In a previous post, we discussed the rise of Japonisme in the West during the late 19th Century and especially in France and Great Britain. The opening of Japan to the West excited people’s curiosity and this was especially true of artists such as Monet, Tissot, and Whistler. Japonisme’s influence was also reflected in theater; Puccini’s Madame Butterfly (1904) and Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado (1885) are probably the most well-known of this genre.
One of the most basic cultural imports was the kimono and it was readily adapted for use, at least in a theatrical or “dress up” context:
It’s not clear just what exactly the context of the above picture is but it appears that it was some sort of amateur theatrical production. Japanese themes were also a “go-to” for ideas for wear at fancy dress balls:
Naturally Japonisme found its way into fashion and as mentioned on my prior post, it was reflected in use of traditional Japanese fabrics and especially kimono fabric. Below is on example from 1896 that reflects Jean-Philippe Worth’s interpretation of Japanese style elements:
This dress was worn by Mrs. Henry A. Tailer, at the marriage of her daughter, January 16, 1896. The skirt and bodice are made from a lavender silk brocade with a decorative pattern depicting a stylized “kousa” or Japanese flowering dogwood. The bodice had the appearance of a jacket and it is boned and fitted with curved tails on the rear. A faux shirtwaist is built into the bodice, forming a vestee. The skirt is flat in front and flows to the rear with a minimal bustle that is reminiscent of the later 1880s style. The most striking feature is the blending of the design motif across the seams and this is especially evident on the rear of the bodice. The design is also enhanced by the curves of the skirt and it displays the design to its fullest.
Worth commissioned his silk fabrics from various silk weavers located in Lyon and the above silk is no exception. The decorative motif of the above silk fabric depicts a stylized “kousa” or Japanese flowering dogwood which is distinguished by its petal-like pointed bracts, and bamboo canes.
However, as we move into the 20th Century, designers were not content to simply incorporate Japanese style elements into Western designs but rather, they adapted Japanese clothing designs themselves, mainly with the kimono. Below is one example of this from Callot Soers:
The above evening dress from Callot Soeurs has been adapted from a basic kimono style and it incorporates both Japanese and Chinese decorative elements (Chinoiserie was also big at this time).
Bellow is another example, this time from Paul Poiret, 1913:
The above evening dress incorporates both Japanese and Middle Eastern style elements in that it starts with his signature lampshade tunic with a kimono-like top combined with harem pants. This outfit has been called the “Sorbet Gown” on account of its lampshade tunic decorated with pearl embroidery in sherbet colors of pistachio, pink, and mauve.
The kimono style was especially reflected with evening coats or mantles. Here is one that was made by Worth in 1909:
This evening mantle is made of purple silk and is embroidered with flowers in shades of pink, blue, white and green. It has a dark blue velvet band on the front and at both wrists. The mantle is gathered at the front and at the back where a flower made of purple silk is applied.
By the end of the Teens, we can see Japonisme, along with other Oriental style elements such as Chinoiserie becoming taken up and became more completely integrated into Western fashion as a whole, a process that perhaps took some 50 or 60 years to achieve. In looking at the broad scope of fashion history, cross-cultural influences in fashion are an age-old concept. However, where it might have taken decades for a style to become integrated with the host culture’s fashions, the process was happening at an increasingly faster rate.
Compared to previous centuries, the process of cultural fusion rapidly accelerated during the 20th Century to the point where change is measured in days and weeks rather than months and years as had been the case earlier. Japonisme provides an interesting case study of this process of cultural fusion between East and West and it is a process that has yet to completely play out.