The Quai Branly museum in Paris celebrates the art of the kimono

Japan’s Hiroko Takahashi, founder of the Hirocoledge brand, has been chosen to appear on the poster for a traveling exhibition dedicated to Kimonos, this magnificence created by the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. – because it perfectly illustrates the paradoxes surrounding this millennial outfit: tradition and modernity, sobriety and extravagance. The abundance of clothes, prints, posters and photographs brought together at Branly inform us of this complexity. Learning a costume is a serious thing, they say! An inspiring exercise that allows you to rub your nose in received ideas and other Western fantasies.

A piece of cloth!

The exhibition opens in the 17th century, during the Edo period (1603-1867). It is important to replace “wearer” (literal translation of the word kimono) in its historical context, to understand how it evolved over time and ended up on the catwalks of fashion shows. Silk pongee, silk crepe, silk satin, taffeta, cotton, a piece of fabric cut with the letter T, in fact, has not stopped reinventing itself.

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It was originally reserved for wealthy Japanese customers. fashionista ahead of his time, a fan of engravings representing Kabuki actors in costume. The first advertisements published by cloth shops, such as a certain Echigoya, aroused the curiosity and envy of samurai wives and other wealthy merchants. This was in the late 19th century – when Japan’s ports were opened to trade with the West. Portrait of Elizabeth Smith Frederick William Burton (1873) and he Madame Henriot Said to be widely exported by Auguste Renoir (1882). The kimono is not only a diplomatic gift, but also a chic and exotic clothing accessory worn by “le Tout-Paris” and “le tout Londres”. Formerly corseted, these ladies can loosen the waist and serve as an elegant gown or evening dress. It metamorphoses to fit the Western body in search of novelty and fantasy.

Cultural appropriation?

Will we hear today’s voices rising to denounce a form of cultural appropriation (the term has been in vogue for some time)? This would be completely off topic! Culture travels, circulates, assimilates, adapts. And clothes with it! It is the changes and multiple adaptations of this traveling kimono that allow it to survive and become iconic over time. So in order to survive, because on the island of his origin, since the end of World War II, people have turned away from him to adopt Western costume.

In Europe, kimono is on the catwalks of high fashion shows with Christian Dior, Yves Saint-Laurent, John Galliano, Alexander McQueen, Yohji Yamamoto, Issey Miyake, Kenzo. In the music scene, it is the focus of artists who have adopted it not only for its practicality, but also for its undeniably magnificent and artistic touch: Freddie Mercury in concert, David Bowie in person. Ziggy Stardust back in 1972 Madonna in her music video Nothing really matters In 1999, even in 1997 for the cover of the Björk album Homogeneous.

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“Kimono gives the impression of wearing a world heritage”, comments couturier Serge Mouang, who originated Wafrica, a hybrid project in 2008 that proposed linking the African wardrobe with the Japanese by using wax to make a kimono. It further proves that this art dress uniquely accounts for geopolitical connections, trade exchanges between peoples and countries, as well as the sharing of techniques that continue to unite the East and this mutual search for inspiration. and west.

Kimono at the Quai Branly Museum, Paris. Until May 28, 2023.

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