The V&A has opened Europe’s first major exhibition on kimono. A definitive symbol of Japan, the kimono is often perceived as traditional and timeless. Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk offers a fresh view, presenting the garment as an ever-evolving icon of fashion. The exhibition reveals the sartorial and social significance of the kimono from the 1660s to the present day, both in Japan and in the rest of the world. Across the show, rare 17th and 18th-century kimono are displayed for the first time in the UK, together with fashion by major designers and iconic film and performance costumes.
The kimono’s recent reinvention on the streets of Japan is explored through work by an exciting new wave of contemporary designers and stylists. Highlights of the exhibition include a kimono created by famous Japanese textile artist Kunihiko Moriguchi, the dress designed for Björk by Alexander McQueen and worn on the album cover of Homogenic and original Star Wars costumes by John Mollo and Trisha Biggar. Designs by Yves Saint Laurent, Rei Kawakubo and John Galliano all reveal the kimono’s role as a constant source of inspiration for fashion designers.
Almost 300 works are on show, including kimono especially made for the exhibition, half drawn from the V&A’s own collections and the rest lent by museums and private collections from around the world. We love the section dedicated to the late 19th century, when a worldwide craze for Japanese art and design saw kimono sold in department stores such as Liberty. Japan responded by making boldly embroidered ‘kimono for foreigners’, while jewellery houses such as Cartier also got in on the action.
The final segment of the exhibition is the most impressive, as it demonstrates how the kimono continues to inspire fashion designers around the world, including Thom Browne, Duro Olowu and Yohji Yamamoto. This display includes the Oscar-winning costumes from Memoirs of a Geisha and the Jean Paul Gaultier ensemble worn by Madonna in her video for ‘Nothing Really Matters’. This section also shows how Japan is currently witnessing a resurgence of interest in kimono: Jōtarō Saitō designs kimono couture for the catwalk and Lady Gaga; Hiroko Takahashi bridges the divide between art and fashion; and small, independent studios such as Modern Antenna and Rumi Rock have set out to create modern, casual creations. Make sure to catch the latter at a hands-on workshop at the museum on 14th March – alongside sake masterclasses and silk folding classes across the exhibition’s duration – for a truly immersive experience.
Cromwell Road, South Kensington, SW7 2RL; until 21st June