While the once ubiquitous garment is now reserved for special occasions and official events in its homeland, it has inspired the likes of Jean Paul Gaultier and Dior’s John Galliano in the West’s fashion capitals.
Around 150 styles from the collection of Matsuzakaya – the centuries-old Japanese fashion house that became a department store – are on display abroad for the first time in the Guimet’s show, titled “Kimono, The Ladies’ Delight”.
The unique pieces, some of them dazzling works of art, reflect a range of sophistication and difficulty in fabrication.
Variations of the kimono first caught on in the West as part of a general fad for all things Japanese in the late 19th century when bourgeois ladies began wearing a casual version – without the restraining obi belt – around the house.
Then Parisian couturiers Paul Poiret and Madeleine Vionnet began experimenting with the kimono in the 1920s.
Fast forward to Japanese-French designer Kenzo Takada, two of whose creations dating from 2006 are in featured in the exhibit.
“It’s thanks to the kimono that I found my identity,” said Takada, the 77-year-old founder of the Kenzo luxury fashion house.
“When I opened my boutique (in Paris) in 1970, I told myself, I’m Japanese, I probably know kimonos and Japanese traditions better than French designers and I should take advantage of that,” Takada recalled.
“Before that I followed Parisian trends. I hadn’t thought of the kimono in fashion.”
French haute couture designer Franck Sorbier’s take on the kimono has been more ephemeral.
An organza piece evoking an evanescent white butterfly from his summer 2008 collection is in the Guimet exhibit along with pieces by Galliano and Gaultier.
“With its extra long sleeves and its train it has an imperial dimension,” Sorbier said.
The kimono adds instant elegance to an ensemble, he said. “Throw a kimono over a shirt, skinny jeans and heels and you’re dressed for a night out. No need for an evening gown.”
The show runs until May 22.