Fans of Japanese fashion and heritage are going to love that the latest fashion exhibition at the V&A Museum in London as it is placing a spotlight on Japan’s Kimono, in what is Europe’s first major exhibit on the country’s most famous fashion garment.
‘Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk’, showcases more than 300 works, with rare 17th and 18th-century kimono on display, alongside creations by John Galliano for Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, Thom Browne, Rei Kawakubo and Jean Paul Gaultier, as well as kimonos worn by Freddie Mercury and Björk, and the original Star Wars costumes modelled on the kimono by John Mollo and Trisha Biggar and Oscar-winning costumes from Memoirs of a Geisha.
This exhibition brings together the sartorial and social significance of kimono from the 1660s to the present day, both in Japan and in the rest of the world, displaying kimonos that look like works of art alongside paintings, prints, films, dress accessories and other objects that tell the fascinating story of the style, appeal and influence of the kimono.
Opening the exhibition is a trio of kimono, representing the past, present and future of the garment, with an antique kimono from 1800 alongside John Galliano for Dior’s pink bar jacket with cherry blossoms embroidery, origami wide sleeves and a matching embroidered wrap-around gown from the French fashion house’s spring 2007 Haute Couture collection, and a contemporary kimono by Japanese designer Jotaro Saito.
This leads into the first section of the exhibition dedicated to the Edo-period of Japan, where the walls have been painted a shade of ‘green tea’, and on display is the history of the simple structure of the kimono and why the garment became to signify affluence, confidence and taste. This section houses some of the most exquisitely embroidered pieces I’ve ever seen, some belong in art galleries rather than in someone’s wardrobe.
The exhibition moves onto the late 19th century, which saw a worldwide craze for Japanese art and design, and features kimono brought from department stores such as Liberty and Co. and boldly embroidered ‘kimono for foreigners’ made in Japan, and highlights kimono’s impact on western fashion in the early 20th century with designs including a cream-coloured wedding dress by Madeleine Vionnet inspired by the kimono, which showcased the designer abandoning tightly-corseted styles in favour of loose layers of fabric that draped the body.
My favourite section of the exhibition was the conclusion, which shared how the kimono has inspired so many designers, with pieces by Thom Browne, Duro Olowu, Yves Saint Laurent, and Yohji Yamamoto, highlighted around a giant red bonsai-style tree.
Alongside the well-known names from fashion, the final section also highlights how the kimono’s timeless, universal quality has also made it the ideal costume for film and performance, with 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 on display.
There is also the costume for Obi-Wan Kenobi, played by Alec Guinness in the 1977 film Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, a kimono worn by Freddie Mercury on stage, and an Alexander McQueen kimono design which Björk wore on the cover of her 1997 album Homogenic.
The ‘Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk’exhibition is the latest in the V&A’s series of fashion exhibitions and will perhaps be a little more niche than last year’s Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams or exhibitions dedicated to Balenciaga and Alexander McQueen.
‘Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk’ will run until June 21, 2020, at the V&A in London. It will then move onto the Museum of World Culture, Gothenburg, Sweden, the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Montreal.