The Cutting Edge Kimono Exhibition

— by Angela Kennedy

Kimonos at the V&A

Now some museums and galleries are open again, it’s time to tentatively venture forth on public transport. Masked-up and hand-washed within an inch of sanity. Anxiety dilutes desire, but hopefully by the time the V&A’s glorious, Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk exhibition re-opens at the end of the month, I will do it for the sake of art. Earlier this year, the Kimonos exhibition opened to great acclaim then closed two weeks later. Those were the days, when shuffling along with the crowd was the norm and we didn’t even know what social distancing was.

The  Japanese kimono is a garment with a significant social history. Meaning, ‘the thing to wear‘, the kimono was originally the couture of its day in the Edo period. Universal, one size fits all, the kimono has been reinvented and reappropriated through the decades and tracing its origin and cultural significance makes this an even more compelling reason to visit the V&A. With over 100 kimonos to admire, the exhibition tells all. From the way cut and construction emphasise the Japanese ethos for simple but well-executed design, to the decorative details that signified class and hierarchy in social circles. The rare ancient kimonos, lovingly crafted are my favourites. Imagining the women who wore them and ancient traditions they represented is central to appreciating the research behind the exhibition’s epic reach.

From Kyoto to catwalk


Equally creative are interpretations curated from modern day designers in the final show-stopping room. The kimono-shape beautifully re-worked and re-imagined by the likes of Issey Miyake, John Galliano and Alexander McQueen; one of my highlights was seeing the kimono-dress (designed by McQueen) worn by Bjork on her seminal 1997 album Homogenic. And who knew Freddie Mercury slipped into a simple kimono after belting out  I Want To Break Free in a sequin catsuit, on stage every night. This wonderful exhibition proves that the kimono is a dynamic, constantly evolving icon of fashion. And the ultimate androgynous piece of clothing is even more appropriate with today’s gender-fluid fashion movement.


Bjork’s Alexander McQueen dress and album cover by Nick Knight


If afterwards, like me, you suddenly become enamoured by all things Japanese and listening to Madam Butterfly for the umpteenth time is not enough, this intriguing book, “Stranger in the Shogun’s City“ (Amy Stanley/Chatto & Windus) is all about a woman’s life in 19th century Japan. I’m off to delve further into life in Tokyo…



The V&A will open some main galleries this week (from 6 August 2020), initially from Thursday to Sunday and the Kimono exhibition will re-open on 27th August, with pre-timed tickets booked in advance to allow for ample social distancing to be maintained. Safety measures will be in place, sanitisers in action and face coverings are to be worn and ‘Yoi shirase’ (thankfully) the shops and cafes will be open.

There are a series of short informative tours HERE, with Anna Jackson, the curator, providing info behind the whole project and it’s a wonderful opportunity to visit if you can’t yet make it to the V&A.


More kimono inspiration here:


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Now some museums and galleries are open again, it’s time to tentatively venture forth on public transport. Masked-up and hand-washed within an inch of sanity.