East meets West in bold, colorful kimonos in LACMA show

Technology trumps tradition in a new exhibit of 20th century kimonos at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

The garments date from the 1920s through 1960, with emphasis on the years just before and after World War II. During that time, modern manufacturing techniques and waves of influence from the West resulted in the creation of extraordinarily graphic and colorful kimonos that sometimes reflected current events such as the launch of Sputnik and the exploration of Antarctica.


"They were worn by young professional women, although upper-class women also wore them because they were the fashion of the day — especially in Tokyo," says Sharon Takeda, senior curator and head of LACMA's costume and textiles department. "They were faster and up to the minute, not like the haute couture kimonos where you're picking a design by a well-known artist that is then hand-dyed and hand-crafted."

These mass-produced kimonos reveal how once insular Japan absorbed Western culture while at the same time merging it with traditional motifs and clothing.

Candy-colored zigzags, bold, black curlicues on lemon-yellow fabric, giant polka dots, psychedelic blue pinwheels with turquoise centers, and geometric hemp-leaf patterns are just a few of the dazzling designs on display.

Takeda put together the collection in the last four years and arranged the kimonos in groups of three according to design, not chronology. Her favorite is circa 1950 and features an abstract design marked by jagged red, white and black waves interspersed with erratic swaths of red and white plaid.

"It's a great example of how a bit of tradition and a bit of new technology create a dynamic look that can't really be placed in time," she says.

The kimonos are part of the museum's permanent collection and will be on display in the Pavilion for Japanese Art through Oct. 19.

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