Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk

Victoria and Albert Museum, London


The national dress of Japan is often thought of as a timeless garment – but this exhibition suggests that the kimono has kept evolving, from the exquisite patterns sported by Floating World courtesans in the 17th century to its influence on high fashion today. Find out more from the V&A’s website.

Outer-kimono for a young woman (1800–30), probably Kyoto.

Outer kimono for a young woman (1800–30), probably Kyoto. Courtesy Joshibi Art Museum

From the mid 17th century, as the wealth of the merchant classes grew, fashion took on increasing significance in Japanese society. Tailors created varied and sumptuous fabrics for kimono; this early 19th-century fabric shows a graceful scene of flowers by a river.

Fashionable brocade patterns of the Imperial Palace (1847–52), Utagawa Kunisada. Photo: © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Utagawa Kunisada I’s three-sheet woodblock print shows a lady at her toilet, looking at fabric samples that are being presented to her for sale. Behind her, an attendant hangs a number of kimono on a rack. The attention paid by the artist here to the play of pattern and texture among the various fabrics reflects the fashion-conscious society of mid 19th-century Japan.

Night gown (Japonse Rock) (1700–50), Japan.

Night gown (Japonse Rock) (1700–50), Japan. Courtesy Kunstmuseum Den Haag

Kimono were exported to Europe as early as the 17th century, where they immediately caused a stir. This nightgown was made in Japan in the early 18th century for export to the Netherlands.

Video for Madonna's single Nothing Really Matters (1999), photo by Frank Micelotta.

Madonna filming the video for her single Nothing Really Matters (1999). Photo: Frank Micelotta; © Getty Images

The display concludes by looking at the influence of kimono on fashion across the globe in the modern era, ranging from high fashion to popular culture. Pictured is a photograph of Madonna in the red kimono, designed by Jean-Paul Gaultier, that she wore in her video Nothing Really Matters; the geisha-inspired ensemble is included in the exhibition.

Event website