Vivat Veritas

Vivat Veritas

Talking craft with dressmaker Chie Duncan


The vibrantly flowing red dress worn by our Winter 2023 issue cover model is the creation of Tokyo-based designer Chie Duncan, who regularly produces similarly striking pieces via her homebased company, Vivat Veritas.

While Duncan’s supreme talent for dressmaking may appear to run naturally through her veins, she insists that it is actually the result of relentless self-study. “I was always crafty as a kid; I loved making doll clothes and modeling things with clay,” she recalls. “But I thought it would be too difficult to make clothing, so at first I only sewed things like pillowcases.”

Later, hoping to save money while living in Philadelphia as a broadcast journalism student and newlywed at Temple University, Duncan decided to take on the challenge of trying to make her own clothes.

“My first attempt to upcycle a summer dress was agonizing,” she says, smiling. “At first I had no idea about the need for patterns, and it ended up taking me several hours for three evenings in a row before I eventually finished it.”

Duncan cites the motivating philosophy of Canadian journalist Malcolm Gladwell, who said that anyone can become an expert at a pursuit if they put enough effort into it. She’d already had practice with this, having attained her fluency in English while attending high school in Florida— where she says she first transcended language barriers by crocheting bags for her friends. “I am also now applying that same type of determination to Latin dancing, even though my coordination is horrible,” she adds, laughing.

Regularly combing the fabric stores of Tokyo neighborhoods such as Nippori, as well as online shops, Duncan specializes in wedding dresses and kimono-styled pieces. She begins by holding extensive consultations with clients to create dresses that best match their specific tastes. “Each fabric has its own uniqueness, and I like to let it speak,” she notes. “I love to feature the lower back, and to use elegant lines that show the body’s natural curves, without complicating things by using additional elements like frills.”

Many of Duncan’s clients are non-Japanese women who appreciate her custom-made approach, as well as her openness to working with diverse styles and body types. Using two Juki sewing machines—one of which was delivered to her personally by its previous owner, who drove ten hours from Kagoshima—she also gives sewing classes for people who want to make their own wedding dresses.

Duncan doesn’t cite specific designers as her influences, explaining that she finds ideas for her pieces by looking through magazines at the beauty salon, browsing garments at stores like Barneys New York, watching fashion show collections from designers like Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent, and visiting exhibitions at local museums—citing Klimt and Mucha as her favorite artists.

“I ride my bike every day, and besides freeing my mind, this also gives me a chance to look at people to see what they are wearing,” she adds. “Really, anything can be an inspiration for my work.”

When she is not teaching, sewing or spending time with her husband and two daughters, Duncan also participates in art exhibitions and sells her work at art markets and pop-up events. Receiving a small business grant, she recently held her first solo fashion show, which also featured live painting, body painting and an after party. She explains that she is always looking for new ways to push beyond her comfort zone, and while she found the preparation for her own show to be intimidating, she appreciates the challenges of her work—as well as the rewards.

“Sewing started out as a hobby before it became my profession, and it has opened up so many opportunities for me, such as being able to meet numerous models, photographers and other collaborators,” she observes. “It can be so hard here in Tokyo to find a sense of belonging, so I feel so grateful.”

For more information about dress orders, upcoming events, class offerings and company history, visit Chie Duncan’s website at and Instagram page at @vivatveritas.