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Exhibition Review- Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk at the Victoria and Albert Museum from 29 February to 21 June 2020

 

© 2020 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

The V&A presents Europe’s first major exhibition on kimono. Considered one of the symbols of Japan, the kimono is seen as traditional and unchanging. This exhibition challenges this conception, by presenting the garment as a dynamic and evolving icon of fashion.

© 2020 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

The exhibition explores the social significance of the kimono from the 1660s to the present day, both in Japan and in the rest of the world. Rare 17th and 18th century kimono are displayed for the first time in the UK, together with fashions by major designers and iconic film and performance costumes. The kimono’s recent reinvention on the streets of Japan by an exciting new wave of contemporary designers and stylists is also considered.

© 2020 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

Almost 300 works are featured in the show, including kimono especially made for the show, some from the V&A’s collections and the rest loaned by museums and private collections in Britain, Europe, America and Japan.

© 2020 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

The exhibition begins by looking at the origins of the kimono in mid-17th century Japan. Wealthy merchant classes looked at the kimono as a status symbol to express their affluence and taste, leading actors and famous courtesans wore the latest Kimono styles and became the trend-setters of the day.

© 2020 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

The simple structure of the kimono allowed for the creation of complex patterns using sophisticated techniques. The first section of the exhibition explores some of these designs and how fashion in the period was fed by a cult of celebrity and encouraged by makers, sellers and publishers.

© 2020 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

Kimono were first exported to Europe in the mid-17th century and foreign fabrics were also brought to Japan and incorporated into kimono. The exhibition features rare survivors from this early period of cultural exchange, including garments made in Japan for the Dutch and kimono tailored from French brocade and Indian chintz.

© 2020 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

The late 19th century saw a worldwide craze for Japanese art and design and Kimono could be bought from department stores such as Liberty & Co. in London. Japanese designers began to make bold embroidered ‘kimono for foreigners’, while the Japanese market experimented with European textile technology and chemical dyes.

© 2020 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

The kimono’s biggest impact on western fashion came in the early 20th century, when the fascination with East Asia led to designers used the regions symbols and designs in clothes, jewellery and dress-accessories.

© 2020 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

The final section of the exhibition provides evidence how the kimono has continued to inspire fashion designers around the world. The potential of the garment to be transformed is seen in designs by Thom Browne, Duro Olowu and Yohji Yamamoto.

© 2020 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

The kimono’s universal quality has made it a popular costume for film and performance. The display includes the outfit worn by Toshirō Mifune in Sanjūrō, Oscar-winning costumes from Memoirs of a Geisha, and the Jean Paul Gaultier ensemble worn by Madonna in her video Nothing Really Matters, the dress designed for Björk by Alexander McQueen and worn on the album cover Homogenic, and original Star Wars costumes modelled on kimono by John Mollo and Trisha Biggar.

© 2020 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

Japan is currently witnessing a resurgence of interest in kimono. Jōtarō Saitō designs kimono couture for the catwalk, Hiroko Takahashi bridges the divide between art and fashion, and more casual street styles are created by small, independent studios such as Rumi Rock and Modern Antenna.

© 2020 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

This visually stunning exhibition tells the history of the Kimono, although the garment has its origins in the Japanese merchant classes, it has developed in many ways for the Japanese and global market over the centuries. The exhibition provides evidence of that development and how a relatively simple costume has been recreated in a myriad of ways. It is interesting that a garment that has featured as a part of cultural exchange since the 17th century provides endless fascination with designers and the general public.

Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended

For more information and tickets, visit the V & A website here

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