October 2016 Meeting Recap: Kimono & Modernity

By Lisa Matsumoto, Public Relations & Communications Intern

Our second meeting of the year took place on October 13 where we explored the culture of the kimono with Dr. Sheila Cliffe, kimono specialist and professor at Jumonji University, and Chizuko Takahashi and Tomoko Yoshida of Kimono Tango, a small women-run company that recycles kimono obi fabric to create new beautiful creations.

Dr. Sheila Cliffe has always loved fashion, but it was a chance visit to flea market looking for Japanese pottery during which she purchased a kimono that helped her find her calling. It may have turned out to be an undergarment instead of a kimono, but it’s beauty only increased Dr. Cliffe’s fascination and led her to become “the kimono expert” and author of The Social Life of Kimono. She noticed the “small signals” that something new was going on in the world of kimonos and decided that she needed to investigate further. Dr. Cliffe revisited “fashion and tradition through the kimono” for her PhD with her five-point definition of fashion: new is more important than old, form is more important than function, it is self expression and it is an economic system. Fashion is a distribution of information and kimonos are not an exception.

Kimono Tango was started in 2012 when Chizuko Takahashi started selling her products to her friend Tomoko Yoshida who would in turn sell them to her friends. It started out small with setting up booths at bazaars at ASIJ or the Tokyo American Club until the tote bag Ms. Takahashi designed became a walking advertisement for their endeavors. They’ve now expanded with their Etsy store, workshops, and a ryokan in Izu and the Mitsukoshi department store displaying and selling their products. The Japanese have always recycled and reused and although the reuse of kimono obis has some controversy, many Japanese see the reused obis and reminisce about the special occasions that are associated with kimonos. A company of women by women for (mostly) women, Kimono Tango breathes second life into used obis and brings the beauty and memories of a kimono with it.

From the wartime propaganda kimonos to the recycled obi purses, the audience was in constant awe at the beauty of these garments. Both Dr. Cliffe and Ms. Takahashi showed us what kimonos are capable of, not just as clothing. Guest Mai Yamamura said how the topic was very interesting as although she was Japanese, she had never really given kimonos much thought and would like to bring more friends to the meeting next time.

We hope to see more of Dr. Sheila Cliffe and Chizuko Takahashi’s work with kimonos and that more people will become aware of the beauty, history and culture behind them. As Dr. Cliffe stressed, “kimono is not tradition, it’s fashion.”


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