The Textile Museum is located in a cute old building just northwest of Dupont Circle. A converted house, it is an intimate space with small rooms yet several floors. We walked in just after the lecture had started to see a beautiful wedding kimono draped on a stand in front of a large window, which illuminated the room. A small, animated woman is talking about the construction of the kimono. The woman is Ann Marie Moeller, a textile scholar and independent curator with a deep knowledge of Japanese textiles. After explaining in detail about the construction of kimono, the use of different colors and dyes, and how the kimono is worn (including the importance having of a pattern and color contrast with the obi), we move on to the exhibition space.
This lunchtime seminar focused on how the three influential Japanese designers highlighted in this collection were inspired by traditional elements of Japanese fashion. Issey Miyake, Yohji Yamamo, and Rei Kawakubo (Comme des Garcons) all borrow heavily from traditional elements, yet also create clothing that is sculptural and unique. We are first led into a room with Nuno fabrics hanging in wide swaths on the walls (Gallery Photo).
The Nuno corporation specializes in unique fabrics that useunorthodox materials. Unlike traditional metallic colored threads used in kimono, which we learned from Moeller are often mulberry paper coated with metallic alloy, the Nuno corporation uses materials such as stainless steel thread woven into the fabric and aluminum alloy splattered onto the material to form a coating. Moeller passes around a swatch of fabric from a wedding kimono with intricate cloud and tree designs. From the front it is stunning and the back reveals the intricacies of the the work that went into the creating the pattern.
From there we move onto the designers. The first of the three designers that we were introduced to is Yohji Yamamoto, whose clothing I must admit is my favorite of the three designers (Gallery Photos). As Moeller continues, she cites examples of how Yamamoto draws on elements from kimono into his clothing, such as incorporating she highlighted the fact that the clothing in the entire exhibit are from Mary Baskett’s closet; these are things that she began collecting in the 70s before these designers were known outside of Japan and they are part of her regular wardrobe. The clothing selected for this display had to be pieces that showed little wear, and in fact you can barely tell that they have been worn, which is amazing considering the age of some of the pieces. Yamamoto draws from the kimono draping techniques and visible seams. Moeller also explains Yamamoto’s philosophy that clothes are meant to be worn and the process of wearing out clothing and showing their wear is something that is a meaningful element. Moeller holds up a traditional over kimono, called haori, and shows the outside first, which is rather plain. Turning the kimono inside out, we see that the lining has two interesting elements. First, the lining is more intricate than the outside in the pattern on the smooth silk lining. Also, there is some trace of metallic thread, which had been purposefully tarnished and abrasive to leave only traces of the metallic color left. The Yamamoto pieces include a piece that can be worn as either pants or a skirt, and a long skirt that flares out almost Victorian style (Gallery Photo). Yamamoto also plays with the idea of asymmetry, which is another thing seen in Japanese traditional clothing, the asymmetrical wrap of the kimono being one of the best examples.
As we move into the next room, we are struck by how different the clothing of Issey Miyake is compared to Yohji Yamamoto. In fact, all three of the featured designers are excellent and all are influenced by traditional Japanese clothing, but all are strikingly different. Issey Miyake uses shibori, traditional Japanese tie-dying, and features pleating and garments with shapes that can be (and should be) altered depending on the wearer; this adds an element of DIY and customization to these outfits (Gallery Photos). Miyake also invented a way to pleat the fabric after the construction of the garment, instead of the typical way of pleating the garment first. Shibori really goes beyond what we (Americans) think of when we think tie-dye. The process of knotting the fabric, wrapping it with fibers, and coating it with dye repellent substances means that the resulting patterns of shibori are amazingly unique and detailed. Moeller passes around the heko obi (soft obi) traditionally worn by children and made of a soft material and dyed using shibori. From the heko obi, some of which were quite detailed, we can easily see the relation to Miyake’s pleating and dying.
As we turn to the next room, I wish for an opportunity to study Miyake’s clothing for longer, but as the seminar is a lunch seminar most of us need to rush back to our jobs immediately after the session. Rei Kawakubo, well known for her label Comme Des Garsons (she stays behind the scenes), has yet another completely different line (Gallery Photo). Her clothing shows some of the draping elements from kimono, as well as unusual openings and cutouts in the fabric, such as one dress with an entirely open back. The clothing from each of her seasons are strikingly different, but all are unusual and beautiful. One skirt takes the Japanese idea that sometimes the most beautiful elements of a piece of clothing are hidden; the underneath of the skirt has a vibrate pattern, while the outside is rather plain. We catch glimpses of the hidden pattern in the flowing nature of the skirt. Moeller points out this feature in traditional Japanese clothing by bringing us back to the wedding kimono and picture of a couple in traditional wedding garb that she showed us at the beginning of the tour. In that picture, the woman is wearing an intricate and beautiful wedding kimono with an elaborate obi. The man, however, is wearing what looks to be a plain, black kimono with hakama (flowing pants to be worn over kimono). Moeller unfolds the men’s wedding kimono and shows us the the elaborate pattern traditionally hidden under the hakama. Moeller then shows us the lining of several kimono which are even more elaborate than the outer patterns. She explains that this tradition of elaborate linings originated from laws which forbade anyone not of a high class to wear certain types of fabric, colors, and patterns. As the merchant class grew, they wanted to use their wealth to wear the same sort of things as the upper classes, but they needed to hide it due to the law.
All in all, we left that gallery with a sense that we caught a glimpse into a world we knew little about, but will forever remember. I will certainly be revisiting the gallery for a self guided tour where I can spend time with each piece individually.
LUNCHTIME GALLERY TALK
Contemporary Japanese Fashion: The Mary Baskett Collection
Join Japanese textile scholar Ann Marie Moeller for a noontime tour of the exhibition Contemporary Japanese Fashion:The Mary Baskett Collection. She will bring vintage kimono, including ornate undergarments and examples of intricate Japanese tie-dying (shibori), to explain how traditional aesthetics underpin some of the inventive perspectives Issey Miyake, Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo have brought to Western fashion. Free; no reservations required.
More events at the Textile Museum can be found here: http://www.textilemuseum.org/calendar/calendar.htm