Following on from Susan’s blog I thought I would write a little more about some of the different techniques and influences we learned about at the V&A ‘Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk’ exhibition. As seen above, the kimono is fairly simple in structure – strips of cloth joined and unlike western style dress of the time, the focus was on the way the fabric was decorated rather than the body silhouette it enhanced or created.
This kimono is decorated with a technique known as Yuzen dyeing. A cloth tube with a metal tip is filled with rice paste and applied in ribbons to outline the drawing on the fabric. Then dyes are brushed within the paste boundaries – similar to techniques used in silk painting with gutta. This is a kosode kimono – because of its short sleeves.
The design for this kimono is made using a kanoko shibori technique. Look closely and you will see rows of tiny circles. These are made by tightly binding the fabric as a means to resist dye when the cloth is immersed in the dye vat. The red colour here comes from the safflower. This furisode kimono has ‘swinging sleeves’.
This kimono is hand-painted in ink and colours, and thought to date to around 1785. It was created by the Japanese artist Masumura Goshon (1752-1811). Just as an artist signs a painting, Goshon included his signature and seal on the front of this kimono, indicating that he considered it a work of art.
This kosode kimono was made from figured satin silk (rinzu), then hand-painted with ink (kaki-e). A stencil decoration to imitate tie-dyeing was then added (sorihitta) and finally it was embroidered in silk and gold wrapped silk threads. The text embroidered on this piece is a poem from a tenth century anthology.
Again this kimono is created with a range of techniques but it also shows a development in design – quite boldly asymmetric and something that became fashionable in the mid-eighteenth century. Worn by a young woman of the samuri class this gown also shows how the ruling classes were becoming influenced by their social inferiors. According to the hierarchy of the day, the merchant classes were set below not only the elite classes but also the farmers and the craftsmen. As people whose fortune was made through the work of others they were put in the lowest rank. As they became wealthy they gained greater power, also the ability to lead fashion.
By the second half of the eighteenth century, small scale designs became more common. This one was produced using the Yuzen technique (the freehand paste resist dyeing as described above).
Then as sashes became more elaborate and wider, kimono designs moved to the hem and then the front of the garment – rather than traditionally on the back. This kimono dates from the early nineteenth century.
Another big fashion influence were the courtesans – the fabulous gown of one you can seen in Susan’s blog. Here is one section of a print on display in the exhibition which shows a Nakano Street in Yoshiwara. It depicts the towns greatest spectacle, the parade of courtesans who wore the most extravagant attire. The glamorous lifestyle depicted was in sharp contrast to the realities of life in the sex trade.
Actors too were often seen as fashion icons. In 1741 Sanogawa Ichimatsu wore a chequerboard waist sash (obi), which became an instant fashion craze. The design became known as Ichimatsu check. This print shows Ichimatsu coming out of his shop – many actors had their own shops and ranges of goods.
Indian fabrics were another influence – from the 1630s Japanese textile artists made versions of Indian fabrics. The Sarasa Handbook published in 1778, was the first technical guide to such cloth.
Indian fabrics were imported by the Dutch – the first western traders with Japan. Known as the ‘red-haired people’ (komojin), the Japanese thought their fabrics highly prized and even the smallest pieces could be turned into saleable items. The Dutch people themselves were also exoticised and turned into inro and netsuke.
There was much more to see in this exhibition which ended with more modern developments of kimono – from both the west and the east. However, I was particularly struck by the the global influences and connections which have been a feature of kimono for centuries. As examples of more modern day global connections I have included these three items which are all associated with twentieth and twenty-first century music artists, who have other global connections. On the left is a kimono gown once owned by British artist Freddie Mercury (whose parents were of Indian descent). The red outfit was worn by American artist Madonna (whose parents were of Italian and French Canadian descent). The gown on the far right of the trio (and in the image) was designed by British designer Alexander McQueen in collaboration with Bjork, the Icelandic singer for her ‘Homogenic’ album.
If you are unable to visit the exhibition (which may already be sold out) it is still worth looking at the V&A online curator’s tour – the first part of which can be found HERE.
I may have left visiting ‘Christian Dior: Designers of Dreams’ at the V&A Museum to the last few weeks, but for me the timing was absolutely perfect. With no E.A.S.T deadlines, and approval from my supervisor that my university research was coming together well, planning a day off with a good friend (and fellow E.A.S.Tie, Susan) was just perfect. This was not an exhibition where I needed to make notes; initially I was not even going to get my camera out. Instead I decided I could just relax and admire the work on display. And event though we had it on good authority (from our group mentor, Anthea) that this was an exhibition well worth seeing, it definitely exceeded my expectations.
The display began with an introduction to Christian Dior himself, and the ‘New Look’ he first became famous for. Surrounding his classic version were ‘updates’ by the five other artistic directors that came after him – Yves Saint-Laurent, Marc Bohan, Gianfranco Ferro, Raf Simons and Maria Grazia Chiuri. All through the display there was a combination of work from these six designers – sharing similar themes but often in very different ways. Yet despite their differences, elements of the original Christian Dior ‘style’ could often still be seen.
One of the first sections we came to was a selection of work inspired by history (see above) – in particular several items inspired by eighteenth-century court dress. I have written a little more about the ‘history’ display of this exhibition in my own personal blog, ‘Artistic Threads‘.
Other areas focused on themes such as ‘travel’ (see above) and ‘nature’ (or was it ‘floral’?). This second room, as well as some stunning dresses, included a backdrop of the most amazing paper flowers (see below).
One of the highlights was the diorama. A display filled with a rainbow of elements – accessories (hats, shoes, jewellery) and related aspects of design – fashion illustration and miniature versions of the gowns – moving seamlessly from one colour palette to another.
Another room focused on the creation of the garments – almost entirely in white this room was a cabinet of toiles (see below).
The display ended with the most fantastic ball room. Not only a room full of the most fantastic gowns and accessories, but again the way everything was displayed added an extra special dimension. Using lighting techniques, film, and scent no photograph can do this particular room justice. I have included just a couple of items from the display below.
This was an exhibition that was well worth waiting for. As well as there being some absolutely beautiful garments on display, I felt it also gave an real insight into haute couture and the work involved in putting together a collection. Many of the pieces had the most exquisite decoration – embroidery and beadwork was much in evidence. It may have Dior’s name on the door, but the creative team work was much in evidence.
However for me, I came away not just with admiration for the House of Dior and their amazing work, but also the people at the V&A Museum – their creative team should also be applauded for putting together a really interesting, beautiful and inspiring display.