Kimono Refashioned

Written by:
Emily S. Mendel
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An exquisite experience awaits all who see the San Francisco Asian Art Museum’s new exhibit, “Kimono Refashioned,” which examines the influence of the kimono on global fashion from the Victorian era to the 21st century. Over 40 striking ensembles, accessories and artwork from nearly 30 designers and artists are included. Fashion innovators like Paul Poiret, Coco Chanel, Issey Miyake, Comme des Garçons (Rei Kawakubo, Junya Watanabe) and Tom Ford are represented in this gorgeous illumination of the kimono’s influence on the world of high fashion.

When Japan emerged from a long period of self-imposed isolation in 1854, Japanese goods and culture became all the rage in Europe and America. Japan exported large quantities of woodblock prints, lacquerware, metal works, ceramics as well as luscious Japanese textiles and kimono. Don’t forget to see the examples of such late 19th-century Japanese exports, including traditional kimono from the Asian Art Museum’s collection displayed in the museum’s second-floor Japan galleries, in addition to the “Kimono Refashioned” show on the Asian Museum’s first floor.

Kimono, which means “a thing to wear” in Japanese, is very different from Western European and American fashion, in that a kimono is typically designed like a robe, with a simple, flat and gender-neutral construction. It’s loose fitting around the body and is made with silk fabric decorated with traditional patterns and objects. It is fascinating to see how modern designers have interpreted and transmuted the kimono into fabulous and varied fashion ensembles.

The exhibition is divided into two galleries, in chronological order.  First in time is the Hambrecht Gallery. A beautiful Edo period (1615-1868) pale blue kimono is on display with a winter snow theme.  Some early examples from the second half of the 19th-century show kimono fabrics with Western-style bustles and tight waists. Note that the boots embroidered with cranes and plum blossoms were made in 2017 by Christian Louboutin, although they fit right in with the much earlier garments. A Paul Poiret Japonesque coat-dress (1920-1930) uses traditional Japanese motifs. The Coco Chanel evening coat from 1927 is particularly creative and attractive.

The largest section of the exhibition is in the Osher Gallery and contrasts designers from Japan and Europe.  It includes Alessandro dell’Acqua for Rochas’ gorgeous outerwear and the pleated minimal look of Issey Miyake. The use of a gleaming obi fabric in a 1995 dress by Yohji Yamamoto is stunning. The final section of casual men’s fashions with manga and anime images is less appealing and seems to have a tenuous connection to the kimono, although both have do use graphics.

This engaging exhibit imparts to the viewer the ways in which current international couture has been, and continues to be, broadly influenced by the kimono. Vital contributions to the show come from the Kyoto Costume Institute, a research organization that collects, preserves, and exhibits Western and modern Japanese fashion with over 13,000 garments and 20,000 documents from the 17th century to the present. Since the Kyoto Costume Institute is not open to the public, it is only through wonderful exhibits like “Kimono Refashioned,” that the public has the opportunity to see these treasures.

By Emily S. Mendel


Emily S. Mendel 2019 © All Rights Reserved.

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