The Kimono Exhibition at the V&A
Written by Sophie, March 2021
Back in February 2020 I was so excited when booking tickets to the Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in South Kensington. Then of course the world went crazy, and everyone was locked down. My tickets for the exhibition were cancelled, and I rebooked. And my tickets were cancelled again, and I rebooked again. You can guess what happened next time. Having not been able to see the exhibition in person (and the V&A do fashion exhibitions incredibly well – the Alexander McQueen and Dior ones were some of the best I’ve seen), I was thrilled when Ai sent me a link to tour of the exhibition on YouTube.
A series of five parts, the videos give you a tour of the Kimono on display with the curator Anna Jackson providing insight into the various pieces. The tour takes you through the history of the kimono, with pieces from the 17th century and then forward in time until the present day. There are over 300 individual pieces on display, from kimono, to obi, to woodblock prints.
I found the modern kimono particularly interesting, not only because of the modern techniques used, for example laser printing the fabric, but also because the kimono – and
Japanese culture – has inspired so many designers outside of Japan, from Duro Olowu to John Galliano. Even George Lucas, who has cited Akira Kurosawa’s films as inspiration for his Star Wars series’, has used design elements of the kimono of Obi Wan Kenobi’s costume.
Anna Jackson talks about the paste-resist dyeing technique Yuzen whilst talking about the patterns and designs of kimono fabric. This method was used to create the distinctive hand painted patterns that are so Japanese in style, often incorporating flowers and birds. The same patterns can be seen in yuzen paper, highly decorated paper used for book binding, gift wrapping, origami, or often displayed in its own right.
I highly recommend watching the series by the V&A if you are interested in the history of kimono, or fashion. You can see our range of yuzen paper here.