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Published: 05 September 2020

By Andy Ross

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Kimonos at the Victoria and Albert

Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk opened in London's Victoria and Albert Museum before the pandemic struck, and luckily, has been able to extend its run until the 25th October. Last week we paid a visit. 

The show focuses on the iconic clothing from the mid 17th Century to its contemporary incarnations by fashion houses, musicians and artists. And, as with many other exhibitions at the moment, the very low numbers of visitors allowed into the galleries meant that we could stop and look properly at the pieces on display. 

In the collection at the studio we have a few books about kimono, bought when we acquired a representative sample set of dresses and jackets for men, women and children direct from Japan. One of these is a book published for Americans in Japan in the late 1940s showing how to put on and wear the garments, but there is nothing quite like actually seeing kimono in person to understand the care and attention that goes into putting one of these on.

The way these are displayed in this show is simple and elegant and we were able to see details that were hidden before. Unlike in so many showings, some of the garments are shown on models, a striking revelation because the traditional way of displaying the pieces is on bamboo poles with outstretched arms to show off the painting and decoration on the fabrics. Placing the pieces on models brings them to life, less like an art show than a fashion exhibition. 

There are so many beautiful pieces in the show that it is quite hard to decide which is a favourite. I loved the elegance of some of the early pieces, and the exuberance of contemporary and 20th Century clothes. Here are some images of those that appealed. 

Kimonos are increasingly being seen as part of a culture that needs protecting. An exhibition like this explores the exchanges that have occured over the centuries between East and West, and opens up discussion about the difference between appropriate use and appropriation. A fascinating subject in itself.