Junichi Arai was born in Japan into a family of weavers who made elegant obis of silk. At age 13, he took up the craft as well, following tradition. He started by weaving rags. His family’s steel looms had been melted down for the war effort, and the family had rented its factories to the Imperial Army.

After the war, as Japan began rebuilding itself, the family was able to weave on new steel looms. At 17, Arai started incorporating gold and silver threads into his rags. “I discovered they could be sold for more money,” he said.

Arai used innovative materials to create fabrics that resembled spider webs. He experimented with a nylon-coated polyester that looked like the gossamer wings of a butterfly. He designed a four-layered jacquard with squares on one side and triangles on the other.

He blended manual skills, like tie-dyeing, with the tools of computers and other high technology. “There are several things that made him one of the most important innovative thinkers in textile design,” Matilda McQuaid, a co-curator of a 1998 exhibit, says.
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