole world view has been changed by the idea that even objects possess souls, a stark contrast to the capitalist values and disposable “fast fashion” attitudes of Western society.
The coronavirus pandemic ushered in a new phase of Gantömör’s love affair with the kimono. Having had to close down the store for a while, she began to channel her own creativity and decided to launch a production line under the Aura brand. “I want to add a new and modern touch to the design of kimonos,” she says. Her designs will be as diverse as her customer base, which ranges from children through ‘manga girls”, millennials and entrepreneurs to her very oldest client, a 100-year-old woman. Increasingly, men are also shopping there.
With a decade of experience in the kimono biz, Gantömör is confident of hitting the mark. “After almost 10 years, I know what’s missing and what my customers want.”