The Kimono is one of the most recognisable and iconic Japanese inventions. Meaning "thing to wear", this versatile garment was worn by men and women throughout Japan until the late 19th /early 20th century when western styles of dress slowly slipped into normal life. However, women continue to wear the garment today and when they do so they are seen as embodying all the virtues and beauty of traditional feminine values.
A canvas for personal expression
In all cultures, clothing takes on a strong role in representing the wealth, status and power within society. It also allows an expression of personal style and taste. Nowhere is this truer than in the stunning kimonos created for women, in which the colouring, textures, and surface patterns allow a canvas for very vivid personal expression. Many Kimonos are specifically reserved for special occasions and special situations which have been codified into the special events marking the life cycle, such as the First Visit to a Shinto Shrine, Coming of Age, Marking the Spring, Weddings and so on.
Kimonos and storytelling
For the current exhibition the main focus is the simply glorious Furisode - a long sleeved kimono for young unmarried women, which display some of the most exuberant designs mixing many patterns and colours, in a spectacular way. They are loaded with symbolism and therefore can be 'read' and tell stories, as a result they are very carefully chosen or commissioned by the wearer.
Preserving traditional Japanese crafts
From the 1950's, great efforts have been made to protect cultural artisan crafts in Japan and that includes silk weaving, specialist dyeing, painting and printing techniques and also needlework traditions such as embroidery, all of which are used in the creation of these special kimonos. Such is the importance of continuing the traditions that some of the artists and creators involved have become Living National Treasures.
Wearable art
The kimono is a straight seamed garment made up of seven long thin strips of fabric. These are cut and hand-sewn loosely together so that a design can be drawn on the textile. They are taken apart for several specialist stages -dyeing, printing, hand-painting, embroidering, gilding - then re-sewn again by hand. The garment is treated as an artistic canvas, and can truly be considered a work of art. Art to wear.