A New Cincinnati Art Museum Exhibit Showcases the Kimono’s Influence on Contemporary Fashion

The traveling exhibit, Kimono: Refashioning Contemporary Style, traces the garment’s impact on style through the decades.
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Photograph by Victoria Moorwood

This summer, the Cincinnati Art Museum is featuring a new exhibit that celebrates one very specific item’s impact on the rest of the world: the kimono. The glamorous new traveling exhibition, Kimono: Refashioning Contemporary Style, explores the enduring influence of the loosely fitting robe–like garment on Western style.

Photograph by Victoria Moorwood

Japanese art, fashion, ceramics, and textiles first captivated Westerners in the late 19th century, in a sweeping cultural trend called Japonism. The kimono began to appear in contemporary art and its influence became visible in new fashion designs, implementing silks, Japanese motifs, and, eventually—when it became fashionable in the West—the sleek silhouette. During World War I, American women moved from tight and shapely ensembles to a looser, more practical style of dress. The draping shape of the kimono and the versatile obi, or waist sash, epitomized the fashionable modern woman.

“I think it’s interesting how in this first section of surface motifs women weren’t ready—they weren’t going to walk out of the house in a kimono,” says Cynthia Amneus, the museum’s chief curator. “So they incorporated the motifs and the textile manufacturers designed them, but then as fashion progressed [and became] looser, they began to change the actual shape of the silhouette of the garment.”

Photograph by Victoria Moorwood

The exhibition, which is divided into four thematic sections, leads the viewer on a journey through fashion decades from the 1870s to today, with pieces by celebrated designers, such as Coco Chanel, Issey Miyake, Iris van Herpen, Christian Louboutin, and John Galliano. It features pieces from the Kyoto Costume Institute and CAM’s permanent collection for a total of more than 50 ensembles crafted by American, Japanese, and European fashion designers.

Photograph by Victoria Moorwood

“We’re the largest venue [it’s been at] so we’ve been able to add quite a few pieces into the exhibition,” Amneus adds. “Each venue has had its own slightly different iteration of the exhibition, which has been great.”

“We are always looking to showcase fashion at the Cincinnati Art Museum,” says Kaitlyn Sharo, CAM marketing and communications manager. “This is also a really great opportunity to showcase some of our permanent collection items next to some of these traveling designs.”

Initially conceived by Akiko Fukai, the chief curator and director of the Kyoto Costume Institute, the exhibition was organized in partnership with the Institute and has previously been unveiled at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco and the Newark Museum in New Jersey.

Kimono: Refashioning Contemporary Style will be on display June 28–Sept. 15 and will be free to attend on July 4. To learn more or to purchase tickets, visit the Cincinnati Art Museum’s website.

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