Last weekend I was finally able to go visit an exhibition in London. A month ago (or maybe a bit more) I managed to book tickets to the Victoria & Albert Museum, my favourite museum in London, to visit their exhibition Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk and for about 90 minutes… I felt I was in Japan.
I visited Japan back in January, for about 3 weeks. To date, it was one of the best trips of my life, and both of us kind of want to go back at some point.
Well, on Saturday, we did. If I had to describe that exhibition in one word, it would be ‘phenomenal’. The exhibition was impressive in terms of information, scenography and design, and quality of the pieces.
I would have thought that visiting an exhibition in times of a pandemic would be different to normal times, but honestly not so much. The only difference was having to wear a mask. The V&A, along with all the museums in the UK (and the world to be honest) made their best efforts to control the crowd and ensure the space wouldn’t be too full – it is a VERY difficult thing to do, because the one thing you can’t control is whether people stall or not (and spoiler: they do – which is annoying, because it means that often you have to skip a piece to try and not be part of the congestion).
The V&A is notorious for presenting major high-quality fashion exhibitions (has anyone seen Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams more than me?), and Kimono was certainly no exception.
I absolutely love to see how objects, things, are made, and I did get that at the exhibition, through a very ingenious animation of how the strips of fabric are assembled to make a kimono. My photos are not very good but that was definitely one of my highlights.
The exhibition was incredibly informative and touched on every aspect of kimonos: what they are, how they’re made, when they are worn, who they are worn by, etc. There was an incredible amount of information on the history of Japan, the different styles for each period, and any question you may have on kimonos.
It starts you off nicely: kimono means, in Japanese, the thing you wear – so does not designate something specific (I love the Japanese language), something I never knew but will definitely stick with me.
Quality of the objects
Exhibiting nice pieces is one of the ways to get an amazing exhibition – and Kimono definitely delivered. I took so many pictures of all the different kinds of kimonos on display – every time I found a favourite, I changed it a second later. Prepare to be amazed by the richness of fabrics, patterns, and colours of the garments – I never wanted to wear one so badly.
But of course it wasn’t only kimonos there – the V&A explained how these were worn and also put on display items that were related to them. I have an announcement: since Saturday, I have a newfound passion for combs. Yes, you read that right – seeing vanity objects such as combs and mirrors, so magnificent, I just wished I could have them with me.
It was also incredible to look at a few paintings where the subjects were Europeans but wore kimonos – something I hadn’t seen before for sure. It’s always interesting to see how even 300+ years ago, some people were so interested in clothing from other cultures that they were wearing them too.
Design of the exhibition
One thing I ALWAYS look at when visiting an exhibition is how it is presented – the scenography, design, colour palette, how objects are exhibited, everything. The Victoria & Albert Museum has not to date disappointed me – and certainly not this time.
The exhibition space is made to appear like a house in Japan, with shoji (doors or room dividers typical of Japanese architecture, with thin paper sheets) dividing the rooms. I particularly enjoyed that, as they allowed the rooms to be separated and the visitor to breathe and feel like they are visiting a Japanese home.
How each section was introduced also caught my attention: the text was displayed on scroll-like panels, again using a Japanese aspect, simple and elegant.
The V&A dedicated the last part of the exhibition to haute couture showcase pieces – I recognised the space that had been used to display Dior’s paper patterns for instance, which displayed kimonos in different colours in a cylinder-shaped room.
The last pieces allowed to see the Japanese inspiration for all haute couture designers and see how to make such a traditional garment a modern piece to wear in an elegant and timeless manner. An absolute delight for the eyes.
The finishing touch
As you can tell, I thoroughly enjoyed that exhibition and if I could, I would go another time. Sadly it is sold out – but I am delighted to see the success it currently knows.
If you’ve missed it, the V&A has of course published an article, Inside the Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk Exhibition, and also several videos on their YouTube channel, with a total of 5 Curator Tours, bringing a digital version of the exhibition to everyone who wishes to see it.
I of course spent a long time in the shop and as usual got some postcards and the exhibition’s book, also available online. I love mementos and every time I go to an exhibition, I get at least one postcard (ok, 5). I have a massive box (or is it 2?) containing every single postcard I ever got from a museum – because I never send them. I’d rather keep them as souvenirs.