Puss In Boots
Cat Prin Clothes Are Dictated by the Cosmos
INTERVIEW AND PHOTOS BY TOMO KOSUGA
TRANSLATED BY LENA OISHI
You’ve probably seen Cat Prin: The Tailor of a Cat. It’s a Japanese web-store that sells the most ridiculously adorable cat outfits with names like “Frog Transformation Set,” “Young Lady Blouse,” and “Shawl of a Rabbit.” The site has tons of photos of two little Scottish Folds wearing all these funny getups and staring right at you with dazed expressions. It’s one of those wacky websites that gets emailed around a lot, often with a subject heading like “omg, sooooo cute!” In fact, the girl who does The Cute Show says that she gets it forwarded to her at least once a day, which is even more than she gets links to catsthatlooklikehitler.com.
For a while, everyone we know was using photos of the Cat Prin cats in their dazzling ensembles as their MySpace photo icons. It was everywhere, but because the site is in Japanese, it was still so mysterious. Is it a real store? And if so, who is the lunatic making this stuff? The few bits of English text on the site don’t explain much. It says things like: “You need to dress a cat. And you will say to a cat together with a family, ‘It has changed just for a moment.’ You will pass pleasant one time.” And: “I am the feeling which became a daughter.” Hmm. That’s awesome and poetic and stuff, but we still don’t get it. Luckily, our pals over at Vice Japan were able to contact and interview the one and only cat tailor, Takako Iwase, and answer all of our pressing questions about her delightful cat-fashion creations.
Vice: Tell us how you first began the world’s best clothing store for cats.
Takako Iwase: In August 2000, a booming voice suddenly rang out over my head that said, “Do something this year!” I panicked and didn’t know what to do. I could hear the voice while I walked down the street. “Do something this year!” I kept looking around to see who was telling me to do this but no one around me seemed to notice it, and that’s when it finally clicked that I was the only one who could hear it. But it was so loud, and right above my head! I don’t know how to explain it, but I realized that this must be a revelation of God! I accepted it as that. So although I was a little freaked out, I began the online store called Cat Prin on December 10th of the same year. I was relieved that I made the deadline that God gave me.
I’ll bet! Were there any particular events that led up to you hearing the voice of God commanding you to make cat clothes?
No, it was so sudden. I was actually suffering from a serious illness for about eight years around that time, and I was getting anxious about whether there was any work that I could do at home since working outside was no longer possible. Then one day I saw a story on TV about a 16-year-old girl from rural Japan who started her own business. Apparently she started out by selling t-shirts online that she bought wholesale, and when those sold out, she borrowed some money from her dad and opened her own little shop in the village. She would ride the night bus to Tokyo over the weekend to stock up on clothes, and people would snatch them up as soon as she sold them in the store. She’s only 16, but she’s now the boss of her own company. When I saw her, something inside of me crumbled away, and I realized what a wonderful country Japan is. I mean, it’s a country where if someone is selling something, and someone else wants to buy it, then it’s accepted as a legitimate business. I was surfing the net with my computer, which was the only thing I purchased with my retirement money, and I realized that this was what I had to do. Also, my mother is a great seamstress and had made a little cape for my cat Prin, who was lying right in front of me. A computer, clothes for cats, and Japan, a country where anyone can do business! Cat Prin is all these things combined. And it coincided exactly with when I heard that voice telling me to “do something.”
That is one inspirational story. Did you think there would be a big market for cat fashion?
Well, I’m sure that people have been making clothes for cats privately, but I didn’t come across anybody who was publicly announcing that they were “cat tailors” back then. It wasn’t exactly a taboo, but I think that generally you were frowned upon, like, “Clothes for cats? Ridiculous!” But after I started the shop I realized that there was actually a big demand for these things, and customers would come up to me and say, “I had been wanting to dress my kitty up for so long, I used to dress them up in dog clothes before you came along,” like they were waiting for something like this forever. Even before I began the business, for some reason I got it into my head that there must be at least five people in Japan who would love my clothes. I don’t know why. Anyway, I decided to do my best, even if it was just for those five people. And if other people didn’t like it, I would quit, because it would mean that I was out of sync with the rhythms of the universe.
But as it turns out, you and the universe were very much as one.
Yes, to my surprise I didn’t hear any complaints, just happy customers saying, “I was waiting for a shop like this!” Maybe it’s because similar shops already existed for dogs. Apparently dog-clothing stores had a hard time at first. But now that society has been through that, I feel that we’re living in a time of choices, whether it’s “I don’t want my cat to wear anything” or “I want to dress up my cat.” Initially, I had only planned on making simple items like necklaces and shirt collars rather than entire outfits, but it gradually evolved from there. I always consider my products fashionable. They’re not dress-up costumes to transform your cat into something else. It’s more about aesthetics.
So once you had the idea, was it tough getting it off the ground?
Yes, I made a lot of mistakes at the beginning. You can’t ask for advice because nobody has done it before. At first, some pet stores offered to sell a few of my products, but even then they said, “You should make dog costumes instead, that’s where the money is.” After that, I decided not to listen to anybody else’s opinion except fortune-tellers and people with mystical powers, and they all told me the same two things, which reassured me immensely. What do you think they said? The first thing was “You will succeed” and the second thing was “You will have to live with your sickness for the rest of your life.” They all said that these were absolute truths.
That’s a whole lot of truth. Do you make all of the clothing by hand?
Generally yes, although sometimes I ask ladies in the neighborhood to help out. If I need to bulk-produce a certain product then I ask a factory, but even then it’s still two ladies sewing everything by hand. Dogs are fairly big so you can sew everything with a machine in one go, but only a tiny amount of cloth is used for cat’s clothes so they always have to be hand-sewn. I didn’t even know how to sew at first, so I didn’t know that you don’t have to make every single stitch look perfect, especially if it’s a part that isn’t visible. I was often told to take it easy with the stitching. I’m not so concerned with whether they sell, seeing as the whole thing started because I wanted to make my cat Prin look cute.
Prin is the white Scottish Fold who models some of the costumes, right?
Yes. Back then I wanted to own a completely white Scottish Fold, which was pretty rare at the time. Then one day I was flipping through a magazine and I saw the words “White angels are born.” Before I knew it, I was calling them up, and I went to the breeder’s house to see the kittens. Health-wise I was in a terrible state and I can’t believe I actually went, but I did and found out that there were seven kittens altogether. They were all tangled up and playing with each other. I stared at them for about two hours but I still couldn’t see any of their faces properly, plus I was sick, and I didn’t know what to do. But at the very end, this one kitten with a bright red nose came up to me, so I decided to get that one and eventually named her Prin. Looking back, I think that she actually chose me, like we were meant to be. She turns nine in March. She’s a very strange cat. When I was sick, she never woke me up to ask for breakfast, and when I did wake up, I would find a toy mouse next to my pillow. She showed a lot of concern for me and would only play in my eyesight when I was lying in bed. Even now, she never wakes me, no matter how hungry she is.
She’s so cute and seems so mellow. My cat would never let me put all those hats and cloaks on her.
Yes, I only recommend my designs for cats who are OK with wearing collars at the very least. If they can’t even wear those, then there’s no way they can wear my clothes. Same with slightly untamed cats. When you see Prin wearing them you think, “Oh, maybe my cat can wear these too,” but actually it’s not that simple. For example, if it’s a helmet-shaped headpiece, most cats don’t like their ears folded over. That’s why I separate my products into three types: advanced level, mid-level, and beginners. The beginner products are mostly items that you place around the neck. I use Velcro for most of the clothes so that they’re easy to fasten. I recommend these for cats who can wear collars. Mid-level products are clothes that have long bits hanging from the neck. Cats seem to really hate this. A lot of cats can’t wear the sailor-style school uniform because of the hanging gold bit in the front. Hats and capes are the advanced products. We also have a “natural” level for cats who can’t wear anything, which basically means, “You don’t have to wear anything, just browse through the site and enjoy the photos!”
Funny. Who are your customers?
A lot of them are regulars. There are a few very passionate customers who always buy my new costumes. I have about 1,500 customers right now.
Have you had any strange requests?
Yes, mostly from men. Usually it’s something like, “I want to dress my cat up as a bunny rabbit, and I also want rabbit ears myself. Can you make matching ones for us?” to which I say, “Sorry, I don’t make human costumes.” Numerous men have asked me to make matching costumes with their cats, but no women yet. It’s very interesting.
Do you have any pointers on how to convince a cat to wear clothes?
Always think about the cat’s personality beforehand, and don’t force the costumes upon them. Try to do it when they’re in a good mood, and say encouraging words to them. Cats love to be complimented. You can’t be half-assed about it either. You’ve got to be like, “OH MY GOD, you are so CUTE, you’re the best cat EVER!!” and they will actually feel it and feel better about wearing the clothes. Compliment your cat, and they will definitely get better at wearing clothes.
Which is your favorite cat outfit?
I love them all. They’re like my children. But I guess I especially find the Versailles series interesting. I was awestruck when I found the material for the blond wig used in that series. I went to buy a tiara at a wholesaler that had a huge selection of pins and other things to put in your hair, and that’s when I found these wigs. The hats look so much better with the hair! Prin looks fantastic with blond hair, by the way. I’m surprised how far I’ve come with the intricacy of the costumes myself.
You’ve even made an official Hello Kitty costume for cats.
Yes, the first Hello Kitty headpiece ever. My costumes are usually only two-sided but this one is fully three-dimensional. It was interesting to see how you can three-dimensionalize flat objects, and it was around this time that I came to love the whole craftwork thing. It took six months and 22 prototypes until we got it right. I was near tears. Sanrio had to check every single nametag and they would pick out the ones that weren’t good enough. The embroidered Hello Kitty mark also had to be checked one by one, and they’d say, “The nose isn’t right, the eyes aren’t right,” and so on. There were so many problems I was about to give up! But the Hello Kitty symbol embroidered on this costume is wearing a blouse, and this is a Cat Prin and Sanrio original mark that can’t be found anywhere else, so it’s quite valuable. In terms of the shape, it was really difficult trying to express the roundness of Hello Kitty on a cat’s head, which is actually oval shaped.
What’s your ultimate dream outfit?
I’m interested in old England at the moment, like the clothes that the British ladies and gentlemen wore 200 or 300 years ago. Vests, ties, and hats like what Peter Rabbit wears, long flowing skirts, that kind of thing. I’ve made about 150 costumes so far. I always thought that one day I wouldn’t be able to design any new costumes anymore because I’m not really a designer type, but the inspiration just keeps coming. There’s never a time when I don’t have a new costume idea in my head. I think that the more I make them, the more inspiration will keep flowing. That, and encountering new material.
Tell us about your plans for the future.
To tell you the truth, I don’t believe that I was born just for Cat Prin. I think that I am still in the process of reaching my true destiny. My ultimate dream is actually to become a fantasy writer. I’m a terrible writer, but I feel like I can write about things that are out of this world. It’s a long time ago now, but about two years ago a title for a book popped into my head: Christina’s Children. It’s a three-part series, and I already have a pretty good idea of the whole story. It seems like I won’t be working on it for another year or two, though, since I’m so busy with other things. But it will be interesting if I can make this happen, and maybe even have a Hollywood movie based on it. But if it doesn’t happen, that’s OK too. More realistically, it would be nice to have a Japanese TV series based on this book. I often talk with my friends about which actors I want playing which characters. I think that’s when I feel happiest.
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