Have I mentioned how much I love LA? Always something new to discover, often with the help of the Atlas Obscura.
On a gloomy Sunday in June, I went off the the Arts District downtown for an adventure.Waiting for everyone to arrive, I started taking pictures of the surrounding buildings. The Arts District is famous for it’s murals and street art. Little did I know that we were headed inside this building... to be greeted by 5000 square feet of this.Since this was an industrial building with high ceilings, Peter built an interior roof.Now we get to why I love cultural appropriation – as it is called today. (in my youth we just called it the melting pot and celebrated the fact that we were all welcome to share in one another’s culture). Peter Lai is a Chinese man from Hong Kong. For many years he was quite the flamboyant designer, once here in America, he left his family tradition of designing for Chinese theater and TV and designed high-end couture for a clientele in San Marino. He also developed a love for everything Japanese, especially the Kabuki theater. So he built a miniature Japanese village in his loft. He is an avid collector, here showing us an old store register, listing the inventory and what has sold.Everywhere one looks there is stuff! I realized quickly that his inspiration is Japanese theater – not the sparse simple design we associate with Japan. In the fall he is going to take a practical exam to become an official Kabuki dancer. He has been dancing for 17 years, his Mentor is 95 years old, if he is going to pass his exam, he has to do it soon.A Temari ball caught my eye. He tends to collect many items, this was the only such ball that I saw.He did have a basket full of Darumas. A few words about Kabuki, traditionally it was performed only by men, in the early 20th century it opened to women as well. Guess what happened? The men left, today there are hardly any male Kabuki dancers, so when Peter becomes official, he will be the first male Kabuki dancer in his studio in a very long time.
A few words about Kabuki, traditionally it was performed only by men, in the early 20th century it opened to women as well. Guess what happened? The men left, today there are hardly any male Kabuki dancers, so when Peter becomes official, he will be the first male Kabuki dancer in his studio in a very long time.In this space there is of course, a theater for performances, I think it can hold 45 people. In front of some of the seating cushions, were bento boxes wrapped in the Furoshiki technique, a delight for the textile crafter in me.Peter isn’t a purist, he is theatrical! Behind him is a Chinese opium bed. He is holding the original high heel shoe – for a man! Next to him is a Chinese garment, turns out he found the skirt but couldn’t find a matching top, so he removed the bands off the back of the skirt and incorporated them into a matching jacket. A purist would cringe, but for Peter, unless he is taking the Kabuki exam, anything goes. He has performed his dances for local audiences here, and as long as he doesn’t call it pure Kabuki, he feels he combine what he wants. I like his attitude!There is a dressing and makeup room, full of wigs, hair ornaments and face makeup. I zoomed in on the many combs used for the wigs. He even modeled a young man’s wig as well as an older mans’ wig. This one was gray and had a large bald spot on the top!I think Betty Boop loves her new costume! Most of the kimonos he owns are for the theater, not street wear or even wedding kimonos. I could tell because of the garish colors and the heavy use of gold and silver thread. All this is very necessary on stage, but would be considered gauche in everyday life.From early teens until late 20s’ Peter worked in the family theatrical costume workshop. It was then sold and went out of business, so Peter has had to buy back costumes the family made. He should be a consultant on any production of Chinese movie made here in America, he knows the difference between all the dynasties and what they wore. While he still had his clothing store in San Marino, he would often remove such a dragon and put in on a lovely evening jacket.What a workroom! For him this is small, he no longer is making clothes but is still updating items and making a new costume here and there. He is selling off fabric, buttons, and trims.It was so nice to see a solid industrial Juki still at work.Anyone who visits the studio is welcome to buy one of his creations for a very steep discount.Just to show you how eclectic he is, this steampunk mask would sell for a very nice price! I don’t think this was for sale.