Traditional Japanese clothing is known for its specific color scheme, patterns, cut and use of fabric. Kimono 着物, literally meaning “wear thing”, is the umbrella term for all types of Japanese style clothing (also called wafuku 和服). Unlike tailored western clothing, kimono are constructed out of long strips of fabric and are wrapped around the body. In this way, they fit all sizes (full-length kimono are often too long; excessive fabric is tucked under the obi 帯, or belt). The only (rather small) distinction is between men and women clothing.
Like any Japanophile would do, I bought some vintage kimono during my stay in Japan. New kimono’s are very expensive (they are often family heirloom, or they are hired for special occasions), but you can find many second-hand shops in Japan where they sell a whole array of these beautiful garments and accessories at very low prices. I prefer second-hand not only because it is cheaper, but also because the idea that someone else has already worn and cared for this piece makes it more valuable.
My collection of kimono started out of interest in all things Japanese, but instead of regarding my purchases as curiosities that should be safely put away in the closet at home, I actually like to wear them on a daily basis in combination with “normal” clothing and non-traditional elements. The three different pieces you see below are two haori 羽織 and one full-length grass-green robe, which I had adjusted as a mid-length jacket. Haori are hip-length jackets traditionally worn over a robe with small sleeves. I believe the ones I have in my possession are for men (at least I was told so because of the cut of the sleeves). The green kimono is a woman’s model.
A few years ago, “kimono” became a trend in street fashion, although it is a pity that most of these garments do not resemble the original very much (more something like a flimsy nightdress with exotic motifs that is open in the front). In Japan, kimono is still worn by many people, mostly on festive occasions. As everyday wear, however, it is rare. Some elder people still wear Japanese clothing everyday, but in general, kimono as seen on the streets is rather exceptional. Nevertheless, kimono have never disappeared from the Japanese fashion scene. To fit a more modern image, some brands have re-invented the kimono by selecting different and surprising materials, and styling the look with modern clothes or elements.
From the late 19th century on, kimono influenced the western fashion world tremendously. Japanese clothing is so different from how Westerners were dressing at that time, it caused a revolutionary change in the traditional silhouette for women (small waist, hourglass shape). Silk kimono dominated the fashion scene during the artistic movement called Japonism (although slightly delayed in comparison to the arts). Exotic objects such as “Japanese gowns ” were popular as peignoirs, home wear or costumes. The wardrobe of Phryne Fisher, a feisty lady detective in the Australian 1920s drama series Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries contains some beautiful examples of the kimono style that was in vogue then.
Two weeks ago, I visited “Game changers – reinventing the 20th century silhouette” at the Fashion Museum in Antwerp (MoMu). This exhibition centers around the work of Balenciaga, but shows the Japanese influences on 20th century haute couture designers as well. The kimono became model for a new, freer silhouette, shaping the body of modern working women. In the pictures below (excuses for the bad quality), you can see Japanese elements, such as broad shoulders, a round neckline, the detail in the back of the pink dress, resembling an obi, straight lines, no emphasis on the curves of the body, broad sleeves, two-dimensionality, dropped waistline etc. There is also the work of Kubota Ichiku, who experiments with new textiles and designs. His series showcase several kimono linked to each other in a continuing landscape. Personally, I believe that the act of modernizing traditions, such as the kimono, is proof that this tradition is still alive and keeps abreast of times. How will the kimono be represented in the fashion of the future, I wonder?
Special thanks to my sister Elise, for being my photographer and my biggest supporter!