A thousand and one lives of the kimono on display in Paris

published Sunday 20 November 2022 at 07:44

Unisex, graphic and easy to wear: the kimono, often perceived as an immutable traditional Japanese costume, is exhibited in Paris in its dynamism that has influenced the style of western clothing and continues to inspire stylists from all over the world.

“It’s a piece of clothing that has a unique place in the history of fashion,” Anna Jackson, head of the Asian department at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum and curator of the ‘Kimono’ exhibition, told AFP. Musée du quai Branly in Paris.

Featuring nearly 200 kimonos, some dating from the Edo period to the 17th century, and John Galliano-inspired robes for Dior or Alexander McQueen, the exhibition addresses widespread ideas that this historic garment is frozen and ‘fashion is a’ European invention”.

“The kimono is attractive on many levels: it is decorative, beautiful materials, beautiful patterns. Japan is a country with an extraordinary culture and technologically advanced: there is a connotation of luxury. It is elegant and easy to wear,” Anna Jackson points out.

“You can translate it, transform it and wear it in different ways. It’s very individual.”

– Kabuki Actors, Past Influencers –

On a seventeenth-century screen we see a party on a barge with diners eating and dancing dressed in sumptuous kimonos: this is the epitome of the Edo period (1603-1868), which was born after years of civil wars and marked by economic growth, expansion urban and thirst for leisure.

Samurai, these representatives of the military aristocracy, take care of their look in the city. But it was the dresses of courtesans and kabuki actors, copied from the merchant class, that favored the extraordinary development of the kimono.

At the dawn of the 18th century, a bubbly culture reigned in Edo, today’s Tokyo, which intertwined entertainment, glamor and eroticism. Fashion flourishes.

“When we say fashion, we think of people with little money asking for the latest styles, something new and different, led by celebrities and pop stars. This is exactly what happened in Japan during this time,” says Anna Jackson .

After seeing a pattern on the kimono of a famous kabuki theater actor, viewers sought to achieve the same, if only on a handkerchief.

– Gender Fluidity –

In the early 20th century, the straight shapes and drape of the kimono began to have a profound influence on European designers.

T-shaped, the kimono does not follow the curves of the body and does not take into account the anatomical differences between men and women, unlike Western clothes.

To close a kimono, the waist is surrounded by a wide obi belt, more or less rigid, which restrains the women’s gait. An imaginary exploited by couturiers such as Jean Paul Gaultier, who, for example, has merged the corset and obi.

“By freeing themselves from the kimono in modern times, Japanese women gained freedom (…), it was a gesture of emancipation. At the same time, Western women are starting to adopt it,” Aurélie Samuel, former director of collections at the Saint-Laurent museum points out in the exhibition catalogue.

In 1997, Björk posed in a kimono for the cover of her album Homogenic. Freddie Mercury wears kimonos on stage, but also in private.

In Japan, the use of the kimono experienced “a spectacular decline” after the 1950s, becoming reserved for women, custodians of tradition and ceremonies. But fashion has made a comeback in recent decades under the impetus of young Japanese people who reject Western “fast fashion” culture, says Anna Jackson.

The kimono is sold in vintage shops, rented or bought in its modern versions. And don’t be afraid of being accused of cultural appropriation.

“Young Japanese designers want everyone to wear it. They want the industry to survive,” concludes Anna Jackson.

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