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Ecrin, a Button Shop that Has Supported Kyoto’s Dressmaking for Seventy Years

See & Do

art_craft

Ecrin, a Button Shop that Has Supported Kyoto’s Dressmaking for Seventy Years

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KYOTO migration project is a website designed to support those who wish to realize their dream to live in Kyoto. We provide information on communities, jobs and housing essential to people who wish to “migrate” here.

Content Partner

KYOTO migration project is a website designed to support those who wish to realize their dream to live in Kyoto. We provide information on communities, jobs and housing essential to people who wish to “migrate” here.

Over a million buttons fill the shelves from top to bottom, many with retro colors and patterns, also many antique-looking ones with intricate details. Without even knowing what I want a button for, I begin gazing up and down at the shelves, half-trying to pick one for myself.
 
The shop’s name is Ecrin, and it has been on Teramachi street near Nijo for over seventy years, first as a retailer of general dressmaking and tailoring supplies and then, since twenty years ago, a specialty store for buttons. The owner Kunisuke Honma told me about the shop’s history.
 

Eyes trained for buttons

Ecrin first opened when there was a “dressmaking boom” in Japan. Supplies were short after the war, so people had started to use the fabrics of their kimonos to make Western-style clothes, which were popular for being easy to move in.
 
“Many men died during the war, and the women left behind had to become the breadwinners. And so the dressmaking and tailoring industry flourished. Many dressmaking and tailoring schools opened in Kyoto at the time, and there were hundreds of supply shops like ours.”
 
Kunisuke was originally an employee in charge of the buttons at this shop. He went to buy buttons every year or two in other countries such as France, Italy, and Germany.
 
“I took trips to Paris since the time Coco Chanel was still alive. I would visit button exhibitions and fashion shows, and buy at button factories. In those days, many of the buttons were made in Italy. That was where most of the button-making machines were from.”
 
Germany was the place to go for glass buttons, France for wooden buttons. Kunisuke knows which material was used by which manufacturer for each of the one million buttons in his shop because he used to travel around Europe using his own eyes and knowledge to find unique buttons in each place.
 
“I took fashion trends and the preferences of Japanese people into account when deciding which sizes and colors to get. Because each design typically came in about four different sizes, and color preferences were different from country to country, I needed to think carefully about which sizes and colors to buy with well-balanced variety. Yellow and green, for instance, didn’t sell very well in Japan.”
 

People wishing to wear their favorite clothes once again

Ecrin was passed down from the previous owner to Kunisuke in around the year 2000 and became a specialty store for buttons. However, the increase of mass-produced, readymade clothing on the market has yearly been reducing the demand for retail buttons.
 
“It’s hard to keep running a shop when the market has declined for good. But it would have been worse if I hadn’t been prepared. In the days when we had plenty of extra funds, I bought many kinds of buttons that others didn’t. I still sell these buttons at the same prices as I did in those days. Still, they’re now virtually impossible to buy elsewhere. That’s how this shop, which I’ve been running with my wife and daughter and almost no regular employees, is still surviving.”
 
 
There are plastic buttons selling for 300 yen or so, while some elaborate ones made of other materials go for 10,000 yen or more.
 
The kinds of buttons sold at Ecrin are hard to come across these days, due to the aging of button artisans and declining demand. Specialty shops for buttons are nearly nonexistent in Japan aside from Ecrin and another shop in Tokyo. It’s quite possible that a button I see here is the last of its type in Japan or even in the world.
Kunisuke’s daughter Chisato says some people come from far away to Ecrin seeking valuable buttons.
 
“We’ve been showing our buttons on Instagram, and this is helping to bring new customers. An accessory designer who uses buttons has come to our shop. Some young women who love secondhand clothing have been here as well. Travelers from overseas used to step in before the pandemic, too.” (Chisato)
 
 
The shop also sells things like lace and buckles.
There have also been older people coming to the shop bringing clothes they wore in their youth but planned to wear again.

“There was a person who came looking for new buttons for a garment she liked to wear thirty years ago. The buttons on it were a little too showy for her today. A lot of clothes made back in those days had good quality but used showy buttons, such as gold ones. But just by changing the buttons, she was able to make her favorite garment match her current age and today’s atmosphere. She was pleased she could wear it again.” (Chisato)
 
 
Chisato also enjoys trying different styles with her own clothing by changing the buttons.
 
If you have a favorite garment that is missing a button, why not visit Ecrin? It’s recommended that you bring your garment with you to make sure the button you buy won’t be too wide or thick for the button hole. And if you’re not sure what kind of button you want, you can ask Kunisuke or Chisato for their advice.
 

Enjoy fashion that is stylish, fun, and feels good

Kunisuke says that buttons are parts that increase the value of clothes, and that it is in coordination with clothes that they show their true value. He also says that just changing one button could express a person’s uniqueness and present a fashion like no other.
 
“Using solid buttons on a solid garment doesn’t have much effect. Other kinds of buttons could look good on solids. Buttons with gold details, or buttons made of glass, for example. On the other hand, clothing with patterns look good with solid buttons. Too much sameness between the buttons and the clothing confounds the buttons’ worth.”
 
It is possible to have fun with just a reasonably priced garment by changing its buttons and giving it a new look.
 
Kunisuke has been working in this industry for nearly seventy years. Although he did not say much about it, there was a sense of deep passion about fashion behind his words.
 
“I just want everybody to enjoy fashion and feel a little bit of uplift in his or her daily life. That’s how I felt back in those days, and that’s how I feel now. There’s no need to spend money. You can give a piece of clothing a new, good look just by changing a button or two. Anyway, that sums up what we can help you with as a button shop. Just use a little bit of your own time and effort, and you can change the way you feel in your everyday life.”
 
Kunisuke values his time listening to classical music so he is always feeling good.
Kunisuke traveled overseas and brought back many and various buttons, aiming to “help people feel a little uplifted.” These buttons fill the shelves of Ecrin from top to bottom, and it’s time for me to choose carefully, time to choose with gratitude for each encounter. 
Ecrin
Address: 98 Enoki-cho, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto city
Phone: 075-254-5208
Business days: The shop is open on all days excluding Tuesdays and national holidays, with some exceptions. 
Business hours: 10 AM to 6 PM
Website: http://ecrin.cocolog-nifty.com/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/ecrin_kyoto/?hl=ja
*Mail orders are generally not accepted.

This article was written by Yukari Mikami 

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KYOTO migration project is a website designed to support those who wish to realize their dream to live in Kyoto. We provide information on communities, jobs and housing essential to people who wish to “migrate” here.