Japonism in Fashion

At the turn of the 20th century, the freedom of movement and simple form of the kimono had a profound impact on fashion.

Fan (Late 19th century)The Kyoto Costume Institute

Craze for Japan

International Expositions held throughout Europe and America introduced the kimono, which quickly won the admiration of artists and women. By the 1890s, Japanese motifs were often seen in textiles. At the turn of the century, when fashion broke away from its restrictive past, the freedom of movement and simple form of the kimono had a profound impact on fashion.

Dress (1870s) by unknownThe Kyoto Costume Institute


In the late 19th century kimonos and textiles from Japan captured of the interest of many people in Western countries. Women in America and Europe made dresses from Japanese kimono fabrics and sometimes unstitched kimonos to make new dresses. They also wore kimonos as indoor wear. They especially favored kimonos for women in the highly ranked warrior families at the end of the Edo Period, like the source material for this dress.

At-Home Gown (c. 1906) by unknownThe Kyoto Costume Institute

This is a kimono-style indoor garment exported from Japan to Western countries. It was appropriated to Western markets with its extravagant design of embroidered cherry trees and a peacock, gussets patched on the sides, body flaring gently down to the hem, and a curved collar.

At-Home Gown (c. 1875) by unknownThe Kyoto Costume Institute

After a long period of national isolation, Japan opened up to the rest of the world, and the promotion of trade became a major preoccupation. Following the opening of the Port of Yokohama in 1859, silk became a major export, but it was more desirable to export silk products, which had greater added value. The Yokohama silk merchant Shobey Shiino was dispatched to the International Exhibition in Vienna in 1873 together with other Japanese delegates. His market research resulted in the production of quilted at-home gowns made of habutae silk (a fine Japanese silk).

Buttons (c. 1900)The Kyoto Costume Institute

In 1867 the Satsuma domain, along with the Japanese government and the Saga domain, took part in the Paris Exposition. The Satsuma domain had displayed interest in foreign countries at an earlier stage, and around 1860 began to make Satsuma-style ceramic buttons for export. Many Satsuma buttons of flower shape, hexagonal or large-sized were distributed in America and Europe from the late 19th century to the beginning of the 20th century.

Day Dress (c. 1890) by Jacques DoucetThe Kyoto Costume Institute

Day dress in yoryu (silk crêpe de Chine) broadloom fabric made in Japan. The lightweight material with typical Japanese motifs has been made into a dress in line with the fashions of the time. This fascinating garment demonstrates the interest that Doucet, the luxury Paris clothing house, had in Japanese influence.

Evening Dress (c. 1894) by Charles-Frederick WorthThe Kyoto Costume Institute


The bold sunray and cloud pattern on the skirt is asymmetrical, a common feature of Japanese art and craft. During the late 19th Century, the age of Japonism, Japanese kimono and pattern books of kimono design (Hinagata) were brought into the West. The Japanese motifs and asymmetrical compositions in these examples of Japanese designs were gradually absorbed into Paris Haute Couture as new designs, as is evident in this example.

Visite (c. 1890)The Kyoto Costume Institute

Japanese motifs of cherry blossoms and kabuto (samurai helmets) are arranged vertically. These motifs were hand-worked in elaborate cord embroidery onto separate silk cloths, which was then applied to the cashmere. The sideways-oriented kabuto that acts as a counterpart to the cherry blossoms is laid out symmetrically in a European fashion.

Dinner Dress (c. 1892) by Charles-Frederick WorthThe Kyoto Costume Institute

In the middle of the 19th century, chrysanthemums brought from Japan to Europe were popular in the background of Japonism movement, and European countries created Chrysanthemum Associations. In 1887, Pierre Loti published his Madame Chrysanthème, and the image of the chrysanthemum as a symbol of Japan was established.

Kimono Coat (1910s) by Mariano FortunyThe Kyoto Costume Institute

The textile for this coat has the almost same design as that of Japanese cut silk velvet for kimono sashes. This Japanese textile was described by the journal Le Japon artistique (vol. 2, 1888) and later by Étoffes Japonaises (1910) (At present, the original sash textile is housed in Les arts decoratifs, Paris.) For this coat, the pattern is produced by stencil printing.

Evening Dress (c. 1919) by Gustave BeerThe Kyoto Costume Institute

Through the brilliant surface ornaments and straight silhouette of this dress, people could have foreseen the coming 1920s. The scale pattern or seigaiha (blue ocean waves) pattern seen on this dress was used repeatedly in the 1920s as a popular motif of the Art Deco school, whose proponents favored geometric figures.

Evening Dress (c.1924) by unknownThe Kyoto Costume Institute

The textile is woven with metallic thread of pattern like that of overlapping mountains, reminiscent of makie (lacquer) designs. Liberty & Co. was established in 1875 (first called East India House) by Arthur Lasenby Liberty. It sold silk fabric from Japan and China in addition to arts and crafts, and gained a particular reputation for its textiles. Liberty & Co. textiles were used by well-known Paris designers.

Coat (c. 1910) by Jean-Philippe WorthThe Kyoto Costume Institute

Form and Structure

This is an interesting example in which a pulled-back collar, a kimono-style overlap, and loose drapes for the lower part of the back resembling the appearance of a kimono are effectively expressed by Western-style three-dimensional cutting. Later, from around 1907, there was a trend for fashion inspired by Japanese style, including details of the kimono.

Evening Coat (1909 winter) by Jeanne PaquinThe Kyoto Costume Institute

In 1907, Paquin created a manteaux japonais that incorporated kimono stitching techniques. Many designs in her creations at that time had an oriental (Japanese or Chinese) image. This evening coat has a traditional Western pattern, but the influence of kimono design can be seen in its form, particularly in the fullness of the sleeves and hem.

Coat (c. 1909) by Paul PoiretThe Kyoto Costume Institute

Paul Poiret called loose-fitting silhouette coats like this example "kimono coats." The pieces constructing the coat were cut straight. Poiret introduced such coats at the same time as one-piece dresses with a new silhouette having the support point at the shoulders instead of the waist.

Evening Coat (1912 Summer) by Jeanne PaquinThe Kyoto Costume Institute

A shawl-style coat cut from a single piece of fabric. From 1910 to around 1913, many fashion houses created coats in a generous swing back style, a design feature of which was an exposed neck, as though influenced by the nukiemon look of Japanese kimono.

Coat "Mandarin" (c. 1923) by Paul PoiretThe Kyoto Costume Institute

Like a picture, this wool coat is decorated with Beauvais embroidery all over. Fine chain stitch was used to create motifs of bamboo fences with chrysanthemums, cocks, pine trees, water patterns, clouds and waterfalls. Paul Poiret named this coat "Mandarin," which originally meant a high-ranking official of Qing dynasty China.

Evening Dress (Summer 1928) by Jeanne LanvinThe Kyoto Costume Institute

A large bow at the back of the belt produces an effect similar to that of a Japanese kimono belt, and red, black, and gold coloring is reminiscent of Japanese lacquerware. In the 1920s, European interest in exotic countries extended to include Russia, Egypt, South America, China, and Japan, and the couturière Lanvin embraced Japanese coloring and motifs in its creations.

Evening Dress "Henriette" (c. 1923) by Madeleine VionnetThe Kyoto Costume Institute

The front and back panels are patchworks, constructed from silver and golden patches in a checkered pattern, and their similar design and texture are reminiscent of Japanese lacquerware such as makie. Madeleine Vionnet was interested in Japanese kimono and fine arts, and in the early 1920s she created many works that seemed to be inspired by them.

Day Dress (c. 1925) by Madeleine VionnetThe Kyoto Costume Institute

From an early stage, Vionnet aimed to liberate bodies, and inspired by the straight form of Japanese kimonos, she started to create dresses focusing on kimonos' structures in the late 1910s. Eventually she established a new structural concept for clothing that reinterpreted and highlighted the beauty of the female body.

Dress (Autumn/Winter 1966) by Hanae MoriThe Kyoto Costume Institute

Japanese designers

One-piece dress using chirimen, a traditional Japanese silk crêpe, with big oni-shibo wrinkles. Hanae Mori was one of the pioneers who first took Japanese fashion to the international market. Preparing for a 1965 show in New York, she asked herself where Japanese tradition lay, and eventually concluded that it lay in the kimono fabric.

Sweater [Left] Sweater [Right] (1971 [Left] 1971 [Right]) by Kenzo Takada [Left] Kenzo Takada [Right]The Kyoto Costume Institute

Kenzo Takada, who went to France in 1964, achieved rapid growth as a designer for prêt-à-porter clothing, and in 1970, he started his own brand. A dress by Takada made with simple ordinary kimono fabric was chosen as the cover of Elle magazine, and he became an overnight sensation in the fashion world. Takada's designs had a simple and relaxed style, combined with the esoteric image of Japan, which matched the spirit of the times that followed May 1968.

Dress "Tattoo" (Autumn/Winter 1971) by Issey MiyakeThe Kyoto Costume Institute

After studying Haute Couture in Paris, Issey Miyake returned to Japan and tried to make clothing for the people in the world, not for a small number of wealthy people, through the new fashion system "prêt-a-porter." The crossover of rock and tattoos, or the youth culture and the traditional culture for common people, evidently reflected his belief and the spirit of the times.

Coat "Tanzen" (Autumn/Winter 1977) by Issey MiyakeThe Kyoto Costume Institute

In the Paris Collections in which he has participated since 1973, Miyake highlighted traditional Japanese materials, which were almost forgotten even in Japan at that time. Miyake tried to revitalize them materializing as a daily wear with functional beauty. Miyake's unique approach, creating clothing based on the technology of Japanese textile industry, was highly appreciated in Japan as well as in Western countries, and it considerably influenced Japanese designers of the next generation.

Sweater, Skirt (Autumn/Winter 1983) by Rei KawakuboThe Kyoto Costume Institute

At the beginning of the 1980s, Rei Kawakubo received a mixed response in Paris to designs that challenged existing aesthetic values in the Western countries due to their achromaticity, loose fit, asymmetry and deliberately-created holes and tears. Nevertheless, she has maintained a consistent attitude of defying stereotypes in dress designing ever since.

Jacket, Dress, Pants (Spring/Summer 1983) by Yohji YamamotoThe Kyoto Costume Institute

This is one example of Yamamoto's dresses with holes that immediately drew the attention of the Western media when they were showed in Paris in 1982. Yamamoto said, "If one has only one piece of clothing in life, it becomes patched together, exposed to sun and rain, frayed from the course of daily life. I wanted to create clothing with the same kind of unconscious beauty and natural appeal."

Dress [Left] Dress [Right] (Spring/Summer 1997 [Left] Spring/Summer 1997 [Right]) by Issey Miyake [Left] Issey Miyake [Right]The Kyoto Costume Institute

In 1993, Issey Miyake developed a series of his works with pleats into more wearable dresses named "Pleats Please." They became internationally popular. These dresses are free sized, and when taken off, the fabric returns to its two-dimensional form. They are light, wrinkle-resistant, and reasonably priced. These are the very dresses that busy modern women dreamed of.

Dress (Spring/Summer 1997) by Rei KawakuboThe Kyoto Costume Institute

This dress is made of double-layered stretch material with an internal pad. It is part of the "Body-Meets Dress, Dress Meets Body" collection, through which the designer intended to unify body lines with the dress. Kawakubo tried to eliminate the stagnant relationship between the human body and the clothes that limited each other's development; that is, the human body restricted the clothes, while the clothes restricted the body. Her efforts resulted in Kawakubo creating designs with a fresh beauty, as seen in this one-piece dress, that had an impact throughout the world.

Dress (Spring/Summer 1998) by Yohji YamamotoThe Kyoto Costume Institute

An elegant long dress with a beautiful décolletage, relies not on darts or cuts. Instead on a method of twisting and wrapping the fabric as it follows the contours of the body, Yohji Yamaoto sculpted the shape of a female figure. It is a typical example of his work, showcasing his extraordinary skills in dressmaking.

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