‘Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk’ bridges the sartorial aesthetics of East and West

The exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum traces the journey of the Japanese kimono through the years of French Art Nouveau to its contemporary renditions.

by Dilpreet Bhullar Published on : Aug 08, 2020

With the wasp waist of the Victorian age and the size-2 of contemporary times, sartorial trends often precede the comfort of the body. The ease and effortlessness of clothing has taken a backseat with the relentless conditioning of our perception around fashion and the human body by the west. To broaden the canvas of fashion and add layers to its history comes the latest exhibition, Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, curated by Anna Jackson and Josephine Rout.

Maikos in Gion Kyoto Japan | Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk | STIRworld
Maikos in Gion Kyoto Japan Image Credit: Courtesy of Getty Images

The exhibition traces the history of garment kimono from the land of its creation Kyoto to its present renditions showcased during the catwalks. The national garment of Japan, kimono, that translates into English as ‘the thing to wear’ was a unisex piece of cloth, but during the late 20th century, it was seen as a costume meant to be worn on important occasions. Jackson in a publication accompanying the exhibition says, “The kimono is the ultimate symbol of Japan, revered within the country as the embodiment of national culture and regarded internationally as an exotic fascination.”

The exhibition traces the sartorial changes that kimono underwent through the lens of history | Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk | STIRworld
The exhibition traces the sartorial changes that kimono underwent through the lens of history Image Credit: Courtesy of Victoria and Albert Museum

Often, the kimono regarded as traditional, unchanging and timeless, however with this exhibition, this perception is debunked among fashion enthusiasts and aims to present the kimono as ever-evolving as any other garment. Jackson adds, “The cultural and sartorial significance of the kimono is explored in historical and contemporary contexts, both in Japan and in the West, where its impact on clothing styles has been felt since the 17th century.”

Kaidan (staircase) by Kobayakawa Kiyoshi (1899-1948), hanging scroll, ink and colours on paper| Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk | STIRworld
Kaidan (staircase) by Kobayakawa Kiyoshi (1899-1948), hanging scroll, ink and colours on paper Image Credit: Courtesy of Victoria and Albert Museum

As the trade routes were explored across the west and east longitudinal coordinates of the earth, the straight-seamed kimono travelled to the shores of Europe as early as 17th century. Bearing transnational influences, soon the garment was made out of European textiles, and natural colours gave way to synthetic dyes. Interestingly, the parallel running Japonisme movement and French Art Nouveau of the 19th century led the creative minds of the two continents to foster novel ways of recreating the garment. For the French designers including Paul Poiret, Madeleine Vionnet kimono, with its bright colours and local symbols, pushed them to go beyond the corset-shaped garment and design the intricacies of the patterns.

Local motifs and colours of kimono allowed the French designers to relook at their designs-scheme that focussed on corset-shaped garment | Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk | STIRworld
The local motifs and colours of the kimono allowed French designers to take a new look at their design-scheme Image Credit: Courtesy of Victoria and Albert Museum

To reinforce how the kimono was making itself visible in the fashion ecosysytem of Europe and the USA, the exhibition showcases the iconic pieces donned by Obi-Wan Kenobi in the movie Star Wars and kimonos elegantly carried by Geisha of the movie Memoirs of a Geisha that even received the Oscar for the costume design, along with kimono-inspired works by designers Alexander McQueen, Duro Olowu and Thom Browne.

Thom Browne, menswear Spring-Summer 2016| Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk | STIRworld
Thom Browne, menswear Spring-Summer 2016 Image Credit: Courtesy of Getty Images

Geisha in the movie Memoirs of a Geisha says her work is a “moving work of art”, which could unmistakably describe her kimono, too. The exhibition dedicated to the kimono successfully endorses the view that the classy piece of art remains timeless and omnipresent with its myriad interpretations.

Kimono Times, Akira Times, 2017 | Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk | STIRworld
Kimono Times, Akira Times, 2017 Image Credit: Courtesy of Akira Times

Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk will now open at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London on August 27, 2020.

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