REVIEW: Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk, Victoria and Albert Museum (Curator’s Tour-online)

Having opened only weeks before the coronavirus pandemic, the Victoria and Albert’s exhibition exploring the history of the kimono has been transformed into an online exhibition.

If you didn’t get a chance to visit the V&A’s latest exhibition before the lockdown started, then this online curator’s tour split into five episodes is a must-watch – even if obviously it is not quite the same as experiencing it in person.

Led by curator Anna Jackson keeper of the Asian department at the museum, Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk is a deeply fascinating and colourful exhibition that explores the history of the kimono in great depth.

Throughout the five detailed and stylishly laid out sections, the exhibition not only reveals the backstory of the garment but how it became such a strong part of fashion world over.

Taking visitors throughly back in time to the sixteenth century to the present day, the exhibition is filled with a gorgeous variety of kimonos in different styles – including those adapted to suit those in Europe when they became fascinated with the garment.

But the exhibition also highlights just how easily it became to think of the kimono as simply a part of Japanese culture, when in fact there was much more to it than that. Even today as a piece of fashion it is constantly evolved. This is particularly seen in the spectacular final section, which combines the Japanese style of the garment with the way in which contemporary designers from across the world have been inspired by it.

As always with the V&A, a lot of detail has been put into the display. It is not simply an exhibition that features kimonos but also prints and other objects to help put the history into context – particularly seen in the range of prints that are on display to showcase how important they were in terms of capturing a person’s status, wealth and in some regards personality – all through the individual designs featured.

It is also credit to those involved in the creation of this exhibition that it pays attention to the way in which kimonos were created – including featuring a deconstructed one to really enhance the idea of the quality and importance of them as a fashion piece. The detail is also of course reflected in the way in which the exhibition is presented – simple but stylish with touches of Japanese influence that really allows the kimonos themselves to take centre stage.

Throughout this curated tour, there is a lot of focus on just how influential the kimono was – particularly during the 19th century when a worldwide craze for Japanese art and design. For example the kimono could be bought from department stores such as Liberty & Co. in London and were worn by those wishing to express their artistic flair.

There really is plenty to dazzle and fascinate in the exhibition and it is certainly refreshing to see the V&A to move away slightly from a big designer name to still deliver a diverse and rich exhibition. Highlights include the dress designed for Björk by Alexander McQueen and worn on the album cover Homogenic, and original Star Wars costumes modelled on kimono by John Mollo and Trisha Biggar that highlight just how influential kimonos have become.

The whole exhibition has been meticulously put together and intriguingly shows us how one style from one culture can prove to be particularly influential. Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk is a display that effortlessly brings the history of the garment to life.

By Emma Clarendon

Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk the curator’s tour is available to watch through the V&A’s Youtube channel.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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