Sunday, October 11, 2015

Visiting the Kyoto Costume Institute, Kyoto, Japan

Anyone who is seriously interested in Fashion History probably owns the book called Fashion. (ISBN3-8228-1206-4)  Within the book are photographs and details about costumes from the 18th to 20th centuries, as found in the Kyoto Costume Institute. Here is an image of the different covers you may find. Note: Sometimes the book is in two parts.

Various versions of the book Fashion by Taschen

While in Kyoto, I was fortunate to be able to visit the Kyoto Costume Institute and spend an hour looking at several pieces in the archives of the collection. The Institute’s corporate sponsor is WACOAL CORP., a clothing manufacturer who specialized in underclothing.

The Kyoto Costume Institute is not really a museum, although they do host exhibits at their location at times. More so, they are an Institute, whose role it is, to collect and document fashion costume from all parts of the world and through time. They work with various museums around the world (e.g. the Metropolitan, Seattle Art Museum), loaning, and coordinating exhibits. If you saw the Future Beauty: 30 Years of Japanese Fashion at the Seattle Art Museum (or other venue), then you were looking at many items from the Kyoto Institute.

Prior to my visit, I had communicated with one of a curator, Rie Nii, and discussed my interest to see unique fabrics in costume, used through history. As a result, the staff had selected about 10 garments for me to see.  Photographs were not allowed, and so, I will direct you to the visuals of some of the garments through online links. There are about 200 items in the online archive, and they are organized by silhouette. Enjoy the entire collection.

Online Digital Archives

Make sure you use the magnifying feature to see closeups of each garment!

The book, Fashion, is available in a few formats (single or double volume), and the covers vary. 
As I walk you through the various garments I saw, I will refer to the page number in the single volume Taschen book.

Page 17
Probably the most exciting item I was able to see was a bodice owned by Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603). This is the oldest piece in the collection, and sadly, it isn’t in the online digital archive, so hopefully you have the book.  The bodice was probably given to the Queen by the mother of Robert Devereux, in hopes of gaining a pardon for her son. The bodice did not serve its purpose, however and Devereux was beheaded. This piece is made of a plain-weave linen and then heavily embroidered with metal and silk threads using plant and floral motifs.

Page 69

Let’s look now at a dress know as a “robe à la française". This one dates to the late 18th century.
This dress is made of a silk brocade, woven in Lyon, France (the silk capital of France). It has a matching petticoat and stomacher, and is heavily embellished with passementerie (elaborate decorative trimmings).

Page 226

This garment called a visite was popular in the late 1800’s. It is essentially a cashmere shawl (whose popularity started with Napoleon’s Josephine) that has been sewn into a coat (as was the practice in the late 18th century). Zoom into this one, so that you can see the amazing imagery woven into the cloth. The fabric was woven in Lyon, France.

Pages 260-261
Next, we have a Charles Frederick Worth Dinner Dress, c. 1883.

Worth is considered to be the first couturier. This gown, is made of a deep red silk velvet. The pile of the velvet appears in stripe and leaves (make sure you zoom into the image to see this detail). A bustle would be worn under this gown, in order to give the silhouette you see.

Pages 342-343

If you like crochet, you will love this Italian dress made from Irish cotton. Crocheted motifs of flowers and dragonflies are everywhere throughout the gown. I can’t imagine how long it took to make this.

Pages 442-443

Now, let’s look at a cape by French fashion designer Paul Poiret, 1925. The textile design was by an artist Raoul Dufy. Poiret often collaborated with artists to bring art and fashion together. The cut of the cape itself is simple, basically a rectangle, but the design of the cloth (an orange lamé jacquard) with the print on top is what becomes the focal interest.

Page 482

Elsa Schiaparreli was an Italian designer, who incorporated elements of current art movements into her designs. This evening cape from 1938 is made of black velvet and is heavily embellished with gold thread embroider, sequins and beads. The image is of the Greek God Apollo.

I am very grateful to the curators who took the time out of their busy day to allow me to view first-hand garments I’ve discussed in my Fashion History lectures. Looking at them was such a fantastic experience.

The Kyoto Costume Institute
Kyoto, Japan

1 comment:

Melissa Bryden said...


I was directed to your blog by other costumers. I am visiting my son in Kyoto in March and I am hoping to see the Kyoto Costume Institute. I understand that they are not really a museum. I do not know if the Monday and Wednesday afternoon times on their website are open to anyone, or if I have to have a reservation. I am reaching out to those who have visited to find out what I might be able to see.
thank you so much for any information,