Kimono: Modern Art for Modern Life

The following item was originally published on 7 September 2012 on Helen McCarthy: A Face Made for Radio and is republished here with the kind permission of the author.

Yuko Omori doesn’t want kimono to die out. The fashion stylist and TV costume designer has launched her own kimono line, Double Maison, to encourage young Japanese women to put their own spin on  their grandmothers’ traditional outfits, mixing and matching with other garments to create their own style. One of her major innovations, replacing the complex, hard-to-handle obi with a softer sash belt that can be tied without a struggle, will surely add to kimono’s appeal for those rushing to get dressed in a small apartment without anyone to help.

Hiroko Takahashi: “Sitting” (2010)

Artist/designer Hiroko Takahashi takes a different approach. Her HIROCOLEDGE garments bridge the gap between modern couture and traditional kimono, using clean, contemporary design and involving the customer in the creative process. Tailor-made garments are never cheap, but a visit to Takahashi’s Taito-ku studio to be measured for a summer yukata and discuss how it will fit one’s own lifestyle is a collaborative art project in itself.

Of course, there are cheaper options for kimono and yukata – buying off-the-shelf, buying used or even making one’s own. The way kimono are cut and the simple, classic techniques used in their construction mean that a patient beginner can do a creditable job. The straight seams make hand sewing easier, while anyone with a sewing machine can run up a yukata in an afternoon.

Non-Japanese can easily incorporate elements of these modern looks into their personal style. It’s not just for women, either: men look great in kimono, and summer yukata are a simple way to try the style if the full Japanese Monty seems too daunting. It’s easy to mix the loose coats and trousers of samue – traditional Japanese workwear - with jeans and shirts.

If you want to experience the traditional kimono, there are numerous opportunities to do so in Japan. Some tourist attractions, especially around major historic cities, offer the opportunity to don kimono and have your picture taken. Once a month you can even do this at Narita Airport, as a final cultural experience before you leave Japan.

— Helen McCarthy