Eliza Wyke / Fashion History & Exhibitions  / Kimono to Catwalk

Kimono to Catwalk

Way back in March (which seems like a decade or so ago) I had the chance to see the latest exhibition at the V&A.  This exhibition is one of the many short exhibitions staged by the V&A each year and was no doubt opened to coincide with the buzz surrounding the build up to the Olympics this summer… which all seems alien in light of the past 12 weeks.  I have to confess that I’m not that familiar with the kimono, the traditions behind them, nor Japanese culture.  Indeed, prior to visiting the exhibition everything I’d learned about the kimono (which was very little) had been obtained from reading Memoirs of a Geisha.  

The exhibition was (is?) a delight and I’m so sad that circumstances have dictated that hardly anyone has seen it, or may see it.  Perhaps they’ll extend the exhibition once museums reopen? 

The exhibition charts the history of the kimono, the traditions and customs behind the designs

Modern piece (could be Dior?) influenced by the traditional kimono.  I love the embellishment on this outfit, but also the origami on the sleeves and hem.  Not sure about the colour though…

Given the nature of construction – they are temporarily sewn together and the pattern / design outlined on the surface, before being separated and decorated, then constructed – the pattern and design matching is incredible. 


The layout gives a chance for the observer to see the clever construction of the kimono

Delicate, intricate designs

The exhibition also shows how Japanese designers used traditional fabrics but were influenced by western designs

As western design with Japanese fabric influenced the Japanese designers, the Kimono has also been a source of influence for western designers, as shown in this asymmetrical coat which they believe to be designed by the Viennese avant-garde designer Emilie Floge in the 1920s.

… and this Jeanne Lanvin evening coat from Paris from 1929. The only difference from a traditional kimono design is the sloping shoulders


Kimonos to commemorate significant events – I guess it’s a bit like buying the t-shirt!

If memory serves me, this would form part of a bridal kimono – but have to say, I was so taken with the intricate design and colours, I forgot to make a note!


The second part of the exhibition shows the influence the kimono has had on contemporary designers


The exhibition shows the influence the kimono has on the film industry. Whilst these are costumes from Memories of a Geisha…

…this costume is from one of the Star Wars films


Freddie Mercury’s kimono which I suspect could tell a tale or two, and can’t image he wore a t-shirt underneath!

The Kimono has been a source of influence for musicians – this one was worn by Madonna

… and Bjork


The exhibition is now available to view online and whilst it’s no substitute for the atmosphere of a museum, it allows the viewer an intimate look.   

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