Japanalia Eiko, a long-time fixture on the Hartford fashion scene, is closing this summer.
The company, which includes a design workshop, retail clothing shop and intimate cabaret venue in Hartford's West End, has been a popular shopping destination for fans of the company's Asian-inspired clothing line and performance locale for area jazz aficionados.
Dan Blow, who opened the design business with his wife Eiko in 1981, and started doing concerts in the space about five years ago, says clothing sales and music schedules will continue as planned through the end of July.
"We're following our normal routine, selling our spring/summer line, doing our regular trunk shows in New York and Washington. Our concert lineup goes through June, as it always has," says Blow. "The only difference is that this year, when our customers get back from their vacations, we'll be gone."
Word of the closing began to filter out with a recent email to concert fans.
"Dear Folks, I think this will be our FINAL installment, and final concerts at Japanalia. Thanks so much for your continued support cheering us on and letting others know about the music. If there are any changes or I end up with more concerts but in a new location, I will let you know....no announcements to the public yet, but it has been a fabulous run! Best, Dan"
"Suddenly customers started showing up and calling," says Blow. "They're ordering extra of their favorite Japanalia separates, like our Samurai pants."
Blow says he has also received inquiries from residents of the neighborhood interested in renting the shop to use as an art and performance space.
Eiko Sakai and Dan Blow began selling their fashions from their home in Glastonbury in the early '80s before opening a shop in a small space in Hartford's Barry Square. They moved their workshop and showroom to South Whitney Street in Hartford in 1986, and operated an additional retail store, called "Japanalia/Eiko" in West Hartford from 1991 to 2009. The current location is on the corner of Whitney Street and Farmington Avenue in Hartford.
The couple, who met in Japan in 1976, divorced about 20 years ago, but remained partners in the business.
"Eiko was trained as a kimono maker and I had an idea of using those beautiful Japanese silks to create Western, [American], style fashions," says Blow. "We brought the business to the states and it just took off from there."
While the company did some wholesaling — including to high-end, New York retailer Henri Bendel — Japanalia clothing has been designed, created and, for the most part, sold in Hartford. Over the years, the company has employed as many as 10 sewers. These days, Blow does much of the cutting, appliquéing and sewing himself.
"We've always produced a limited number of items," says Blow. "We create designs, piece by piece, for people we know."
Blow will relocate to Eleuthera, Bahamas, where he and his partner Larry, have had a home for years. Their Hartford condo is on the market and the pair has been selling items from their extensive art, antiques, pottery and furniture collection, trying to pare down for the move.
The concert schedule will end in June; the store will hold its annual Fourth of July clearance sale before closing.
"It's a tough decision, but when you have a mom and pop business, which is what Japanalia is, you have to recognize your limitations and know when to go," says Blow, who will be 62 in June. "I have a whole other life in the Bahamas. I'm planning to continue music production there. I'm thinking about opening a restaurant. I'm not saying I'll never do fashion again, but I'm not going to do it 100 percent, like I've been all these years."