Kimono – The Ladies’Delight

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The Kimono – The Ladies’Delight exhibition, Musée Guimet

The Kimono – The Ladies’Delight exhibition, which is held at the Musée Guimet, is now enjoying a well-deserved success. For the first time, more than a hundred pieces from the Matsuzakaya Collection, the famous production house of Kimonos founded in 1611, are presented outside Japan. Thanks to this exceptional loan, the evolution of this emblematic garment is revealed. The materials are varied but the manufacture is highly regulated and it has remained unchanged since its invention. Seven straight strips are cut from a roll of fabric 35cm wide and then assembled together. However it is noteworthy that these strips are never recut; thus the sleeves are formed from a folded rectangle. The resulting T-shape shows few variations, but some are essential, such as drooping sleeves that are reserved for unmarried girls. Wearing a Kimono hinders walking and stiffens the bust by use of a belt (Obi). This stiffness contributes to consider the garment as an architecture on which sumptuous motifs unfold, either embroidered, applied or meticulously dyed.

Originally named "Kosode", it is the garment par excellence of the Japanese and it masterfully participates in Japanese aesthetics. The ornamental themes vary according to social classes and periods: in the eighteenth century, women of the warrior and merchant class valued literary and theatrical inspirations for their Kimonos, but at that time these also used to present sophisticated imaginary landscapes.

We liked the central showcase featuring a blue Katabira (blue linen summer Kimono) with camellia, cherry blossoms and bats patterns, with the plants gathered in the lower half while the clouds and birds are arranged in the upper part. We were also particularly impressed by the room devoted to wedding garments: made of damask silk, representing auspicious motifs, they are presented with essential accessories for hairstyle: combs and hairpins of extreme refinement. 

The last room showcases the modern reinterpretations of the Kimono. In 1867, when Japan officially participated for the first time in the Universal Exhibition held in Paris, the enthusiasm was immense and the Kimono became fashionable throughout Europe. At the beginning of the 20th century, the great fashion designers Paul Poiret and Madeleine Vionnet adopted the codes of the traditional Japanese garment achieving a unique result. Since then, reinterpretations by Yves Saint Laurent, John Galliano or Jean-Paul Gautier have continued, and in Japan specifically, the Kimono has been revisited by Issey Miyake, Kenzo and Junko Koshino, combining tradition and modernity for creations that can be worn in Japan as well as in the West. This exhibition is a unique opportunity to admire such rare pieces for the beauty of their colors, the finesse of their motifs and their exceptional state of preservation.