The V&A has garnered a reputation for its hugely successful retrospectives of cultural giants – think Christian Dior, Alexander McQueen, David Bowie, Mary Quant, Tim Walker and Frida Kahlo. But the latest blockbuster fashion exhibition to open at the institution, Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk, feels like a change of step.
The exhibition, which runs from Saturday 29th February until 21st June, focuses on just one fashion item, looking at the evolution of the kimono from status symbol in the 1660s to how it is worn in film, on stage and in street style today.
Unlike the aforementioned retrospectives of famous figures we likely already know and love, Kimono shows us that while the West recognises the robe as a highly traditional form of Japanese dress, we have much more to learn about its origin, evolution and appeal, with modernity, global politics, gender defiance, propaganda and innovation all playing a part in its long and rich history.
"The museum is justly famed for its innovative fashion exhibitions but these are generally focused on fashion in the West," curator Anna Jackson told Refinery29. "We want to show that fashion flourished elsewhere in the world. Japan is currently experiencing a kimono revival, with a new wave of designers creating garments to appeal to a younger generation, so this seemed a good moment to have the exhibition. It is particularly timed to coincide with the year of the Tokyo Olympics, when interest in Japan and its culture will be heightened."
From intricate mid-17th century garments through to Madonna's Jean Paul Gaultier creation, designs by Rei Kawakubo and Oscar-winning costumes from Memoirs of a Geisha, the items on display are as beautiful as they are educational. Here are five things we learned from the V&A's exhibition, Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk.