Through May 5, Kimono Refashioned reveals how the two-dimensional structure, cutting-edge textiles, and decorative motifs inspired by the kimono have shifted the course of contemporary fashion, inspiring the likes of Paul Poiret, Coco Chanel, Issey Miyake, and Tom Ford. The exhibit explores the impact of the kimono on global fashion, from the Victorian era to the digital age, spotlighting more than 40 ensembles, accessories, and artworks from close to 30 designers and artists. Featuring apparel from the collection of the renowned Kyoto Costume Institute in Japan, Kimono Refashioned follows the influence of kimono from the 19th-century English formal dresses with bustles and trains to 1920’s Parisian evening gowns, to haute couture fashion in the late 20th century, to recent pop menswear.
“This is not a kimono show,” explains Asian Art Museum Director and CEO Jay Xu. “Instead, our exhibition emphasizes the cultural fluidity of kimono and its expression in modern fashion, vividly demonstrating how a simple item of clothing can contribute to meaningful exchanges of ideas.”
Kimono—which literally means “a thing to wear” in Japanese—is characterized by a simple structure and basic gender-neutral construction that place the focus on material and motifs, rather than on the shape of the body.
“While it is well known that Japanese fashion designers took Paris by storm in the early 1980s, it was not the first time Japan transformed international fashion,” relates exhibition co-curator Yuki Morishima, Asian Art Museum associate curator of Japanese art. “Since the late 19th century, the kimono has inspired some of the world’s top designers with its distinct silhouette and sophisticated textiles.”
“Bringing together cocoon shapes, seemingly damaged or worn-out textiles, and a more organic color scheme, these groundbreaking designers changed the world of high fashion. This deconstructed Japanese aesthetic presented a vision totally of the moment that remains surprisingly current more than 30 years later.”
As Japan emerged from a long period of self-imposed isolation in 1854, the country exported large quantities of textiles and kimonos, as well as woodblock prints, lacquerware, metal works, and ceramics, to enthusiastic international collectors. Examples of such exports, including traditional kimono from the Asian Art Museum’s collection, will be on view in the museum’s second-floor Japan galleries during the exhibition.
Japan’s dramatic entrance onto the world stage in the late 1800s ignited a craze for things Japanese—“Japonism.” European and American painters were active participants in both consuming and promoting Japonism. They depicted kimono, a hallmark of the craze, in countless paintings, like the James Tissot and William Merritt Chase examples on view in the exhibition. By the turn of the century, a French magazine could declare “the need to mention Japonism in fashion . . . as one of the novelties of the moment.”
By the first quarter of the 20th century, designers were eager to explore the many aesthetic opportunities presented by the kimono. A Parisian designer, Madeleine Vionnet, freed her clients from traditional Western tailoring by piecing fabrics in straight lines to create flowing shapes, a technique drawn in part from the kimono’s flat, layered construction.
Textile production techniques used in kimono also fueled designers in both Japan and the West during the second half of the 20th century. While many designers were fascinated with richly embroidered obi fabric, some others embraced more humble sources for creativity: indigo-dyed cotton, patchwork, and the appreciation of imperfection.
“Following the glitz of the 1970s, the imperfect, austere approaches to dress offered by Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons and Yohji Yamamoto in the 1980s were a breath of fresh air,” notes exhibition co-curator and Asian Art Museum assistant curator of contemporary art Karin G. Oen. “Bringing together cocoon shapes, seemingly damaged or worn-out textiles, and a more organic color scheme, these groundbreaking designers changed the world of high fashion. This deconstructed Japanese aesthetic presented a vision totally of the moment that remains surprisingly current more than 30 years later.”
This infusion of an appealing, distinctly Japanese sensibility into contemporary clothing continues today with Iris van Herpen’s 2016 space-age take on shibori tie-dye and Christian Louboutin’s 2017 boots embroidered with cranes and plum blossoms. Issey Miyake gets at the conceptual heart of kimono in his “A Piece of Cloth” designs, which reinterpret its essential flatness. Japanese manga and anime have likewise inspired fashion trendsetters around the world, such as Jonathan Anderson, who employed a Gundam robot motif in his recent and playful “pop” men’s suits for Loewe.
“Kimono Refashioned encompasses a broad set of interpretations of the kimono that represent an ongoing, international engagement with the art of Japan,” says Xu. “It builds on the success of the Asian Art Museum’s 2017 exhibition, Couture Korea. Both exhibitions elegantly connect clothing traditions with contemporary designs to illuminate the ways fashion aficionados have expressed—and continue to express—themselves through dress.”
Art + Fashion
The Asian Art Museum’s Annual Gala | March 7, 2019
This exciting gala event chaired by Michele Alioto, complete with a fashion show featuring a presentation by CHUCHU Style, will be followed by an After Party chaired by Steve Chen. The evening will be presented by Chong-Moon and Reiko Takahashi Lee and Vijay and Ram Shriram.
For tickets and details, visit www.asianart.org