Kimono’s just tick every box. They’re beautiful, comfortable, airy and stylish. One trip to the kimono exhibition at the V&A and you’ll be able to tick a whole load more boxes than that. Did you know, for example, that the word kimono simply means ‘the thing to wear’?
This exhibition explores every facet of the kimono, inclusive of the garments’ aesthetic and social significance from the 1660s to the present day. Kimono’s are utterly central to Japanese national heritage and culture. So much so, that back in the 1600s, you could tell certain things about a woman by the kimono she wore.
Long, swinging sleeves would reveal you were young and unmarried; certain bespoke kimonos worn by the military class were embroidered with poetry, art and the like, to show the wearers taste and literary discernment.
You’ll be taken into great detail about the fascinations of the Edo period. Gender fluidity and sexual ambiguity, for example, were distinctive features of the culture and Courtesans (or oiran, as they were known) were major celebrities, known for their wit and artistry, as much as their sexual skills.
This detailed retrospective will take you on a journey into the commodification of the kimono by the West. The revolution of large-scale travel and export, alongside the discovery of new fabrics and techniques brought the kimono to Europe in the 1800s.
To Westerners, the kimono was suggestive of luxury and non-conformity, freeing women of the restrictions of corsets. In 1883, French writer Louis Gonse lauded the Kimono; “One cannot too strongly admire with what happy instinct the Japanese have understood the role of clothing, its décor, its design, its shape, in the air, in the light, in life.”
By the mid 1900s, Japanese influence on high fashion was undeniable – almost half the garments on the runway could be distinguished by their kimono cut. The final room of this exhibition is a showstopper, featuring statement pieces from McQueen and Yves Saint Laurent alongside jaw-dropping kimonos worn by cultural icons including Madonna, Bowie and Bjork.
Expect exquisite designs, fascinating cultural heritage, soothing sound effects and striking set design. This exhibition gets a strong 5 stars from us. Why not go and check it out for yourself?
Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk is on at the V&A now until Sunday 25th October. Catch it while you can.
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