The kimono boom

An article in The Japan Times Online goes In Skeptical Quest of a Boom, getting off to a depressing start in Tokyo, of all places (like me, those of you who follow kimono are probably going “Tokyo?! What were they thinking!”), and then finally being put on to the trail of, well, the rest of the country, and Mamechiyo. This is where the article gets interesting!

“The restricted movement it imposes forces you to slow down and think,” she said. “You have to watch your sleeves when you go to pick things up, for example.”

[…] Mamechiyo pointed out that the key to the boom is in understanding the difference between kimono worn to weddings or the coming-of-age ceremony, and kimono for fashion. Formal kimono are worn for the benefit of others, so they have to conform to accepted standards as a mark of respect. But when you wear kimono on an everyday basis, you do it for yourself, and then you can do whatever you want.

“All the strict conventions of kimono are relatively recent inventions,” she explained. “If you go back a bit further, people were wearing their obi tied at the front and all sorts of interesting things, so playing with kimono is part of the heritage.”
[…]
But despite having signed a deal with a yukata manufacturer and having her designs on sale in department stores across the nation this summer, this cutesy creator is wary of moving into mass production.

“We have a close relationship with our customers,” she explained, showing me an album of Polaroid snaps of them wearing her designs outside the 2-year-old shop. “I don’t want to lose that.”

I’m often skeptical of all the kitsuke schools that profess you have to get a “certificate” to dress in kimono properly, so seeing one of the reines du kimono herself say “all the strict conventions of kimono are relatively recent inventions” and “playing with kimono is part of the heritage” is simply wonderful. This is what I’ve seen in my years of observation and study, and really, when you know that women were dressing themselves in kimono for hundreds of years without “kitsuke degrees”, it makes perfect sense. Of course one should learn the significations and history of kitsuke, I’m not advocating throwing everything to the wind, but one shouldn’t be stifled by rules of a rigidity that never existed in the first place, either.

In parting, I’ll leave you with links to photos from my 1936 “Kimono” book, that show just how much variation there was:
o Finished taiko musubi (crooked by contemporary kimono school standards!)
o Bride dressed in hikifurisode (note wrinkly collar!)
o Bride and attendants (more “crooked” taiko musubi — at the most formal of events)
o Taiko musubi (yet another variation, this one plump)
o Front and back views of same kimono (note her “crooked” obi in front and how low her obijime is)
o Woman in haori sewing (lots of haneri showing)

14 Responses to “The kimono boom”

  1. Raks hime Says:

    Thanks so much for posting that article! I really enjoyed it.

  2. Yul Miyabi Says:

    Hello: I just had to say that was a great article! I especially liked the photos from your kimono book. To see the “imperfect” taiko obis and the wrinkled collars that didn’t quite line up was charming and a breath of fresh air, really. To see a kimono worn as a “lived” garment rather than a costume or simply formal wear on special occasions is especially nice. Who says you need a reason to wear a kimono?
    Anyway, I just wanted to say “hi”, and thanks for maintaining such a lovely website!
    From a fellow kimono-o-phile on the Oregon coast, Yul M.

  3. sala Says:

    It is the first time to leave a message. But I really enjoy your Blog every time.
    I have exactly the same opinion as you wonderting what kimono cetificate for
    wearring kimono should be the same thing as ony other cloths

    I dont have many chances to wear Kimono sinse I moved to Australia .
    But your blog encourage me I just wanna say thank you

  4. space babe Says:

    Hi, just happened to come by your blog. I am new in the blog world, så almost everything is a wonder to me. I came across a pornographic blog and was quite upset, but felt naive afterwards for not anticipating such blogs to exist. Then I saw a lengthy blog in Portuguese or some other language like it, and I wondered how on earth people can find time to write so much!

    And now I am at your blog, I just wanted to share a myth about kimonos from my childhood in China: the grown-ups told us that the Japanese women kept the ashes of their ancestors in the knot at the back. I always thought that macabre. Is there any truth at all in it?

  5. Alison Says:

    I’ve always enjoyed your blog as well, personal and kimono!

    New York is in the midst of a Mikio Naruse film festival (first in 20 years) whose work is another place to get a glimpse of ordinary, post-war kimono.

    Of course one would be guilty of the worst kind of train-spotting just to go for the kimonos! PS Festival link below….
    http://www.filmforum.org/films/naruse.html#1028

  6. Anna Says:

    I’ve seen “Geisha House” (Flowing)! It’s great, the kimono are lovely — as well as the Western fashions, I have to say, a bit guiltily… :) If I recall correctly, there are a couple scenes where they put on/take off their kimono that are jaw-dropping for those of us who take forever to do it. With habit, they could put on a kimono (obi, accessories and all) in a few minutes!

    Space Babe, I have never heard that myth. Plus, as far as I know, the Japanese buried their dead, they didn’t incinerate them. And there isn’t really anywhere to keep ashes in an obi bow anyhow :)

  7. Alison Says:

    Hahaha….Yes, I know exactly what you mean….I found particularly galling the scene when Isuzu Yamada does her otaiko nearly one-handed, complete with a (somewhat showy) asymmetrical tilt. In fact, all their obis were as in your 1930s book, maybe a bit more exaggerated, with the corresponding tilt in the (already low) obijime too. So when did it fall out of fashion…?
    Back to Naruse for a moment, the kimono in When a Woman Ascends the Stairs (1960) worn by Ginza bar hostesses is by contrast a lot more conventional. But that probably has more to do with the characters’ desire to hang onto some shred of respectability…

    Funnily enough, I was just seriously considering a kitsuke class offered by a women who works at a local kimono shop in New York. As much as I agree with you on the certificate craze, I think there is some good to be gotten out of humbling oneself (erm, myself!) to take direction or criticism from someone on the “inside,” even if our aesthetic sensibilities diverge (Kimono Ojosan vs Kimono Hime?). Builds character and all that. Well, at any rate (or, more to the point, at her rates!) it would keep my kimono budget in check! :p

  8. Anna Says:

    It seems to have fallen out of fashion in the 80s, from what I gather from my books - I have a 1970s book where the taiko still has a tilt in it, and obijime as well. That said, one newer Japanese kitsuke book I have has tilted obijime in it, so I think it’s coming back.

    Oh, I would jump at the chance to take a kitsuke course too! The only things I “disagree” with are the ideas that you have to get a certificate and dress just like a school says. Unfortunately there are no kitsuke schools in my area, and the only Japanese woman who wears kimono down here comes from Paris and doesn’t give lessons :( So I’m stuck learning from books!

  9. False Positives Says:

    Japanese Kimono designer Mamechiyo vists Toronto via Magic Pony…

    Celebrated throughout Japan for her textile design and kimono styling, Mamechiyo has only recently gained recognition in North America. ‘Mamechiyo : the Art of Kimono’ will be Mamechiyo’s first solo exhibit in North America and her…

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