Designer Arisa Kakusue x Jill & Jiji — Cats are Part of Life

Sep 2, 2015 / Interviews

Photo:Ari Takagi Edit&Text:Madoka Hattori Translation:Seth High

In addition to designing socks for the ‘MARCOMONDE’ brand, Arisa Kakusue lives alongside two cats - twelve year-old Jill and six year-old Jiji. Ms. Kakusue mentions that after living with these felines for such a long time, cats have simply become a part of life. We interviewed her about what it’s like living with two contrasting cats – the secretive and shy Jiji, and the very relaxed Jill.

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Twelve Long Years with Cats

- Tell us about how you first encountered both Jill and Jiji.

“I first met Jill twelve years ago, when a breeder friend of mine said he had to let go of his cats. Even though Jill is a Scottish Fold and American Shorthair mix, he doesn’t have the cute folded ears that Scottish Folds are famous for. So it was hard to find someone to take him in. However, I thought that he was just so darn cute that I didn’t hesitate for a second to take him home with me.”

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- So he was a kitten when you took him in?

“He was only a few months old. And we’ve been together ever since then. Jiji, the black cat, was taken in from a shelter in Chiba. My friend, Mr. Sakurai, who is a designer for BORON, was looking for a family cat, so I tagged along when he went to pick one out at the shelter. I wasn’t thinking about getting a second cat, but Jiji was giving me such a sad look as we left... so we decided that I just had to take her home with me.”

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- Do the two cats get along well?

“Jill is such a good-natured cat that it made the transition rather easy. If Jiji had been the first cat, though, it wouldn’t have been so simple. I spent six years first with Jill, then six more with the two. After living with cats now for twelve years, they are simply an irreplaceable part of life.”

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- Tell us about their personalities.

“Jill is pretty calm. He’s got balding spots on his tail. We thought at first it maybe some sort of disease, so we took him to the vet. But it turned out to be some sort of a hormonal imbalance... Just like with humans, some guys have wider foreheads than others, right? It’s just like that. So he’s had balding spots at the base of his tail for eight years now. We are used to looking at it, but it shocks people who see it for the first time (laughs). Compared to Jiji, he is very sweet. He even does what he can to accommodate the baby. He is very mature.”

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- We have barely even got a glance of Jiji. Is she always like this?

“She’s timid - and only a lion at home. Even delivery people scare her to death. Jill and Jiji are kind of like a father and a daughter.”

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- Can you tell us about their favorite toys?

“Jill’s latest favorite is socks. He digs into the laundry and takes away just one of a pair. I think he is pretending like he’s carrying prey or a kitten. I guess it is just the right size for him. Jiji doesn’t do it, so it may be a guy thing.”

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Getting Along with the Kid

- What do you think has changed since you first started living with two cats?

“I know there must have been plenty of changes in our lives… but it’s too long ago for me to remember. I can tell you that I felt like I had a third cat when I gave birth to my son! (laughs) I think Jill became more mature and attentive. When my son was still a baby, I tried to keep the cats away from his crib. But then before I knew it, Jill would crawl up in the crib and sleep right next to the baby. He intuitively knew never to scratch him. In fact, he seemed to be guarding him. I must say they have a great relationship. Because the cats have been with him since the day he was born, he’s turned into quite the animal-lover. Even though he still can’t make out words yet, because their names both starts with ‘Ji’, he refers to all the things he likes as ‘Ji’.”

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- There is a theory that claims cats have the same intelligence of 2~3 year-old human children. Do you think your cats understand your words?

“I’m sure they do. Or maybe they are just sensing my feelings. They’ll jump into our suitcases when we are preparing to travel. When my husband and I are having fights, they come in between us and stare at us. All we can do at those times is just stop fighting. I think they do these things as a kind of arbitration for us. These days, though, they probably are tired of our stupid fights and give up arbitrating halfway. (laughs)”

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- Have you always been a cat lover?

“Not really. It wasn’t like I always loved cats. Life took its course and I started living with a cat. I do know that Jill became the reason so many of my friends ended up getting their cats. He’s such a sweetheart and cutey-pie. I have many cat-owning friends around me now. Sakurai-san of BORON is now living in the same apartment building with a cat named Uzura. We take turns taking care of each other’s cats when we have to travel.”

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A Cats Cool Sense of Distance

- There has been a major ‘cat-boom’ these days - and cat related goods are more popular than ever. It seems kind of odd not to see any cat-themed products in your own brand’s (‘MARCOMONDE’) line up – especially considering how long you have been a cat owner.

“I just never really thought about making them. Cats are part of my private life – which I keep separate from work. I know they would sell if I made them... In fact, within the line of stuffed animals that ‘BORON’ puts out, which uses MARCOMONDE textiles, cats are just flying off the shelves. Of course, their other animals are also cute… (laughs). MARCOMONDE picks a theme each season, something like a ‘travel’ or maybe a country. In the beginning, we used the nation of Turkey as a theme. All Turkish people take good care of cats, and there are stray cats all over the place. Now that I think back, that would have been a good time to release something using a cat-motif… but we didn’t.”

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<BORON-produced stuffed animal on the right bottom>

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- After traveling through so many countries, do you see any differences between cats in Japan and other places in the world?

“Definitely. In hot countries, they have shorter hair and are smaller in size. For example, cats in Malaysia were smaller and I saw so many stray cats. We have a cat-lover on our staff and she takes photos of cats everywhere we go.”

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- You’ve been living with cats for such a long time, but your attitude towards them seems rather cool.

“I guess so. In fact, I don’t really feel the need to appeal to people saying, ‘Hey, I’ve got cats!’ - because they are so much a part of my life. Cats are not particularly special to me. Jill and Jiji are merely my roommates.”

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- What is next for MARCOMONDE?

“It will be the brand’s 10th anniversary next year. Each season, our exhibitions include both men’s and women’s collections. These travel from Tokyo to Paris and New York. It’s all just so much work. Since our products are mainly socks, I guess it’s a bit easier than the work cycles of other fashion items. Every Christmas season, we open up a pop-up shop at Spiral. But making our 10th anniversary as a kind of turning point, I’m planning on opening up our own brick-and-mortar shop.”

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  • name: Jill, Jiji
  • age: 12 and 6 y.o.
  • sex: Male, Female
  • lind: Scottish Fold/American Shorthair mix, mixed
  • KAKUSUE, Arisa
    Arisa Kakusue is a designer who graduated from Musashino Art University. She started her own brand of socks - ‘MARCOMONDE’ in 2007, and then founded DRAWER inc. the following year. MARCOMONDE also produces gloves and other wares.