London’s V&A Museum’s new exhibition is dedicated to the kimono

Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk celebrates the rich cultural heritage of the kimono and its influence on contemporary fashion.

Installed to coincide with the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, The Victoria and Albert museum’s new exhibition, Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk, reflects a recent resurgence in popularity of the kimono. In Japan, young people have taken to wearing vintage kimonos in a bid to reject fast fashion, and tackle sustainability. The new blockbuster exhibition explores the origin of the kimono and examines its influence on fashion.

The exhibition chronicles kimono design, production and popularity. Kimono literally translates to “thing to wear” and became a standard dress in Japan for the ruling Samurai class in the 1600’s. Looking to impress at court, kimonos became more ornate and elaborate in design, and the fabrics often depicted popular tales, myths, poems or songs. The kimono soon became popular with leading actors and the famed courtesans of the day, and it wasn’t long before society ladies adopted the look. At the centre of production was Kyoto, which produced tens of thousands of kimonos a year.

International trading with China, India, and France allowed for new fabrics to be implemented in the creation of kimonos. Kimono production then came to Europe with Britain and France leading the way. By the 1900’s Diaghilev’s, Ballets Russes and its production of Scheherazade (costumes designed by Léon Bakst) captured the colors of Asia and set the taste levels for the decade. The West looked to Asia (including the far East) for design and cultural inspiration. In the 1920s, Paul Poiret popularized the Kimono with his new designs. He created kimono inspired coats and dresses, as did Lanvin. Since then, as the V&A demonstrate with this exhibition, the kimono continues to inspire the world’s greatest designers.

On display are pieces by Yves Saint Laurent, John Galliano and Issey Miyake. The exhibition features a red kimono by Jean Paul Gaultier that was designed exclusively for Madonna. She wore the kimono in her hit music video, ‘Nothing Really Matters’. There’s also a kimono by Alexander Mcqueen which was famously worn by Björk. Elsewhere we see a kimono that belonged to Freddie Mercury and costumes from the films, Memoirs of a Geisha and Star Wars.

The most breathtaking looks in the exhibition come from Dior’s 2007 SS Haute Couture collection. Designed by John Galliano there is one on display as you enter and one on display as you leave. It’s an intentionally perfect way to start and end your visit.

Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk at the V&A is now open and runs through June 21 2020. The exhibition is sponsored by MUFG.

Take a look at highlights from the exhibition below.


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