The kimono – living fashion item or dead remnant?
The kimono has a history with roots in China and is known as the national costume of Japan. Can it still have relevance, and how is it used today? This lecture reflects on how a garment with a long history can live on, placing it in a contemporary context with several global perspectives.
During the Heian period (794–1185), the imperial court wore the kimono under many layers of silk, while the populace, who were manual labourers, wore linen garments similar to the kimono. Beginning in the seventeenth century, the kimono became a garment for “everyone”. Geishas, courtesans and Kabuki actors, idols of the time, were the trendsetters. Starting in the late nineteenth century, western fashion designers were influenced by the simple, draped form of the kimono.
The kimono expresses social status, taste and professional role. Wearing it perfectly is an art that requires significant expertise. Since Japan ended its isolation in the 1860s, it has been influenced by western fashion and is now in a moment of dynamic evolution, including growing popularity beyond the country’s borders.
Petra Holmberg is an art expert and curator at the National Museums of World Culture, Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities, in Stockholm.