A Little Thing to Wear That Speaks Volumes ‘Kimono: A Modern History’ at the Met Tells Rich Stories Through Fabric By KAREN ROSENBERGDEC. 25, 2014 From The New York Times

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When clothing appears at the Metropolitan Museum, it’s typically a big to-do involving the Costume Institute, haute couture and numerous theatrical set pieces. (See, for instance, the current exhibition of Victorian mourning attire.) But “Kimono: A Modern History,” quietly folded into the museum’s Arts of Japan Galleries, is a different kind of fashion show.

It’s as stunning as anything the Costume Institute has to offer, with case after case of richly embroidered, dyed and printed robes. Its point of view, however, is more scholarly than sartorial. Really it’s a history of modern Japan, told through a garment with a simple T-shaped cut and a name that translates, simply, as “thing to wear.”

Despite its ceremonial, traditional reputation, the kimono belongs (and has always belonged) to a wider material culture that runs high to low and includes hanging scrolls, prints, books, magazines and decorative objects. Kimonos have even served as home décor, as seen in a pair of six-panel folding screens from the late 16th century that show pictures of robes draped over stands to form a makeshift room divider.

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Folding screens from the late 16th century. CreditHiroko Masuike/The New York Times

Edo period kimono pattern books, displayed alongside contemporaneous woodblock prints of kimono-wearing actors and glamour girls, link kimonos to the theater and to a flourishing publishing industry. Men’s kimonos from the 1930s and ’40s, printed with airplanes and battleships, meanwhile, do double duty as war propaganda.

Throughout, the show revels in the versatility of the kimono — a garment worn by men and women, commoners and elite samurai, Westerners and the Japanese alike. Although the curators include some incredibly luxurious examples, like the sky-blue silk satin robe embroidered with gold shells that may have been part of a wealthy young woman’s trousseau, they also make room for coats worn by farmers and firefighters (which, to a contemporary eye, are just as fabulous with their patchworks of recycled fabric and printed figures from Japanese folklore).

Although the most sumptuous textiles in the exhibition date from the Edo period (1615-1868), the section on the subsequent Meiji period (1868-1912) is even more stimulating. It unfolds as a lively back-and-forth between Japanese kimono designers and their Western counterparts, made possible by the opening of Japan’s ports to international trade. Prints by the artist Utagawa Kuniyoshi set the scene, showing a mix of Western-style dresses and kimonos in of Yokohama, a port city.

A coral silk velvet evening coat by Jean-Charles Worth, a great-grandson of the Paris-based English designer Charles Frederick Worth, attests to the kimono’s appeal for fashionable Western women (especially those who had tired of the corset). Corsets and bustles, meanwhile, found their way into the wardrobes of high-ranking Japanese women.

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Prints depicting a period when corsets were au courant (just as kimonos were becoming popular in the West): top, “Nobility in the Evening Cool” (1887), and “Concert of European Music” (1889), bottom.CreditHiroko Masuike/The New York Times

Materials and techniques were exchanged along with designs; wool traveled east and silk west, and a new, hybrid method of stencil dyeing, called kata-yuzen, evolved, enabling such gorgeous creations as a silk gauze kimono bordered by a summery scene of carp and waterlilies.

Synthetic Western dyes are responsible for the deep purples and other brilliant colors of kimonos of the Taisho period (1912-1926). And some early Showa period robes, from the 1920s and ’30s, borrow liberally from the stylized, swirling patterns of the Art Nouveau and Art Deco movements.

Other Showa kimonos flaunt aggressively modern, representational motifs: Leicas and Rolleiflex cameras, in a men’s under-kimono from 1955, or Mickey Mouse, in a midcentury child’s kimono. These mass-produced items, sold in department stores and suitable for everyday wear, stand in vivid contrast to the show’s older, handmade kimonos (which, by midcentury, had become sought-after collector’s items).

Inspired by and dedicated to the independent textile historian and scholar Terry Satsuki Milhaupt, who wrote the detailed and insightful book that is the show’s catalog, “Kimono” was organized by the Met’s curator of Japanese art, John T. Carpenter, and the curatorial fellow Monika Bincsik.

It concludes with kimono-inspired fashions from the 1950s through the early 1990s, by designers such as Bonnie Cashin, Yohji Yamamoto and Issey Miyake, displayed alongside traditional kimonos made by Japanese artists who have been designated Living National Treasures. The show might have benefited from some more current examples; Mr. Miyake’s persimmon-colored shirt with long, spiraling sleeves, from 1991, is the most recent piece on view.

Fortunately, Ms. Milhaupt’s book (edited, after her death, by her widower, Curtis J. Milhaupt) offers an up-to-the-minute account of kimonos in contemporary culture, with nods to gatherings of kimono devotees in Ginza and Kyoto and kimono-promoting pop stars like Puffy AmiYumi. It also quotes some sage advice on kimono styling from Mr. Yamamoto, who reminds us not to get too fussy: “It’s only a kimono (meaning ‘material for wearing’).”

The history of silk – http://www.fromental.co.uk/craftsmanship/the-history-of-silk/

According to Chinese legend, Empress His Ling Shi was first person to discover silk as weavable fibre in the 27th century BC. Whilst sipping tea under a mulberry tree, a cocoon fell into her cup and began to unravel. The empress became so enamoured with the shimmering threads she discovered their source, the Bombyx mori silkworm found in the white mulberry. The empress soon developed sericulture, the cultivation of silkworms, and invented the reel and loom. This is the earliest surviving reference to silk history and for nearly 3 millennia, the Chinese retained a global monopoly on silk production.

Initially first reserved for Chinese royalty, silk spread gradually through the Chinese culture both geographically and socially. From there, silken garments began to reach regions throughout Asia. Silk rapidly became a popular luxury fabric in the many areas accessible to Chinese merchants, because of its texture and lustre. 

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During the later half of the first millennium BC, demand for this exotic fabric eventually created the lucrative trade route now known as the Silk Road, taking silk westward and bringing gold, silver and wools to the East. Named after its most valuable commodity, silk was considered even more precious than gold. The Chinese realized the value of this beautiful material they were producing and kept its secret safe from the rest of the world for more than 30 centuries.

By CE200, sericulture had spread to Korea via Chinese immigrants, emerging in India, Japan and Persia around CE300 and reaching Europe around CE550 via the Byzantine Empire. In the 7th century, the Arabs conquered Persia, capturing their magnificent silks in the process. Sericulture and silk weaving thus spread through Africa, Sicily, and Spain as the Arabs swept through these lands. Andalusia was Europe’s main silk-producing center in the 10th century.
By the 13th century however, Italy had gained dominance and entered the hall of fame in silk history. By the 17th Century, France was challenging Italy’s leadership, and the silk looms established in the Lyons area at that time are still famous today for the unique beauty of their weaving.
In Medieval Europe, silk was used only by the nobility.

The nineteenth century and industrialization saw the downfall of the European silk industry. Cheaper Japanese silk, especially driven by the opening of the Suez Canal, was one of the many factors driving the trend as was the advent of manmade fibre, such as nylon which replaced traditionally silk products such as stockings and parachutes.

Japan became the world’s biggest producer of raw silk until China recaptured her position in the 1970’s. Today, around 125,000 metric tons of silk is produced in the world. Almost two thirds of that production takes place in China.

Producing high quality silk (sericulture) is a lengthy, complex process that demands constant close attention and the Chinese have perfected this over the centuries. China is committed to continually elevate its quality by investing in the latest manufacturing machinery.

Original text from: http://www.fromental.co.uk/craftsmanship/the-history-of-silk/

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A Fine Balance ©

A blog about work, life and the pursuit of balance.

Shapes of Space

The shape of space to come

Sufi Events

"We carry inside us the wonders we seek outside us." - Rumi

RoamingArtist's Blog

Artandtravel.com weblog

Pakistan Travel & Culture

Pakistan Travel & Tourism, culture, history and news articles.

History and Chronicles

INDIAN HISTORY

All About Asia

The Asian Diaries

Drawn&made

Hello, this is the creative blog of Mark & Heather, we're freelance designers.

ARThound

Geneva Anderson digs into art

ASHA: Blast From The Past

The Blog of Aligarh Society of History and Archaeology [ASHA]

hmmlorientalia

Some remarks—often with photos!—about manuscripts and the languages, literature, scholarship, and history of Christian culture in the Middle East.

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