by Manu SharmaAug 12, 2023
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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: Kyoto to Catwalk will now open at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London on August 27, 2020.