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Fashionable Kimono Designs

Kimono 2
Woman’s Unlined Kimono (hitoe)
Japan, 1920s–30s (late Taishō–early Shōwa period)
Machine-spun silk plain weave with stencil-printed warp threads (meisen)
The Montgomery Collection, Lugano, Switzerland

Women’s fashionable kimono of the early to mid-twentieth century are typically decorated with large, bold designs in bright colors (using new aniline dyes imported from Europe) on a machine-spun, plain weave silk fabric. While some of these kimono designs are variations of traditional motifs—such as arrow feathers, water streams, flowers, birds, and Chinese arabesques—others reflect current styles of art in the West.

When Art Nouveau became fashionable in the 1890s, it quickly spread to major urban centers in Europe and North America; this new, 'modern' style incorporated diverse sources and artistic traditions, including the Japanese use of natural forms and strong, undulating lines. This artistic fusion and mutual influence are apparent in the kimono in the exhibition, which feature dramatic lines, powerful energy, and elegant floral forms combined with scrolling arabesques.
 


Kimono 3
Woman’s Kimono
Japan, 1912–26 (Taishō period)
Machine-spun silk plain weave with stencil-printed warp threads (meisen)
The Montgomery Collection, Lugano, Switzerland

In the 1920s and 1930s, when Art Deco style grew to epitomize the glamour, luxury, and hedonism of the Jazz Age, Japanese designers embraced its simplified and flattened pictorial space, and the relationship between pattern and background became central. Designers found in Art Deco a modern style partly inspired by the East, which, although novel and innovative, was essentially conservative. The Art Deco style took root in Japan because it was able to mediate between these two seemingly conflicting elements in twentieth-century culture, and this is seen clearly in kimono design. Dressing in Art Deco kimono allowed Japanese women to retain elements of tradition while embracing bolder colors and designs that reflected a more modern spirit. Other styles of visual art, including Constructivism, Cubism, and even Abstract Expressionism, also found a place in early to mid-twentieth-century kimono design.
 

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