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“+ 7 hours” is a project of “IVAN ASEN 22”, conceptual designers’ platform in Sofia, Bulgaria, aiming to interweave the Japanese and Bulgarian culture through the visual language of contemporary fashion design. The final result will be an exhibition-a spatial fashion installation of conceptual garments/clothing objects developed by nine Bulgarian fashion designers and a Japanese student or young designer and accompanied by a fashion film, a collaboration between Bulgarian and Japanese artists.

The inspirations will be traditional Japanese and Bulgarian culture, the personal story of the owners of authentic Japanese kimonos, combined with the phenomena of contemporary urban life and lifestyle in both countries.

The project is part of the official programme of PLOVDIV-European Capital of Culture 2019, focus: Japanese culture and is funded by EU JAPAN FEST, PLOVDIV 2019, ESTHEDERM and the Embassy of Japan in Bulgaria, as well as supported by the Embassy of the Republic of Bulgaria in Japan.

The project is part of the Days of Japanese Culture 2019 and is in the official programme of the Triple Anniversary of the relationships between Japan and Bulgaria 2019.

“+ 7 hours” will be presented September 1st – 18th, 2019, in the ECoC Gallery of SKLAD (Warehouse) in Plovdiv.


Two are the main thematic complexes we associate with our understanding of Japan: preservation of tradition and technological progress.

“+ 7 hours”, which literally indicates the time difference between the two countries, Bulgaria and Japan, in transcendent sense carries the breath-taking spirit of “overtaking” time, futurism and utopia, crossing time and space and their “cancellation“, the ability to reach out and touch two remote worlds and cultures in a foreseeable period of time.The number 7 is a symbolic number for the project‘s participants: this is the number of our seven transitional and insomnia nights, of the hours we spent for our photo- and film-shootings in Tokyo, the seven days full of intense meetings, observation, visits and working during our research travel to Japan, the need for so much more than seven hours in order to get to know more facets from the Japanese ambiance and culture …  The motto of the number seven is also not random: Understanding. Understanding and respecting the foreign culture. Understanding of the own one, re-considered anew by its encounter with the distant and magical culture of Japan and the sense of transcendental closeness.


In our global world, in which the individual increasingly recedes to the universal and characteristic features are blurred, we become more and more aware of the need for self-determination, finding ourselves by exploring other cultures and mentality that are foreign to us but perceived as close.

We need a distance, a moving away from our roots, a collision with a distant culture, to look at them from a different perspective and feel again our connection to them. Our goal as artists and designers is to be able to translate our roots into a contemporary visual language inspired by a new, unfamiliar, dynamic urban environment and way of life that we experienced during our research travel to Tokyo, Japan.

Clash of time and space, the coexistence of tradition with high technology.

Long-distance crossing, intertwining of different cultures, tastes and perceptions, reality and fiction, past, present and future.

“A Bulgarian body within a Japanese soul. Or vice versa. Being your real self through your roots, the knowledge of your family and the exploration of foreign times, history and authenticity. Through the fabrics, the symbols, the traditional costumes so needed in our modern world to be closer to those we come from.”  (Irmena Chichikova, actress, inspirer of the project)

What attracts and interests us in Japan and its culture and contemporary everyday life:

– The parallel non-dual coexistence of the past with present and future, of preserved roots and traditions with modern urban life, of craftsmanship with super-technology. Modern products are based on traditional techniques that are interpreted in a new and extraordinary way, with new expressions, through a contemporary view and with the help of the high technological achievements of the digital world. Yet in the ultimate result the human interference, the imperfection is readable, entirely in the spirit of wabi sabi – the Japanese ideal of the beauty of the imperfect, fleeting, and transient.

– Critical view towards disturbing social currents (isolation, depression, escapism).

– Deleting your own identity by accepting a foreign one (subcultures, cosplay).

The authentic Japanese kimono and the personal story of its owner are the basis of the designers’ inspiration.


If you need us for more details or information about the project please drop us a line at:


For Kimono owners  – Your kimono and story goes around the world!

Become an inspirer of the designers by providing your kimono and your personal story encoded in it!

At the core of the designers’ inspiration is the traditional Japanese kimono made of silk, in which each symbol has a definite meaning. Each kimono is made for a certain person, it embodies part of himself, his personal story, and at the same time is an important part of Japanese cultural heritage and history.

We appeal to Japanese people who want to become inspirers of the project to provide pictures of their authentic silk kimonos that they own in their personal wardrobe, accompanied by their personal story or memory that is connected with this garment, as well as an explanation of the symbolism contained in the motifs of the clothes. By transforming of inspirations by the authentic clothing and the personal story of his owner into a new, conceptual garment, traditional clothing will be translated into contemporary language with respect to the tradition, while the memory, the personal history of its owner will be revived through the prism of the artistic interpretation of designers.

The artistic team of the project will select 10 kimonos with the most intriguing decoration and fabric and the most inspirational story. Their owners will be informed and asked to send the authentic garment to Japanese partner of the project (the precise sending address in Tokyo will be communicated to the selected kimono owners). Each of the 10 designers will receive one of these kimonos, accompanied by the story of its owner, with which he will work as the basis of his inspiration.

The kimonos themselves will be displayed in the introductional part of the fashion exhibition and shown at its presentation in Plovdiv in 2019 and in Tokyo and other Japanese cities in 2020. The kimonos will be returned at the end of the series of exhibition which will be autumn 2020.


The project is a collaboration between Bulgarian and Japanese artists:

NELI MITEWA (Bulgaria) – artistic director of IVAN ASEN 22 conceptual designers’ platform, fashion designer, curator, project leader, producer
Neli Mitewa graduated in Fashion Design from the University of Applied Sciences and Design in Trier, Germany. She develops her own collections under the brand “nelmit”. She also works as a freelance designer, in the field of teaching (with experience as a fashion design professor at AMD Akademie Mode & Design Munich), consultations on designer concepts, fashion journalism and costume design. The prizes she won at international competitions include the Design-Innovation-Award of the North Rhine-Westphalia Economics Ministry, her qualifications for the Finals of the Smirnoff Fashion Awards, GRAND PRIX INTERNATIONAL FASHION DESIGN BERLIN 2003, etc. In 2007 and 2009, GRAZIA magazine nominated her fort he award “Woman of the Year” in the Design category. In 2007 she created IVAN ASEN 22 as a conceptual platform for the presentation of young progressive fashion designers in Sofia, and in 2009 she founded IVAN ASEN 22 Foundation for presenting and supporting contemporary designers and is her artistic director and curator. In her collections she is interested in the transformability of the form (“GAME-à-porter”) and in telling personal stories through clothing (“Watch your Back”). Characteristic of her work as a designer is her own proprietary draping technique and her experimental construction systems. Since 2015, she has focused her interests in the direction of conceptual fashion and its role in the context of contemporary arts. In 2018, Neli Mitewa won the “BIG SEE INSPIRATIONAL-VISIONARY AWARD”, granted by Zavod BIG, Centre for creative economy of Southeast Europe in Ljubljana, Slovenia, for her achievements in the development of the Southeast European designers’ scene.
MIRA DRAGANOVA (Bulgaria) – chairman of IVAN ASEN 22 conceptual designers’ platform, manager, producer
IRMENA CHICHIKOVA (Bulgaria) – actress, inspirer and face of the project, main character of the fashion film
Irmena Chichikova is a Bulgarian freelance actress, born in Plovdiv in 1984. She graduated from French Language School and the National Academy of Film Arts. She has been performing in theatre, cinema and television, as well as modeling. She took part in multiple performances in theatres across Bulgaria and has been a solid member of Theater Lboratory Sfumato, Sofia. In the last few years, she was the leading female actress in couple of features, among which are “I Am You” by Peter Popzlatev and “Viktoria” by May Vitkova. Both films were highly appreciated at many international forums and festivals, including selections in Sundance and Rotterdam and screenings at the Shanghai Film Festival and EU Film Days in Tokyo, where “I Am You” was presented in 2014. Her last feature “Touch Me Not” by Adina Pintilie has won the Golden Bear and Best First Feature at the 68th Berlinale Film Festival in 2018.
ALEXANDER GERGINOV (Bulgaria) – fashion designer, stylist, screenwriter and director of the fashion film
Alexander Gerginov graduated in Fashion Design from the National Academy of Arts in Sofia, Bulgaria. In 2005 he defended his PhD in History of fashion illustration. He works as designer and creative director of ladies’ and men’s fashion for several fashion brands. Since 2008 he has been teaching painting, fashion design and costume history at the Professional High School of Clothing in Sofia and since 2010 he has been leading classes of fashion illustration and fashion portfolio in the Art Academy in Sofia. Over the past few years he has been lecturing and holding workshops related to fashion illustration and contemporary drawing techniques in Germany, Lithuania and others. As a designer, he is also working on his own brand Ham & Eggs, while he is also involved as co-designer of CSC- Conceptual Sporty Chic, a joint brand with Natalia Jivkova. His passion for fine and applied arts results in a number of exhibitions and art projects shown in Bulgaria, Germany, Austria, Russia, the Czech Republic, England, Serbia, Macedonia, South Africa and others.
MOMCHIL TASEV (Bulgaria) – scenographer, production designer of the fashion film, interior design of the exhibition
Momchil Tasev graduated from “Stage and Screen Design” at the National Academy of Theatre and Film Arts-Sofia in the class of Prof. Maria Dimanova. He is co-founder and co-owner of “Pistolet” design studio, which in the past years specialized in the realization of TV studios, advertising sets and film set design. Over the years he worked successfully with the Bulgarian National Television, building the design of some of the most watched shows, as well as with a number of private TV channels. Since 2016 he has been working as a major artist in the advertising industry. His work on the advertising for the fashion brand Strellson in 2017 was awarded with a nomination in the Art Department category of the German Advertising Awards. In 2016 he was invited as the main production designer for the children’s feature film “Lilly the Little Fish”, which in 2017 won the Best Film Award in Europe. He also works as independent artist in the fields of painting and installation.
TOYOMI SATO (Japan) – project partner from Japanese side
Toyomi Sato graduated from the University of the Sacred Heart majored in Japanese literature. She has been anchorwoman on TV. She studied political science in the University of Rome La Sapienza and has then worked as researcher in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
She has run a successful own business in trade and became one of the founders of the cultural association Foedus in Rome, founded 2003. Toyomi Sato has worked for global business strategy consulting as well as for buy out fund companies. Since 2008, she is managing her own business strategy consulting company while coordinating various cultural events tied up with commercial promotions.
BENJAMIN HUNG (Аustralia, Japan) – commercial & fashion photographer
Benjamin Hung graduated in New Media Arts focusing on Digital Design & Photography in Australia. During his studies, he assisted many commercial Australian photographers in a wide spectrum of photography categories. From commercial branding to fashion editorials, Benjamin is able to learn and develop a wide range of photographic styles and experiences.
Benjamin currently works in Tokyo, Japan as a freelance commercial and fashion photographer. He has worked with a wide range of brands and companies such as teamLab, Andreas Ingeman, FancyHim and iSkin New York.
OHSHI UEMOTO (Japan) – muiscian and DJ, composer of the music of the fashion film
Ohshi Uemoto started playing piano when he was 4 years old and he started studing composion when he was junior high school student. He graduated Tokyo College of Music. He majored in composion and he studied under japanese composers, Shigeaki Saegusa, Katsuhisa Hattori, Reijiro Koroku and Akira Senju. He often has his own piano concert mainly in Tokyo and his hometown Hiroshima. In 2019 he composed the soundtrack for Japanese short film “Chichi to Musume de Kanaderu Kiseki no Utagoe” directed by Sigenao Sato, starring Ryo Horikawa (actor & voice actor) and Miu Shitao from AKB48 team8. He is also well-known person in Harajuku subculture fashion scene and Tokyo underground party scene. In 2015 he modeled for japanese fashion brand 6%dokidoki produced by japanese art director Sebastian Masuda and he appeared in Sebastian’s show. He is often snapped by some japanese fashon magazines and “”. In 2016 he started playing DJ at Tokyo underground parties, Tokyo Decadance, Sweet Dreams, Trump Room and etc. He seeks his own expression through both music and fashion.
AYAKO KOBAYASHI (Japan) – director, cameraman, shooting of the fashion film in Tokyo and Sofia
Ayako studied art and fashion at Tokyo Kasei University. Upon graduation, she worked in a professional public high school as a teacher of home economics for 6 years. There, she directed the fashion show of the cultural festival. At the same time, she started taking portrait photographs. In 2014, she changed her work and travelled to various countries with her camera. After her career change, she has learned video editing from the film director,Yosuke Hosoi. Since then, she has been shooting travel programs, TV commercials, Web commercial, and music videos. What she wants to capture is the person’s real character, which can be seen only in the close relationship.
RYOHEI (ROY) MIZUNO (Japan) – video-artist, director
Mizuno first started his career as a professional break dancer. At the same time of his debut in dance career, he studied Viticulture and Oenology for wine making in the University of Adelaide, Australia. His appreciation and fascination towards wine continues to grow and is expressed through his occasional wine events held with collaboration with sommeliers. After creating small videos portraying the lifestyle of modern break dancers in Adelaide, he pursued his career in larger scaled film and advertisement production in Tokyo, Japan. Mizuno recently started directing after working as an assistant director for international advertisements for clients such as Apple, Levi’s, Marriott group, Phillip Morris as well as for the Hollywood movie ”The Earthquake bird” and English TV series “Giri/Haji” shot in Tokyo.


The project “+ 7 hours” is funded by EU JAPAN FEST, PLOVDIV 2019, ESTHEDERM and the Embassy of Japan in Bulgaria, as well as supported by the Embassy of the Republic of Bulgaria in Japan.

It is part of the Days of Japanese Culture 2019 and in the official programme of the Triple Anniversary of the relationships between Japan and Bulgaria 2019.



photos: BENJAMIN HUNG (Tokyo)




The theme “wish” on a conceptual level develops the figural motifs of MIKI KAMADA’s kimono, chosen on the advice of her grandmother. These images and their interpretations are combined with and connected to traditional Bulgarian motifs, imagery, and symbolism and in their ultimate form represent a brief narrative with sincere wishes extended towards MIKI KAMADA, the owner of the kimono.

The two constructed silhouettes symbolize prosperity and bear wishes for good health, serenity and strong family ties. The first model symbolizes the ceremonial bread, a fundamental part of many Bulgarian customs. The wadded dress is embellished with forms, among which stands out the image of a swallow – seen as a bearer of the new and a symbol of firm familial relationships in traditional Japanese culture. The jacket is a symbolic protector from “evil”, as the silhouette mimics the shape of a shell which shelters. The second model elevates, develops the idea of a good life. The silhouette depicts a cloudy sky, which soaks the land, out of which grows wheat,


Model 1

Seven components – ingredients for transformation

protection, wool, silk, paper, sash, apron, contrast.

Along the way, the hours run   

one – calling the protection

two – unfolds the yarn

three – is throwing silk        

four – writes on paper             

and (x) is following the (x)

five – winds the sash                

six – in threads descends upfront

and time in seven– gathers the contrasts

the black swallows and gives birth

unlocks dreams and memories

in the silence it flows like a colourful waterfall

Model 2

Twisting of the space

Katynitsa – an ancient symbol, surrounds and protects, the guardian of life

A memory flies by,

I catch a butterfly

and colour poured into the stream

swam away along the fish

and swims to me again

Based on my Bulgarian identity, knowledge, and experience, touching the vast expanse of Japanese culture, I sought out contact points, a direction that would lead me to a symbiosis, close and readable.

The elaboration of geometry, the traditional materials, and also the fragile structure of memory, led me into a transformation valid for all of my work, which enriched my past quests in refracting space, gaining a deeper insight into the symbol: its universal human validity.


I wanted to explore the simplicity of form of Bulgarian and Japanese traditional costume and to combine the aesthetics of both cultures. The shapes I use are simple, mostly geometric, based on the design of the shirt, and the complexity of the silhouette is achieved by adding elements and layers. The two cultures have different perceptions of decoration. In the Japanese kimono decoration is created by layering colored fabrics; the focus is on the print or the colored belt-obi, while in the Bulgarian costume we have embroideries and decorative strings of coins and tassels; things that enhance and give a more expensive and solemn look to clothing. These differences inspired me to think how those decorative approaches can be combined. The result of this search are two contrast models. Black one, which starts from the simplicity of a black kimono, broken up by colorful small belts and gold elements and which attracts energy and is associated with strength and power. White one inspired by the Bulgarian wedding costumes, the Japanese travel kimono (tsubo-shozoku) and the samodivi (woodland faeries) who dance naked, wearing only white shirts, deeply hidden in the forest meadows.



Living vertically as a leading impression of Tokyo creates a lofty, elongated silhouette beyond the real proportions. The rising lapel of the top bypasses the neckline and covers the head claustrophobically, limiting the gaze. Form and material are futuristic. The lower part “edits” elements of the Bulgarian traditional costume under Japanese influence: the ultra-tight apron has a comic or manga motif, the pleated skirt folds in an origami-inspired way. The four meters long obi-belt of the traditional Japanese costume is divided into two parts, forming a three-dimensional skirt.

Outfit 2 – Be a tall woman!

Atsuko Nagao shares her grandmother’s kimono. She used to be a “tall woman” with a good soul and a strong character – as resistant as the bamboo pattern encircling the garment. From her grandmother, the designer inherited an embroidery which she transforms into a digital all-over-print, in collaboration with textile designer Dinka Kasabova. The main motif is the rhombus, symbolizing fertility, family and the well-being of the clan. Against the backdrop of recurring rhombuses, a graphic bundle of interweaving bamboos in comic-style, with its tips pointing upwards, states the bamboo’s quest for survival, resistance and the will to live.


Bright, colorful, rich – such are both cultures. I am recreating this similarity through the textiles. In my work I unite and convert paper, sequins, folklore panels and fabrics in textile techniques, which contain something authentic from Bulgaria and Japan.

The advertising materials, signboards and neon lights, which abound on the streets in Tokyo and the colored printed street poles in Bulgaria, inspire the clothes. These phenomena personify the simplicity of paper and fabric, and at the same time the complexity they can create with their accumulation.

For the creation of the decoration on the garments, I was inspired by the kimono, which unites art and heritage. Typical for my work is precisely the incorporation and processing of legacy textiles through textile techniques. Because of that, in the interpretation of the kimono`s drawing, I use folklore panels embroidered by my grandmother, who gave it to my mother after marrying her son.

Thanks to this project, I worked with material that resembles paper. It provoked me to think about the creation of a collection of textiles, which can be written or painted, and then washed and again be like a “new sheet” of paper.


Being given the pictures of a formal samurai kimono of a famous Noh player I started researching its symbolic meaning and most importantly the social aspect of this garment.

For the majority of the western world the most iconic Japanese characters are the samurai and the geisha. Both related to honour and pride, both with high social status.

There is less known “version” of the geisha – the Oiran – courtesans but very skilled at arts, highly remunerated and with a high social rank. The obvious connection between the Oiran and the Noh player is that they are both highly skilled performers with high social rank.

One of the garments is strongly influenced by the Oiran’s voluminous layered silk kimonos and the other one represents a theatrical samurai – a more masculine garment structured from a tatami-like material and covered with silk. Both are embroidered with silver-coloured coin-like pieces. The footwear is like the traditional geta sandals, but with a modern western twist. The heel is way higher, while the traditional ones are flat. It relates to the idea of being higher than the others and symbolises the social status.



Cuteness overload is inspired by the Japanese fashion trend Sick cute and is an oversize sweatshirt that forms the silhouette of a round animal with large, thick and long arms that you can wallow in. At first glance, it is colourful and positive, but the garment is “cut” by wounds, scars, flowing blood and flesh presented through the fabric. One of the slits opens and reveals an inscription, which is a popular tattoo motif – “I’m fine”, which is written in a specific font, when spun upside down reads “Save me”.


During the communism, Russian and Bulgarian children were sending letters to each other in order to share stories about their happy communist childhood… Let’s imagine a utopic situation in which Bulgarian children exchanged letters with Japanese ones. And instead of words they communicate through paintings and objects. The letter from MICHIKO SAKAMOTO tells the story about the clothes her mother wore during the happiest period of her life. The Bulgarian answer is a dress from the happiest day in the life of someone else’s mother – the day of her wedding. The object is a dress created from the parts of a letter. Folding, emerging and retracting in the flat form of this letter.


Nevski in Tokyo

My dress is inspired from the two capitals of the project – Sofia and Tokyo. In particular, by the architecture of the Bulgarian orthodox cathedral “St. Alexander Nevski” dressed up in the colours of Tokyo. I imagined how this temple would look like in the capital of Japan. Very colourful, full of light and entertainment, which is the full opposite of the ascetic orthodox church. Totally untypical look of the Bulgarian town, which is sad and dull in colours, trying to hide and become invisible. Proud and humble.

The icons are replaced by the Japanese comics, all the Christian symbols are represented in contrast colours and with flashy elements. The silhouette is a tracksuit, very popular in our country, loaded with a negative image in the past 20 years.

Typical of my style is the sense of humour and the blending of opposing ideas and serious topics. My personal challenge in this project was the usage of colours. I have never been so colourful in my projects before. I crossed an aesthetic border that I had set up for me.


Fujioka’s kimono was an interesting starting point – except for the notably beautiful embroidered belt, it has no remarkable artistic value. However, its high value comes from the symbolism it carries. It is a gift from the mother to the grown-up child and plays a role in the so-called “Rites of Passage”. The rites of passage have ethnic origin and clothing is often an instrument in their performance. In both Bulgarian and Japanese national costumes, special clothing marks the transformation of the child into a woman – entering the world of adults, having a new social role. Attire becomes complex, rich, beautiful – according to the aesthetic concept of femininity of the society concerned.

It was this idea of ​​the pursuit of the image of womanhood that was the focus of my search for both models. Without being familiar with it in detail, my idea of the Japanese national costume includes monumentality, geometry, symmetry. It is a garment with the power of armour, a shelter – in which a woman looks even more fragile, gentle and vulnerable.

I chose this semiotic, rather than the purely visual approach, because I think it convincingly integrates two otherwise completely different aesthetic worlds – the Bulgarian and the Japanese.


The textiles, the fabrics of clothes, at the same time ephemeral and durable, recreate the idea of ​​the minuteness, but also of the infinity of our lives. Taking on an object as an authentic kimono, materializing it on another level, through another philosophy and perceptions, evokes the feeling of pure melancholy, of spiritual longing, inherent in the Japanese spirit and shared by us. Clothes that inspire new life and new meaning, sending messages from one society to another beyond time and space.

Starting from the traditional national clothing: the Bulgarian national costume and the Japanese kimono, the designers will explore not only the shape, the silhouette and the details, but also the meanings, understandings and symbolism encoded in these symbolic garments, inspired by their differences and connections.

One of the major differences is the technology of creating both types of clothing: the flat kimono, not interested in the curves of the body, and the three-dimensional Western clothing, conceived for and around the body. A technology that is directly related to the ideal of beauty that recreate both types of clothing: the right column of the kimono achieved by “filling” / equalizing the declined curves of the body; the many different basic silhouettes in western clothing, defined with respect to the body and its curves and the position and  highlighting of the waist.

The authentic Japanese kimono and the personal story of its owner are at the heart of the designers’ inspiration.

Each designer will receive a photo of an individual, authentic Japanese kimono, accompanied by the written personal story of its owner that will build the basis of his inspiration.

Designers are free to choose the additional aspects of their inspiration and to conduct research in one or more of the directions that interest them:

– Traditions and roots: traditional clothing (Japanese kimono, Bulgarian national costume) and their decoration motives: symbolism, purpose, rituality, regional characteristics, development over time; other traditional elements: writing, crafts and craft technology, literature, poetry, fine arts, music …

– Contemporary Bulgarian and Japanese realities: urban environment, center and periphery, contemporary culture and contemporary social phenomena;

– Ideals of beauty in traditional and contemporary Japanese and Bulgarian culture, current trends.





JAPAN 2020