Term Paper: Kimono History and Contemporary Fashion Design Influence

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Kimono History And Contempory Fashion Design Influence

The kimono has become one of the most notable and recognizable elements of Japanese culture. If we were to name characteristics of Japanese civilization, the kimono would most certainly be amongst them. Although nowadays Japanese dress almost uniformly in Western style, the kimono has remained not only a tradition, but a way of life in many parts of the country, a way to venerate aesthetics. Thus, although the kimono as such has almost disappeared from the daily wear of the people, it is recognizable in its pervading influence on the contemporary worldwide fashion.

The kimono appeared rather late in Japanese history, at the beginning of the nineteenth century, derived from the traditional, multilayered dress called "kosode." As this multilayered garment was very encumbering for the wearer and only fit for a very sedentary life, the kimono appeared in its stead at the end of the Edo period. When it came into use, the kimono was an alternative for "yofuku" or Western clothing, which had already been adopted in Japan, to some extent, at the end of the nineteen century.

The term "kimono" means simply "things to wear," but its history and artistic designs contradict this unassuming phrase. In spite of the simple tailoring and the straight lines of the cut, the kimono is a very sophisticated dress precisely because it invites the use of highly artistic, complicated decorations. The traditional kimono is a very simple garment with regard to its shape, being made only of rectangular pieces of cloth assembled together. The kimono can be adjusted in lengths according to the body of the wearer. The tailoring for the women's and men's kimonos is almost identical, the only difference being the shape of the sleeves, which are square for men and more rounded for the women. The kimonos are usually made of silk, but other types of fabrics can be used as well, such as crepes, spun silk, silk gauze and so on.

What is actually spectacular about the traditional kimono is the intricate and artistic design which embellishes the piece of cloth. The designs on the kimonos are either dyed or painted on or made as embroideries. The textile design represents an art in itself in the Japanese culture. The design was a tribute to aesthetics first of all, but also a form of cultural expression. Through the specific color and design, the kimonos embedded the wearer in a certain recognizable social category, marital status and so on. The designs were inspired on the one hand by religious motifs, by important literary works as the Tale of Genji or the Tales of Ise, by folkloric pieces such as Momotar?, the Peach Boy or Oni no Nembutsu (the Devil's Prayer) and so on.(Cort, 1973, 122) Other themes for embroidery or design were symbolic images of animals, such as the turtle, natural phenomena, plants and so on. The geometrical textile patterns used were, for example the diamond pattern, the tatewaku pattern, "parallel undulating lines arranged regularly along the warp of the textile so that adjacent lines define oval lozenges," the karakusa pattern (scrolling vine), ishi-datami pattern (paving stone) and many more (Cort, 1973, 125-128) in short, the plain cut of the kimono, which hides the human body is a true repository of abstract philosophy and art.

There are many styles of kimonos, which vary according to the occasion, season, sex, marital status and so on. First of all, the women's kimonos are considerably richer in pattern and gaudier in color than the men's. Although the cut stays almost the same, it is the women's kimonos that display the artistic designs. Also, the kimono of an unmarried woman used to differ considerably from that of a married one: the unmarried woman's dress has to have long sleeves and has a rich pattern and embroidery, whereas that of the married woman has shorter sleeves and more sober colors. The colors are also significant. The purple kimonos used to be a symbol of imperial power at first, although they could be worn by nobles as well. The colors were usually specific for the season also, the white and green for example being used for the early spring, the yellow and brownish for summer etc. Usually in white, the wedding kimono is also referred to as shiro maku, where shiro means white and maku means pure. Additionally to the white kimono, used for the wedding ceremony, Japanese women use the uchikake, a bright red cloth which is worn over the white kimono at the reception. Lavishly embroidered, the uchikake is richly decorated in silk with traditional models.

Another very important part of the kimono is the obi, or the bow that is tied over the waist. The obi is a piece of very ornamented cloth, which can be as long as thirteen feet and as wide as one foot. Traditionally, tying the obi was the most complicated part of dressing in a kimono, especially because of the complicated butterfly or rose- shaped big knots that were made in the back. For casual or more standardized wear, these bows have been reduced in size and are usually found ready-made.

Thus, the kimono is at once a very simple apparel, in terms of shape and a very complex one in terms of design and artistry. The contemporary fashion has been significantly influenced by the traditional Japanese dress, both in its obvious borrowings from the Japanese style, and in the more recondite features. During the Meiji period (1868-1912) the Japanese were first exposed to the influence of the West. (Orzada) at about the same time, the West also discovered the particularity of the Japanese designs, and began to be fascinated with Oriental art.

As Richard Martin observes, the kimono influenced Western designers since 1960 even in the least evident forms of dressing- for example, loose clothes that no longer fit tightly to the body. Generally, Western culture used to be prone to respecting the form of the human body, and adjusting the dress to it. The ornaments that embellished the dress were usually in the form of jewelry or fringes. The most sumptuous dresses during the Renaissance for instance, were rich in material and shape, but always adjusted to the human body so as to reveal, at least in part, its forms. Tailoring usually obstructs and compels the pattern of the cloth; the Japanese influence is thus an alternative to the Western tailored garments that respected, first of all, the form of the body; it is a tendency towards abstraction, towards design and artistic embroidery. As Richard Martin notices, the impact of the Japanese kimono on the Western fashion should not be underrated. First of all, the contemporary designers focus a lot more on the abstract function of the dress than they used to: "It is impossible to describe and analyze late twentieth-century fashion in Europe and America without taking account of the substantive contribution of Japanese design. In this, I describe no phase of exoticism, but a change in fashion at its matrix and the resonant changes of fashion in its system in which the West is now ever changed by the presence of Japanese fashion and its ethos. The 'kimono mind' is our contemporary perspective on fashion worldwide."(Martin, 1995, 215) Martin even proposes thus an special term that can describe the main characteristics of the world of fashion today: the "kimono mind," that is the very basic mode of thought in fashion has been modified under the Japanese influence. Thus, the most important aspects that have been modified in contemporary fashion are, on the one hand the loose form of the garments, that resembles the kimono and does not copy the form of the body, the tendency towards swaddling the body more than dressing it in something that would fit: "...the body carries the garment organically, but that the garment may secure its own expression beyond that which is merely the body's double or interpreted silhouette. Of course, the propensity to wrapping in place of the tailored definition of the body is one that has profound ramifications for contemporary dress, promoting both oversizing as a model and a virtual one-sizefits-all aptitude heretofore unknown in high-style Western dress. Cloaking and swaddling the body is a manner that builds outward."(Martin, 1995, 219)

The main designers behind this major change were the Japanese designers, such as Issey Myiake,

Yohji Yamamoto, Rei Kawakubo or Kenzo. As Martin notes, Myiake and Kawakubo were the ones who added the tendency to represent different philosophical stances through dress, such as "hade" and "jimi," which stand for the boisterous and joyful life vs. spirituality and contemplation. Myiake and Kawakubo come very close to the spirituality and meditation represented in fashion. (Martin, 1995, 217)

Kenzo for example is considered the actual initiator of the Japanese expression in his designs. His first step in this direction is a break of the boundary between the East and the West, between the two separated cultures. He borrows heavily from the main… [END OF PREVIEW]

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