Posted : 2 May 2024

 Europe’s first major exhibition on kimono opens to the public on Saturday 4 May at V&A Dundee.
Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk presents the kimono as an iconic garment and a dynamic, ever-evolving icon of fashion, tracing the influence of the kimono from 17th century Japan to present-day cutting-edge couture and street fashion across the world.
In the exhibition, rare 17th and 18th century kimono are displayed alongside modern designs from Issey Miyake, Yohji Yamamoto, and Alexander McQueen. The kimono’s recent reinvention on the streets of Japan is also explored through work by a new wave of contemporary designers and stylists.
Arguably the ultimate symbol of Japan, the kimono is revered within the country as the embodiment of national culture and internationally regarded with fascination. This symbolic status, and the fact that its basic form has remained consistent over the centuries, means that that the kimono is often viewed as a simple, timeless garment. Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk counters that conception, revealing how the kimono has always been a dynamic item of fashionable dress that has been restyled consistently throughout its history, influencing modern fashion and popular culture, from evening wear and festival fashion, to rock stars and Star Wars.
Highlights of the exhibition include a kimono created by Living National Treasure Kunihiko Moriguchi, contemporary designs from L’Wren Scott’s 2014 collection, and a kimono owned by Queen lead singer Freddie Mercury worn whilst at home. Designs by Yves Saint Laurent, Rei Kawakubo and John Galliano reveal the kimono’s role as a constant source of inspiration for fashion designers. Paintings, prints, film, dress accessories and other objects feature throughout the exhibition, providing additional context to the fascinating story of the style, appeal and influence of the kimono.
Overall, almost 300 works are featured, including kimono especially made for the show, with three-quarters drawn from the V&A’s collections and the rest generously lent by museums and private collections in Britain, Europe, America and Japan.

This is the final opportunity to see these rare works together on the last stop of the Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk international tour running at V&A Dundee from 4 May until 5 January 2025.

The exhibition is split into three parts, beginning in the mid-17th century when a vibrant fashion culture emerged in Japan. The increasingly wealthy merchant classes demanded the latest styles to express their affluence, confidence and taste, while leading actors and famous courtesans were the trend-setters of the day. The simple structure of the kimono focused attention on the surface, allowing for the creation of sumptuous patterns using sophisticated techniques.


The first section of the exhibition, ‘Kimono In Japan’, explores these designs and shines a light on a fashion-conscious society not dissimilar to today’s, in which desire for the latest look was fed by a cult of celebrity and encouraged by makers, sellers and publishers. Kimono were first exported to Europe in the mid-17th century, where they had an immediate impact on clothing styles. Foreign fabrics were also brought to Japan and incorporated into kimono. Rare survivors from this early period of cultural exchange, including garments made in Japan for the Dutch and kimono tailored from French brocade and Indian chintz, are on display to reveal the fluid fashion relationship between East and West that resulted from the global trade network.
‘Kimono In The World’ reflects the worldwide craze for Japanese art and design in the late 19th century. Kimono bought from department stores such as Liberty & Co. in London were worn by those wishing to express their artistic flair. Japan responded by making boldly embroidered ‘kimono for foreigners’, while the domestic market was transformed by the use of European textile technology and chemical dyes. The kimono’s biggest impact on western fashion came in the early 20th century, when designers such as Paul Poiret, Mariano Fortuny and Madeleine Vionnet abandoned tightly-corseted styles in favour of loose layers of fabric that draped the body. This was part of a broader fascination with East Asia which can be discerned in jewellery and dress accessories of the period.
‘Kimono Transformed’ shows how the kimono has continued to inspire fashion designers around the world. The potential of the garment to be translated and transformed is seen in designs by Thom Browne, Duro Olowu and Yohji Yamamoto. The kimono’s timeless, universal quality has also made it the ideal costume for film and performance. The display includes the outfit worn by actor Toshirō Mifune in Sanjūrō, the film that George Lucas acknowledges as the inspiration for the costumes worn in Star Wars and Oscar-winning costumes from Memoirs of a Geisha. Japan is also witnessing a resurgence of interest in kimono. Jōtarō Saitō designs kimono couture for the catwalk, Hiroko Takahashi seeks to bridge the divide between art and fashion, and more casual styles are created by small, independent studios such as Rumi Rock and Modern Antenna.
Anna Jackson, curator of Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk, said, “Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk explores the aesthetic, social and sartorial importance of the kimono. This iconic garment is generally viewed as a timeless and traditional costume. We counter that conception by showing that kimono have always been highly dynamic garments, at the heart of a fashion culture that has thrived in Japan since the 1660s. The exhibition reveals how kimono fashion has been translated across cultural and geographic boundaries and has had a major impact on global dress styles for nearly 400 years.”
Kirsty Hassard, V&A Dundee curator, said, “A lot of the clothes we wear today are indirectly inspired by kimono in the way that it changed the silhouettes designers were crafting, particularly in the 20th century. We hope visitors will enjoy gaining insight into the importance the kimono has had on global fashion, and the unique experience of seeing the Kimono exhibition within the Japanese-Scottish inspired architecture of V&A Dundee on the final stop of its international tour.”
Leonie Bell, Director of V&A Dundee, said, “V&A Dundee by the banks of the Tay is a Scottish-Japanese building and it sets the stage perfectly for Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk. Architect Kengo Kuma took inspiration for the V&A Dundee building from the rocky cliffs of eastern Scotland’s coastline, the maritime heritage of Dundee, and places of worship in ancient Japan. “Opening Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk at V&A Dundee celebrates kimono’s enduring place in fashion design history and contemporary culture, whilst also offering us an opportunity to acknowledge and celebrate Scottish-Japanese cultural bonds, spanning hundreds of years and influencing art, design, fashion and architecture to engineering, food, gardens, film, animation, music and more.”
V&A Dundee have a range of activities inspired by the exhibition running throughout the year, including a free Educators Preview on 16 May; Kimono Unwrapped: Curators Talk on 7 June, and 30 days of free family workshops inspired by Japanese pop culture and play with comics, origami, toys and videogames running daily during the school holidays from 6 July to 4 August.
A Japanese-inspired Afternoon Tea will also launch on Saturday 4 May to complement the exhibition. Tatha Bar & Kitchen at V&A Dundee have paired the traditional afternoon tea offer with Japanese inspired flavours, including miso caramel and white chocolate tart, matcha and vanilla cake, and a selection of savoury treats delights including miso soup and crispy fried kataifi prawns.
Pre-loved kimono jackets are available from the Shop at V&A Dundee,  alongside new collaborations with Scottish designers, Hayley Scanlan and Claire McVinnie. Claire McVinnie has created an exclusive collection of laser cut wooden fan brooches using chiyogami silk screen traditional washi paper, and fashion designer Hayley Scanlan has re-made her best-selling shoulder bag using a Japanese inspired fabric. The official Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk book by Anna Jackson and Josephine Rout, featuring over 250 illustrations, is also available from the V&A Dundee shop.
Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk – V&A Dundee Shop (
Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk open from Saturday 4 May 2024 until 5 January 2025 at V&A Dundee.
Tickets £7 to £15. £2 discount when booking online. Members, and 18s and under, go free.