The collector: Haruko Watanabe, Tokyo, Japan.
The collection: Meisen kimonos.
The story behind the collection....
I used to visit the gallery near Ginza in Tokyo where my university friend was working after my rather monotonous 9 to 5 desk job in my early 20s. It was one of the galleries that first introduced modern art and pop art to Japan. It was a very refreshing and eye-opening experience for me. I used to love impressionist paintings and since then, modern and pop art paintings have become favorites, too. I am sure the experience had a lot of influence on my taste for art.
Can you tell us a little about Meisen kimonos and why you collect this particular type of kimono?
The meisen is a silk textile which has warp and weft kasuri (ikat) woven with highly developed techniques. Meisen kimonos were very popular as the everyday kimono for young woman between 1920s to 1950s as they were reasonable since they were woven of second grade silk comparing with more expensive formal kimonos which were woven of higher quality silk. The patterns were rather simple such as stripes and plumes in the early time, but as the weaving technique developed, the color became brighter and the pattern became more bold and sophisticated.
Kimono with 3D effect stripe pattern
My collection is mostly focused on meisen kimonos made in the later period, which have bold, geometric and eye-catching designs. It is said that these kinds of meisen kimonos were worn by the women who needed to look beautiful and stand out such as actresses, bar hostesses, women engaged in show business and so on. These meisen kimonos look still modern and beautiful today.
Kimono design influenced by cubism.
Are they by well known designers or were the designers mainly anonymous?
I think most of the designers are anonymous but we can see art prints of women wearing modern design kimonos by the artists such as Takehisa Yumeji (1884-1934), Fukiya Koji (1898-1979), Sugiura Hisui (1876-1965) and so on. It is said that art students who studied art in Europe brought back some of prints with modern designs to Japan.
How long have you been collecting them and how many do you have?
I have been collecting them for about 7 years and have more than 80 kimonos with modern design.
How is your collection is arranged or displayed. Have you ever exhibited them?
They would need a large space in order to be exhibited, so I keep them in containers. I have never exhibited them.
Art deco inspired kimono.
It is easy to see from your website how some of the designs are influenced by different art movements such as Cubism, Modernism and Art Deco as well as traditional Japanese designs. Could you tell us about any kimonos in your collection that you think are particularly unique or interesting.
This is difficult. Honestly, I like all of them but I do particularly like those with modern designs as well as the ones with Rinpa school designs like the wave pattern (below). I also like the art deco inspired black and white kimono (above) and the ones influenced by cubism. Another favourite is the 3D stripe effect kimono (above third from top), a type of pattern not previously seen in Japan.
Rinpa school wave pattern design
Haruko's website: Contemporary Design Kimono
Images © Haruko Watanabe and used with kind permission.