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From Past to Present: The Evolution of the Kimono in Fashion

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From Past to Present: The Evolution of the Kimono in Fashion

Pale Blue Furisode with Red Uchikake, 2019. Photography by Piczo, Styling by Mademoiselle Yulia, © Victoria & Albert Museum

By Ashley Shelton

The kimono is a timeless, traditional Japanese costume, however it’s become a dynamic part of Japanese dress and has heavily influenced global fashion. Whilst The Victoria & Albert Museum closes its doors, one may view a five part video series (linked below) about the Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk exhibition. Museum curator Anna Jackson guides the viewer through the three exhibition sections, providing a personal insight into the fascinating history of the kimono.

The exhibition reveals the sartorial, aesthetic and social significance of kimonos from the mid 17th century to today, both in Japan and the rest of the world. Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk counters the conception that the kimono will forever be traditional and unchanging. Instead, it presents the garment as a dynamic and constantly evolving icon of fashion.

The beginning section of the exhibition is titled “Kimono in Japan.” Translating to the “thing to wear,” the kimono was the most popular garment in Japan starting from the 16th century and into the Edo period (the last years of the traditional Japanese government). During this period, the kimono was simply constructed and structured with straight seams. Subtle colours and patterns played an important role in design – especially for Samurai women – with many traditional kimonos elaborately decorated with floral prints. For merchants, the kimono began as a blank canvas that was then turned into a wearable piece of art.

The second section, “Kimono in the World,” portrays the wealth, sophistication and style of kimonos in the late 19th century. As the Japanese began producing robes to adapt to European style, Dutch and Indian fabric was incorporated into designs. Kimonos were now more fashionable, exotic and understated. In the early 20th century, the Japanese began producing kimonos for foreigners using fabrics such as satin and silk to create boldly embroidered garments and sashes.

With this cultural shift, kimonos were now more modernised with intricately decorated floral and natural prints, as well as more likely to be layered and accessorised with matching French jewelry. In fact, one portrait painting in this particular section shows an ornate kimono worn by Elisabeth Smith, wife of the prominent English publisher George Murray Smith. With the abandonment of structured garments and the addition of draping layers, the kimono had a radical influence on contemporary European fashion, such as Irvetta’s own resort wear collection featuring three unique kimonos.











 Irvetta’s Ophelea Silk Kimono and Hera Silk Palazzo Pants in Peony Blossom Print

Specifically, the Ophelea Silk Kimono in Peony Blossom print draws inspiration from Irvetta’s British heritage in unison with traditional Japanese kimono design. The British origin of Peony flowers – symbolising romance, resilience, and prosperity – and garden-like aesthetics are the foundation of our kimono. The subtle golden lines on the print parallel Irvetta’s gold geometric logo, balancing structure and strength with feminine florals and nature: hence our slogan, Between Nature and Modernity. The Ophelea Silk Kimono layers beautifully with our Hera Silk Palazzo Pants. 

The final section of the exhibition, “Kimono Fashions From the Second Half of the 20th Century up to Present Day,” traces the crossing of Japanese fashion within cultural and geographic borders. After the Second World War, more native Japanese began wearing Western style garments and various kimonos were designed for different milestones of life. 

Young Japanese artists who wanted to break away from traditional design and structure, joined together to form a streetwear renaissance where they prioritised design, affordability, and restylings of kimonos. Across the world, avant-garde designers and filmmakers took inspiration from the Japanese and began implementing the modernised kimono fashion into their pieces. The timelessness and ambiguity of kimonos were very popular for artists of all industries. 

From the sophisticated culture of 17th century Kyoto to the creativity of the contemporary catwalk, the kimono has been subject to both local and global reinvention for decades and more to come. Irvetta’s exclusive collection of resort wear kimono pieces are a result of this fashion evolution.

Shop our resortwear collection now and watch the Victoria and Albert Museum's series on their exhibition Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk on their YouTube channel.