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Kimono made in 1905-15 specifically for export to the west.
Kimono made in 1905-15 specifically for export to the west.
Photo: Courtesy of Victoria and Albert Museum.
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Passion for kimono – “the thing to wear”

The first episode of the podcast Inside the Box for 2021 features Anna Jackson (curator of Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk, held at the V&A in London last year and soon to open at the Museum of World Culture in Gothenburg) and Miku Godfrey (private collector of kimono and kimono tailor) in conversation with moderator Helene Arvidsson.

The kimono is the ultimate symbol of Japan and often perceived as traditional, timeless and unchanging. The V&A exhibition aims to counter that idea and present the kimono as a dynamic item of fashionable dress. It reveals the sartorial, aesthetic and social significance of the garment from the 1660s to the present day, both in Japan and the rest of the world.

Kimono basically means simple “the thing to wear”, says Anna Jackson, curator of Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.  From the 16th century onwards it was the main item of clothing for everyone in Japan, regardless of gender or place in society. Through choice of fabric, patterning techniques and motifs, the wearer could express their wealth, status, taste and style. The stunning designs that decorate the kimono in the exhibition speak of the Japanese love of nature, of the country’s cultural and literary heritage, of popular folklore and beliefs, as well as the personal histories of those who wore these beautiful garments.

This Kimono was part of the V&A exhibition and mentioned in the podcast Inside the Box: Passion for Kimono
Summer kimono of 1680-1705 commissioned for a wealthy, merchant class woman and decorated with trellises, flowers and characters from a 11th century poem.
Photo: Courtesy of Victoria and Albert Museum.

A kimono is a moving piece of art, says Miku Godfrey, who is an enthusiastic private collector of kimono and himself an artist tailoring his own kimono. Miku inherited his grandmother’s collection of kimono that she had bought or received as gifts during years of travelling with her husband in Japan. In 1974 she received a small kimono with a motif of an eagle surrounded by pine trees. This kimono is now exhibited at the Museum of World Culture in Gothenburg and was the object featured in the podcast Inside the Box: passion for kimono.

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Photo from the recording of the podcast Inside the Box: passion for kimono.
Photo from the recording of the podcast Inside the Box: passion for kimono. Moderator Helen Arfvidsson and Miku Godfrey in conversation with Anna Jackson over link. The kimono "in the box" featured in the podcast can be seen in the background.
Photo: Rebecka Bergström Bukovinszky

Miku’s kimono is an infant’s garment that would have been worn, or rather draped over, a baby boy when he was taken to a Shinto shrine, aged 30 days, to be blessed. The eagle represents strength and courage, and the pine tree resilience. These motifs embody good wishes for the boy’s life.

The kimono has had an enormous impact on global styles since the garment was first brought to Europe in the 17th century.  In the early 20th century, the Japanese even made specific ‘kimono for foreigners’ which had bold embroidery, simple waist sashes and sometimes extra panels to make them drape more like a skirt.

Kimono from the V&A exhibition Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk
Kimono made in Japan in 1905-15 specifically for export to the west.
Photo: Courtesy of Victoria and Albert Museum.

In the 21st century, the kimono has been rediscovered by a new generation in Japan and elsewhere. In Japan, this began with the re-styling of vintage pieces which has led more recently to a wave of new designers who approach the garment in a fresh way. This kimono renaissance was partly a reaction against the uniformity of western fast fashion. Inherent in the creation and wearing of kimono is the notion of individuality and sustainability. These garments are highly fashionable once more, but are still something to be treasured and worn again and again, styled up in different ways to suit your spirit and character.

Photo of a summer kimono ensemble by Tokyo-based brand Rumi Rock, 2018. Courtesy of Victoria and Albert Museum.
Summer kimono ensemble by Tokyo-based brand Rumi Rock, 2018.
Photo: Courtesy of Victoria and Albert Museum

Listen to the podcast to find out more about kimono tradition and heritage, and about Anna and Miku’s passion for kimono.

Links:

Podcast Inside the Box: passion for kimono

Find out more about the podcast series Inside the Box

The exhibition Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.

The exhibition Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk currently exhibited at the Museum of World Culture in Gothenburg. The exhibition will be open to the public as soon as the current pandemic allows.