And Now For Some Japonisme Inspiration…

As noted in a recent post, the transmission of cultural influences in fashion are often a two-way street. Recently, we came across this striking example of a day dress, circa 1876, influenced by Japonisme. Starting with the opening of Japan to the West in the 1860s, Western fashion and specifically, female fashion, saw the use of imported Japanese textiles as well as incorporating various Japanese-inspired decorative motifs in domestic-produced textiles of which Liberty of London was one of the leading producers. However, at the same time, Japan was also adapting to Western fashion although it was on a more limited scale. Here are a few views of the dress:

Day Dress c. 1876

Day Dress, American, made by Martha J. De La Mater, c. 1876; The Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, NY (N0129.1966)

Day Dress c. 1876

Close-Up Of Bodice

This basic fashion fabric is made from a brown/copper silk combined with a silk brocade patterned with chrysanthemums- a fairly common Japanese motif. The trim is minimal except for metallic gold beading running along the front waist and edges of the overskirt. In terms of style, the pseudo-waist sash and knotted front overskirt combined with the pleated front bodice are suggestive of a kimono. At the same time, mandarin collar gives the front bodice a clean, crisp finish that doesn’t distract from the rest of the dress- no excess lace, netting or trim.

Here are a few more views:

Day Dress c. 1876

Side Profile – Close-Up

Day Dress c. 1876

Side Profile – Full View

Day Dress c. 1876

Three-Quarters Frontal View

Day Dress c. 1876

The Maker’s Label – Martha J. De La Mater

This dress was made by a Martha De La Mater who was one of several dressmakers working in Albany and she’s is listed in the 1889 edition of the Albany City Directory. Also, the dress was made for a one Lucy Clark. The world of Japonisme never fails to interest us and it’s been a fertile field for design inspiration with us and hopefully it will be for you.  🙂



Setting The Mood With Color

We wrote this post a few years ago but we believe that it still holds true. Color has always held a fascination for us and it’s a key element in the design process. And just for interest, here’s the Pantone Color of the Year for 2020: 🙂

 


One of the key elements in fashion design is color and late 19th Century fashion design is no exception. The design process may vary between individual designers but no matter who they are, they all have to consider what colors they’re going to use in their designs. The selection of colors is dependent on the season (though not always) and as such, tend to follow nature. Today, heavy weight is given to predicting what colors will be popular with fashion consumers because this influences the color and types of fabrics that design houses will order for their new lines; a multi-million dollar industry has been created around predicting what colors will be in for the following year with Pantone being the leading firm because of it setting color standards for a variety of industries.. The following color palettes from Pantone give a good illustration of this:

First we have the palette for Fall 2017:

PANTONE Fashion Color Report Fall 2017, New York

Most of the colors are deep, darker earth tones with a neutral gray mixed in reflecting shorter, darker days, leaves turning and the dying off of plant life in anticipation of winter. Nest, here’s the palette for Spring 2018:

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Just for comparison, here’s the Spring 2020 Color palette (in some ways, it seems to be a close re-rum of the 2018 palette):

In the above palette for 2018 and 2020, the colors tend to be lighter, reflecting the increasingly longer days, more sunny weather, and new growth of plants and foliage.

However, before we go on, let us note that color trend prediction is a somewhat subjective and as such, it doesn’t always follow strict rules and as such, it’s more of an approximation today than it was during the 19th Century. Here are two examples from the late 19th Century:

As with other designers, consideration of color makes up a good part of the design process and it’s one of the first steps in the design process. For us, colors fall under three major categories: Fall, Winter, and Spring/Summer. At the same time, we also consider what sort of a garment we’re designing: ball gown, day dress, reception dress, etc. Also, we consider where it’s primarily going to be worn: outside, indoors, indoors at night (e.g., ball room, stage, etc.). Once those questions are answered, we can then proceed with more specific color selections. If the garment is to be worn during the daytime and outside, we tend to first use nature as the first starting point for inspiration.

To illustrate this, let’s consider our Camille picnic dress design. When we originally conceived of it, we were looking for a day dress that could be worn at an outdoor event in the Spring or Summer such as a picnic. The Mid-Bustle Era has always been a favorite with us, so we decided that the style would derive from that period. From there, we determined our color palette, drawing inspiration from the Impressionist painters and Claude Monet in particular. But even more specifically, we wanted to emphasize the Spring with its fresh vegetation and explosion of lighter green colors combined with occasional pops of red or violet and towards that end, Monet’s garden at Giverny was the perfect source of inspiration. After some online photo research, here’s what we came up with:

Karin Camille Mood Board Spring 2016

Ultimately, the decision was made to go with a bright chartreuse as the primary color based on the greenery found at Giverny that’s portrayed with in Monet’s paintings as well as actual photographs such as this one:

Giverny Monet

Giverny Today

Below are a few more illustrations of the final Camille picnic dress just to give an idea of how the color was ultimately brought to life:

Karin Camille Picnic Dress

Karin Camille Picnic Dress Impressionist

Karin Camille Picnic Dress

From a color theory standpoint, the colors that we ultimately used for the Camille picnic dress were: chartreuse (both pale and bright), pale champagne gold (on the lower sleeves), and yellow-orange (the fringed trim running on the skirt front):

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Finally, if viewed on the color wheel, you will notice that they are all analogous colors that are located next to each on the wheel:

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We hope you’ve enjoyed that this post has helped give you some insight into just one of the many elements that go into making a Lily Absinthe design.



Looking At The Meiji Era

Today we travel to Japan to talk about the impact of Western fashion during the 1880s and 90s. As it’s been often said, fashion influences are a two-way street and while Japonisme developed in Western Europe in response to contact with Japan, the converse occurred in Japan. We hope you enjoy this little introduction.


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Toyohara Chikanobu (豊原周延) (1838–1912), better known to his contemporaries as Yōshū Chikanobu (楊洲周延), Women and girls in Western dress with various hairstyles.

The the mid to late 19th Century, or more properly the Meiji Era (1868 – 1912, saw the rapid modernization of Japan as it strove to position itself as a nation of stature equal to the West. As part of this modernization process, the adoption of many elements of Western culture was seen as desirable and not only when it came to building and maintaining military and economic strength. The consequences of not modernizing were starkly apparent, they only had to look to their unfortunate neighbor China which was rapidly being subjugated by European imperialism, either directly through the outright seizure to territory or indirectly through economic domination and all enshrined in various unequal treaties.

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Toyohara Chikanobu (豊原周延) (1838–1912), better known to his contemporaries as Yōshū Chikanobu (楊洲周延), The Emperor Meiji, 1887.

In their quest to strengthen themselves vis-a-vis the West, the Japanese adopted many Western cultural elements to include dress, viewing the adoption of Western dress as a way of being taken seriously by Westerners.  In much the same way individuals in the West (.e., America and Western Europe) chose their clothes with an eye towards maintaining respectability, the Japanese as a nation sought to emulate the West by adopting its fashions. g themselves to world at their best, so did that Japanese when it came to interacting with the West. However, at the same time, the Japanese also impressed their own design aesthetic on Western clothing and making it their own.

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Yoshū Chikanobu – The Emperor, the young Crown Prince and the Empress are accompanied by court ladies on an outing to Asuka Park (1890)

Starting mainly with military uniforms, the Western was gradually adopted by ordinary Japanese, spurred along by the Emperor and the Imperial family’s example. The adoption of Western dress was formalized in 1871 when the Emperor Meiji issued an edict directing that all his officials and men at court were to wear Western dress:

The national polity is indomitable, but manners and customs should be adaptable. We greatly regret that the uniform of our court has been established following the Chinese custom, and it has become exceedingly effeminate in style and character. We should no longer appear before the people in these effeminate styles, and we have therefore decided to reform dress regulations entirely.[1]

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Emperor Meiji (1852 – 1912)

A similar edict for women was issued by the Empress Haruko on January 17, 1887:

Now we can no longer restrict ourselves to bowing from a kneeling position, but will have to observe the Naniwa style of bowing while standing.  Moreover, if we look at contemporary Western women’s wear, we find that it combines a top or jacket and a skirt in the manner of our ancient Japanese system of dress.  This is not only suitable for the formal standing bow but also convenient for action and movement and makes it only natural to adopt the Western method of sewing.[2]

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Empress Haruko (1849 – 1914)

Also, edits were issued directing that Western dress (principally prescribed uniforms) was to be worn when conducting official business.

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Family Portrait

For many Japanese of lesser rank, the adoption of Western dress was at first somewhat superficial in that it would be worn outside the home during “business hours” but at home they would change into traditional clothing. Also, it should be noted that Western dress was not  always the most practical, especially when it came to removing one’s shoes when entering a house or maneuvering around the house in a bustle dress. Finally, the adoption of Western dress was largely restricted to larger urban areas; it would take longer for more isolated rural regions.

Below are some illustrations of Japanese women wearing Western dress:

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The above illustration also includes hairstyles.

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The Imperial Family

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Close-Up

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Adachi Ginkō, illustration of Ladies Sewing, 1887. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Along with the adoption of Western fashions were the methods of creating those fashions as can be seen from the above illustration. Below are a few examples in photographs:

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Unfortunately, we were unable to date the above photograph but the style would suggest the 1890s, either early or late judging from the sleeves.

Japan Meiji Era

Nagako Nabeshima (1855-1941)

Japan Meiji Era

Nagako Nabeshima (1855-1941)

Japan Meiji Era

Nagako Nabeshima (1855-1941)

Nagako Nabeshima was married to the Marquis Naohiro Nabeshima, a nobleman who was connected with the Imperial family and had spent a lot of time in the West serving in various official positions. Below is a photograph of Akiko Maeda, Marquise and first wife of the Toshitsugu Maeda, another high-ranking noble:[3]

Japan Meiji Era

Akiko Maeda (1870 – 1949), c. 1887

Japan Meiji Era

Akiko Maeda, c. 1887, back side of picture.

Akiko’s day dress is firmly in the late 1880s in regard to style and would not be out of place in any major City in either America or Europe. From the picture, it appears that the outer skirt and bodice are silk accompanied with  cut velvet underskirt. The same cut velvet is on the front of the bodice.

Just for contrast, here’s something more in the “street style” category:

Street Style1

This picture is interesting in the somewhat awkward pose as well as the incongruous cigar that’s clearly been added in later (early Photoshop 🙂 ). The sack suit and bowler hat are a bit too large while the dress appears to fit pretty well. Judging from the styles, it appears that this picture was probably taken sometime in the late 1890s.

So far we’ve seen various pictures, both illustrations and photographs, of Western fashion in Japan. What about actual extant examples? Well, here’s a formal day dress that belonged to Nagako Nabeshima:

Day Dress Japonisme c. 1880s

Day Dress/Reception Dress, c. 1880s, belonging to Marquise Nagako Nabeshima; Jingu Chokokan Museum

Japonisme Day Dress c. 1880s

Close-up of the train.

Unfortunately, the Jingu Chokokan Museum website did not have any pictures of the front of the dress but nevertheless, this dress is a spectacular example of cultural fusion in dress. One can see the traditional Japanese design motifs in the fabric and the trim. We wish there was more information available in English on this dress.

The impact of Western dress during the Meiji Era was somewhat superficial in that, outside of the Imperial Army and Navy, it was mostly adopted by the Imperial Court and those with some sort of connection with the government. In many Japanese, Western dress was worn for public occasions or when performing official duties; at home they switched to traditional dress. In later decades, one would see a resurgence of traditional dress and especially with the Kimono. This is admittedly just a brief overview of a somewhat complex history and in future posts we hope to explore this them of cultural interaction more closely. 🙂


1. Nakagawa, Keiichiro, and Henry Rosovsky. 1963. The Case of the Dying Kimono: The Influence of Changing Fashions on the Development of the Japanese Woolen Industry. Business History Review 37 (1 & 2):59-78.

2. Ibid.

3. Both Marquis Naohiro Nabeshima and Marquis Toshitsugu Maeda were former Daimyos, or feudal lords who had lost their hereditary land holdings with the consolidation of the Meiji regime. Essentially, these former feudal lords were co-opted into a Western-style nobility which had been created as part of Japan’s modernization. Naturally, many of these former feudal lords were put to work for the new Meiji regime.



Happy Birthday Charles Worth!

Happy Birthday Charles Worth! Born October 13, 1825, Charles Worth was a pioneer in the development of the fashion industry and laid the foundation for many key details of the fashion world that survive to this day. In commemoration of the day, albeit belated, here’s an interesting circa 1878 reception dress he created: 🙂

Worth, Reception Dress, c. 1878; FIDM Museum (2006.25.2AB)

This skirt and base bodice of this dress is constructed from a black silk velvet combined with sleeves of a dark gold covered in black lace with black beaded passmentarie. More black beaded passmentarie covers the front skirt and bodice front. Below is a close-up of the front bodice:

And here’s a view of the rear upper shoulders and neck:

And here’s a rear profile view:

In terms of the age of the dress, it would appear that the skirt is fuller than what would be expected for a natural form/Mid-Bustle Era dress silhouette. Also, the bodice  hem appears to be riding high on the hip, something that was done to optimize the drawing of the train to the rear through use of a bustle. Of course, it could also be a matter of staging, without viewing it in person it can often be hard to tell. Time-wise, we’re inclined to place this one more towards 1875-1876. Well, hopefully we’ll one day have an opportunity to view this dress in person but in the meantime, enjoy the pictures and once again, happy birthday Charles Worth!



More Memories Of Victoria…

Some more memories of our trip to British Columbia. 🙂 Buchart Gardens is, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful gardens we’ve ever visited and is highly recommended. The weather was just perfect and it was a cool, crisp Fall day. This is another place we’re planning on returning to.


In contrast to rainy Friday, Saturday dawned sunny and clear and we were going to take full advantage of it. First up, we headed out of Victoria to Butchart Gardens, located towards the northern end of the Saanich Peninsula. Leaving early to avoid the crowds, we arrived after a pleasant 45-minute drive. It was cool and crisp and you could see the mist coming off of the buildings and trees.

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Butchart Gardens has an interesting history in that it was built on the site of a limestone quarry that had played out, leaving a very large pit. Afterwards, the wife of the quarry-owner, a one Jennie Butchart, decided to create a massive garden on the quarry site and this is the result, some 110 years later. Below are a number of pictures that we took on our stroll around the gardens. We didn’t photograph everything, but rather those views that we found particularly striking, especially from an aesthetic perspective.

First up, Toss Fountain:

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The mist was incredible…

And then the sunken garden:

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And to think that once upon a time, this was a quarry pit… 🙂 Here’s one of our most favorite views, kind of reminiscent of Giverny…

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The views were amazing in the sunken garden and with the Ross Fountain but we liked the Japanese Garden best:

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The fall colors of the various plants and trees were simply amazing and it was more art than mere vegetation. Finally, here’s the Italian Garden:

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We ended our visit with a cup of tea at their tea room and we were soon off to our next stop.