Ken's Tip - Japanese Kimono history

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Do you really know the history of this Japanese garment?

Ken Okada, a Japanese designer based in Paris, offers you to learn more about the kimono and its history.

The History of the Japanese Kimono

In the Western world the word "kimono" refers to a traditional Japanese loose jacket. But do you really know the history of this Japanese garment? Ken Okada, a Japanese designer based in Paris, offers you to learn more about the kimono and its history.

The origin of the kimono

The kimono is an ancestral Japanese garment.

It is found as early as the 7th century as an undergarment, pants, or skirt under the name "kosode,"小袖 in Japanese, which literally means "thing worn". It was a T-shaped piece of silk that was worn close to the body, under other layers of clothing.

At that time clothing was used to distinguish social castes and marital status, as it met specific codes and thus differed in terms of fabric and color. For example, the black kimono with patterns below the waist is worn by the mothers of the bride and groom on the wedding day, and celibacy is symbolized by short sleeves, lengthened after the wedding.

In fact, the price of a kimono is very high and only the aristocracy can afford to invest in refined pieces to show their wealth.

During this period, Japan was under Chinese influence, which was also reflected in the clothing. It is necessary to wait for the Heian period, between the 8th and the 10th century, for the Japanese clothes to move away from the Chinese style and to give way to an aesthetic sense, to a refinement and a harmony of the ornaments. It is from there that the kimono gets closer and closer to the one we know. It is more and more detailed and decorated with ornaments. At this time the kosode therefore refers to the kimono with narrow sleeves, while the osode refers to the kimono with long sleeves.

It is distinguished for men and women and is solid in color.

During this period the wearing of kimono outside will develop more and more in Japan.

The term kimono does not appear until the 13th century.

From the Edo period onwards (15th century), the sleeves of the kimono were longer, and the obi became the most common shape among the styles. That is to say a loose form which is closed thanks to a belt without buckle or clasp. The knotting of the obi is an art.

Since then, the basic kimono has evolved little, for both women and men.

Over the centuries, it was adopted by geishas, ladies-in-waiting of wealthy men, and by actors of epic theater (kabuki).

Highly worn during the 19th century, the kimono then fell out of favor during the Meiji era, as the opening up of trade to foreign nations upset Japanese fashion in favor of Western clothing, which was deemed very chic and more modern.

This garment is considered a luxury item, made from noble material. For some kimonos, they are almost works of art. Today, the tradition of the kimono is still firmly rooted in Japanese culture and is worn on special occasions.

The arrival of the kimono in the West

While as Japan opened up to trade with other countries in the world, the country's fashion and clothing styles were largely inspired by the West to appear more modern, there was also an effect in the other direction. Europe imported fabrics and products from Japan, including the kimono, which then became very popular! This wave of enthusiasm for all products (clothing, fabrics, trinkets, etc) from Japan that swept Europe and the United States throughout the second half of the 19th century is called Japonism.

Japan then began to develop clothing specifically designed for export, according to European tastes. Europe was so in demand for these pieces that they also placed orders with India for versions made from different materials, such as cotton.

Western women, especially Parisian women, have fallen in love with these beautiful and exotic garments, which are ideal to wear while relaxing at home. They are also worn by elegant dandies as loungewear, perfect for entertaining friends in a relaxed atmosphere. Famous followers include the great Sarah Bernhardt, immortalized in a lascivious pose by Rochegrosse, or the famous portrait of Claude Monet's wife.

Designers in Paris and London then began to use the kimono fabric for their own designs. The Japanese-inspired designs were eventually used for silk fabrics by textile manufacturers in Lyon, marking their debut on the Paris fashion scene.

Japanese designers used straight stitching that shows a clear debt to the kimono culture, wrapping the body loosely rather than closely following its natural curvature. The kimono occupies inexplicable spaces in the notion of Western clothing, and in an age when fashion is moving toward a freer definition of form and appearance, this different sense of space has given Japanese designers an edge. Their designs helped to break down the historical and symbolic significance of Western clothing, providing a more ambiguous definition of femininity by dismantling the idea that women's clothing should emphasize flowing, curved lines.

In the end, the Japanese influence dismantled the rigid Western notion that had dominated up to that point and helped steer fashion in new directions.

The modernization of the kimono

The kimono is once again becoming a staple of the Western dressing room with variations in fabrics, colors, patterns and shapes, and has been since the Roaring Twenties thanks to its loose shape and apparent simplicity.

This is indeed not just a folkloric garment of the Japanese culture that Europeans admire. Today it has an influence on fashion, the major luxury houses and fashion magazines are inspired by it and create multiple models of kimonos for women, or draw on their collections patterns such as those that can be found on traditional kimonos.

At the end of the 19th century, great couturiers created unique kimonos to dress influential personalities : Jean-Paul Gaultier imagined a kimono revisited for Madonna, Rei Kawakubo signed a kimono for the brand Comme des Garçons, Paul Poiret for Dior ... And we know, seeing a star wearing a garment, or seeing it at the parade of a great designer, it unquestionably signs his entry into the world of fashion before being adopted into the mainstream clothing style.

This garment can also be found in the cinema, in Star Wars or in Memory of a Geisha for example, two cult films of European culture. The kimono has thus reached the borders of pop culture, marking once again its ticket into the clothing culture, facilitating its adoption by the entire Western population.

The kimono has experienced a revival in the hands of generations X and Z, in reactions to Western fast fashion and the advent of thrift stores.

Thus, the Japanese kimono can come in the form of a short or long jacket.

The fabric of the kimono can be flowing as well as with more hold and a straight cut.

Variations in the kimono also show up in the way the kimono is closed.

In fact, traditionally the Japanese kimono is worn with a belt as a closure but increasingly the French are wearing them open, without a closure like a cardigan.

So the opportunities to wear a kimono are becoming more and more numerous:

The kimono in a sensual jacket for a date,

The kimono in winter as a coat,

The sheer kimono as a bed check or beach wear...

In short, the kimono occupies a very favorable position because it has developed in the quite original context. A potential source of inspiration for designers at a time when the demand for greater diversity in clothing is constantly increasing.

Today, fashion is shared worldwide. This familiarity produces a sense of convenience in our daily lives, but is also a source of monotony. Items that are widely shared ultimately belong to no one, and in an age like ours, the kimono's position outside the cultural context of Western Europe is an advantage. The kimono, developed in the unique context of Japanese culture, therefore offers new ideas and inspiration to designers at a time when calls for greater diversity in what we wear are multiplying. This Japanese garment is certainly not a thing of the past, and it will continue to capture people's imaginations and stimulate and inspire designers for many years to come.

The Kimono by Ken Okada

French Paris-based Japanese designer Ken Okada modernizes the kimono.

Specializing in shirts, Ken Okada revisits the traditional Japanese kimono in the form of a shirt. Since his arrival in France in 2000, Ken Okada wishes to illuminate with his poetry and his delicacy the Parisian fashion which was waiting for him. His fashion, subtle balance between a very Parisian architecture of clothing and the fragility of a very Japanese lightness, like a cherry blossom, is made of paradoxes and oppositions. The brand Ken Okada, declines its contrasts in its often asymmetrical creations, or mix feminine and masculine, tradition and modernity, delicacy and power.

So, Ken Okada does not make Japanese fashion in Paris, she links the cultures, traditions and know-how of both countries to offer unique, original, timeless collections. The kimono is then a flagship piece, an inspiration that Ken Okada was not to pass by.

Strong in history and style, the kimono is a central piece of fashion today and tomorrow.

Thus, the designer offers colorful, oversized and unisex kimonos for a high-end Japanese androgynous look.

The advantages of this garment? Its structure makes it flattering for all body types, and its essence means that it is colorful, adorned with details, allowing the designer to express all her creativity in this iconic and trendy piece. Ken Okada kimonos are embellished with details that remind the shirt like buttonholes or collars.

The kimono is a timeless piece that has endured through the ages and has a rich history that fascinates both the designer and the customers.

Such as the HERME short Kimono jacket, the YOKO flowing kimono or the CHIAKI floral jacket.

Some shirts are also inspired by the oversize look of kimonos: kimono shirts.

Kimono Shirts

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