The Kyoto Costume Institute

Kyoto Costume Institute

Although we have never visited the Kyoto Costume Institute in Kyoto, Japan, a friend of mine took the opportunity to do so while on a recent visit to  Japan. From the website, it’s hard to tell just what’s there to visit but my friend was in an adventuresome mood and it’s located relatively close to  his relations so he decided to take a chance- at worse, there would be no showroom or museum space and that would be that. However, as things worked out, it was an incredible experience sitting in an anonymous and non-descript setting….

First, if you’re expecting some sort of “curb appeal,” the answer was no…it could have been an office almost anywhere in Japan… 🙂

Upon entering, the receptionist and the security guard were a bit quizzical what a foreigner was doing there but after explaining that he wanted to view the collection, he was directed to the 5th Floor of the building where they have a small showroom:

Kyoto Costume Institute

Kyoto Costume Institute

From what they told my friend, apparently they stage a number of exhibits per year mostly in conjunction with another museum and that they even have a number of international travelling exhibits. The exhibition going on during my friend’s visit was 18th Century themed and he got got a few pictures for us:

Kyoto Costume InstituteKyoto Costume InstituteKyoto Costume InstituteKyoto Costume InstituteKyoto Costume InstituteKyoto Costume InstituteKyoto Costume InstituteKyoto Costume Institute

Although it’s difficult to make out, my friend told me that the condition of all the garments and accessories were either in pristine condition or close to it. My friend also noted that he was given a personal tour by one of the assistant curators and he was impressed with their complete dedication to preserving and displaying the various fashion- “The level of dedication was samurai-like.” From my friend’s description and the pictures he sent me, we are definitely impressed and now we’re making plans to one day pay it visit in person. 🙂

Introducing The Camille

Since its introduction, our Camille dress design has been a major hit with our clients and has become one of the mainstays of our day dress line-up. The Camille is based on the Mid-Bustle Era styles that the Impressionist models would wear, primarily characterized by a fitted, narrow tied-back skirt that is swagged, pleated, and ruffled with fullness from the knees down. This style was also made popular by the famous actresses of the time such as Lilly Langtry and Sarah Bernhardt. What also makes this skirt more distinct is the custom bayleuse which is installed in each of our dresses which serve to create the distinct silhouette that characterized the late 1870s/early 1880s.

Camille Dress Elena

The Camille is a solid design that is suitable for a variety of occasions, both indoor and outdoor, and is available in a nearly endless combination of colors and fabrics. Below is one example that we recently made for a client:

Camille Dress Elena
With this dress, we’ve employed a blue color palette with a solid light blue foundation for the basic skirt and bodice sleeves and  combined it with dark blue cuffs and lapels on bodice. Then, just to make things interesting, we also employed a blue plaid fabric for the bodice body and swaged overskirt with pops of yellow. Finally, to complete the effect, we used a shirred white net to cover the upper underskirt.

Here is a three-quarter view of the rear of the dress. The underskirt is covered with shirred white net from the top to mid way down, and then with three rows of pleating from mid way down to the hem.

Camille Dress Elena
Below is a closer look at the hem- three rows of pleating…
Camille Dress Elena
Here are some more views of the dress details:

Camille Dress ElenaCamille Dress Elena

Now let’s take a look at some bodice details:

Camille Dress Elena

The bodice incorporates features reminiscent of 18th Century styles to include an inset of shirred white net framed by dark blue lapels or revers, creating a faux waistcoat appearance. The sleeves are three-quarter length ending in cuffs that match the lapels trimmed with three buttons. To finish it off, each sleeve has inset lace with silk ribbon trim.

Below is a close-up of the sleeve and cuff (before the lace was added). This is a good illustration of the color palette:

Camille Dress Elena

Overall, the effect is an interesting mix of plaid and solid-colored fabrics with a palette that harmonizes. The shirred front overskirt, knife pleats, and folds create an uneven texture that contrasts with the smoothness of the bodice and sleeves. The design was definitely a hit with our client and we look forward to creating more dresses in this style.

And For Some More Japonisme To Brighten Your Day…

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.

We hope you’ve liked this little foray back into the world of Japonisme– as we find more interesting examples, we’ll be posting them here for your viewing pleasure. 🙂

Introducing The Camille

We would like to take this opportunity to introduce another version of our newest and most exciting dress designs, the Camille. Inspired by the Aesthetic Movement, Impressionism, and a touch of Japonisme, we attempted to combine shades of green and chartreuse along with floral motifs to create a dress evocative of spring. Here are just a few views:





The Camille is based on the Mid-Bustle Era styles that the Impressionist models would wear, primarily characterized by a fitted, narrow tied-back skirt that is swagged, pleated, and ruffled with fullness from the knees down. This style was also made popular by the famous actresses of the time such as Lilly Langtry and Sarah Bernhardt. What also makes this skirt more distinct is the custom bayleuse which is installed in each of our dresses which serve to create the distinct silhouette that characterized the late 1870s/early 1880s.

And For Some More Japonisme…

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:


Viennese actress, c. 1907.


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:


“Springtime in Japan” from What to Wear to Fancy Dress Balls by Ardern Holt, 1896.

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:


Afternoon Dress, Worth, 1896; Museum of the City of New York (49.125.1A-B)


Rear View

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.


Close-Up of the back of the bodice and skirt.


Side Profile


Close-Up of the decorative design and the seaming on the back of the bodice.

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:


Evening Dress, Callot Soeurs, 1908; Kyoto Costume Institute

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:

Poiret 1913

Poiret, Evening Dress, 1913; Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology (P81.8.1)

Poiret 1913_2

Detail of beading.

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:


Evening Mantle, Jean-Philippe Worth, 1909; Victoria and Albert Museum (T.207-1970)


Rear View


Rear Close-Up


Front Close-Up

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.