The traditionally modest and freedom-inhibiting kimono is getting a new lease on life at Japan Fashion Week, with an edge of defiance and seductiveness.
Historically a garment whose multiple layers and tight wrapping have been viewed by some as restricting a woman's mobility and keeping her subservient to men, Jotaro Saito’s kimono collection betrays expectations.
The style in his “Futurism” 2012-2013 autumn/winter collection remains graceful and true to form, but it is definitely not modest.
“Jotaro’s kimono treads the line between the traditional style and the frisson of the entertainment quarter,” said Tokiko Someya, 60, after the show. “That’s what makes his kimonos so attractive.”
A kimono-clad vocalist sang to pounding techno as models with spiked hair strutted down the runway at Wednesday's show, premiering Saito's chic and modern designs, a highlight of the twice-annual event featuring a range of designers that wraps up this weekend.
Models struck attitude-filled poses and flaunted the lines of their kimono, including an accentuated knot on their back.
The knot, which keeps the garment together, is usually squashed as flat as possible and hidden underneath the “obi,” a thick and ornately decorated belt. Saito’s obi highlights the knot, proudly pushing it out.
In the “furisode” category, the elegant long-sleeved kimono style traditionally worn by unmarried women, Saito steps away from the usual demure floral patterns, striking out with bright red flowers on a black and silver background.
Where his forebears used pastel shades to denote the changing of seasons, Saito ̶ who hails from a line of kimono-dying artists in the historical capital Kyoto ̶ overlays nature with luxuriant geometry: his straight lines and chequered patterns combine with the oversized floral displays.
Saito’s bold take is all the more curious in a country where the appearance and way a person wears their traditional-style kimono ̶ which Japanese have worn for hundreds of years ̶ is critically important.
The traditional garment was a staple for women and even men before the 20th century with many now wearing them just for special occasions.
But while he flouts the rules, Saito sticks closely to the ethos of the kimono, which refuses all but the briefest glimpse of a woman’s skin, revealing only a sliver of wrist or ankle and the neck; the sexuality lying in what cannot be seen, rather than what can.
Saito draws the eye with bright-colored lining, visible as the wearer’s arms swish, or as the hem flicks on the turn.
Kimono doyen Someya said the textiles Saito employs add to the sensuality of the garment.
“The material itself is different,” she said. “I like the texture and the quality, which allow the tails to settle beautifully when you walk.”
Chiharu Nozaki, 33, said it was the vaguely futuristic patterns that appealed to her.
“I like classic styles of kimono, too, but I would like to wear something a bit different for informal occasions,” said Nozaki, who wore an unconventional black leather kimono coat with a leopard pattern scarf.