Kimono for a
"Kimono for a Modern Age” at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art is not the only recent exhibition to question what is modern about Japan’s venerable national costume, a garment that has remained relatively unchanged for centuries.Indeed, museum shows about kimono in the twentieth century have become something of a trend themselves since the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s “Fashioning Kimono: Art Deco and Modernism in Japan” in 2008. The Art Institute of Chicago mounted a modern kimono exhibition in 2011, followed by the Pacific Asia Museum in 2012. The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s “Kimono: A Modern History,” which overlaps with the LACMA show, features garments from the eighteenth century to the present. The book of the same name by the late Terry Satsuki Milhaupt, the inspiration for the exhibition, explains that kimono “chronicle cultural developments, reflect shifts in aesthetic tastes and denote social identities. As such, the kimono and its meaning have changed with the time—it is anything but ‘traditional.’ ”
The LACMA show presents more than thirty kimono from the 1920s through 1960, the period when kimono gradually fell out of everyday use; because Japanese men discarded the kimono sooner than women, it includes women’s garments alone. By mid-century, Western clothing had replaced the kimono for all but formal and ceremonial occasions. Indeed, part of the allure of the twentieth-century kimono is its ephemerality. A sartorial species quickly going extinct, the kimono learned to adapt in order to survive. These adaptations may have only delayed the inevitable, but they produced fascinating hybrids between East and West, tradition and modernity. Also, because they were mass-produced, the kimono of the early twentieth century could respond to trends and current events in a way that their handcrafted predecessors could not—an early form of fast fashion.
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