Kimono Refashioned

Kimono: Refashioning Contemporary Style celebrates the enduring influence of the kimono on fashion. This show begins with a review of the mid-1800s to early 1900s when Japonism first hit American and European shores. Oil paintings by William Merritt Chase and Jacques-Joseph James Tissot depict their Western subjects in kimono. Next follows a parade of 19th-century Western garments influenced by Japan; they are paired with Japanese woodblock prints and kimono. A dove grey dress of wool and silk satin (France, c.1897) features stylised irises crafted from enamel and appliqué and placed at the collar and sleeves, a composition similar to that found on a nearby furisode, the most formal kind of kimono. More literal interpretations are also on display.

An English dress (1870s) includes a bodice and overskirt fashioned from a dismantled kimono, while a regal purple silk evening gown (1910) is adorned with lamé waves (a traditional Japanese motif) and a chartreuse, obi-like sash. A spectacular emerald and black evening coat (1913) shimmers with sparkling beaded flowers, a reference to Kabuki costumes of the day. But such luscious offerings are only appetizers in an exhibition that features about forty garments on loan from the Kyoto Costume Institute. The show is really interested in examining how the kimono has influenced today’s designers. A handful of Westerners make appearances (Ford, McQueen, Louboutin, Galliano), but the highlights are Japanese designers such as Issey Miyake, Junya Watanabe, and Yohji Yamamoto. Yamamoto’s 1995 brocaded dress with chrysanthemum motif features a black wrap top and a skirt made from a dramatic red and gold fabric that might be used for an obi. The construction is almost as complicated as a kimono; the ends of the top are fashioned into a bow that when tied, forces the brocade to blouson on the sides.

Like many of the pieces collected here, it recalls the importance of origami and gift-wrapping to Japanese culture. Consider Miyake’s many and varied experiments with pleating. The real stunners of the exhibition are by Rei Kawakubo for Comme des Garcons. These include a stencil-dyed (katazome) indigo ensemble decorated with shibori and sashiko, and a strapless gown adorned with a huge silk taffeta cabbage rose, a teasing red wadded hem, and hand-painted gold and white cranes. The final segment looks at manga and anime in pieces like graphic tee shirts and men’s outfits from several contemporary Japanese designers. These veer pretty far from any relationship to the kimono (more than anything the traditional robes are about form) but they make for a fun conclusion to the show.

28 June - 15 September 2019, Cincinnati Art Museum, 953 Eden Park Drive
Cincinnati, OH 45202

Blog post by Jo Ann Greco

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