Modernising the Kimono – the Itchiku Grand Show of 1982

25th February 2019

models wearing kimono

Itchiku Kubota was well-known not only for his revival of the lost art form of tsujigahana but also for his bold and vivid imagination as expressed through his kimono designs. Yet his artistic vision did not stop there: Just as he had breathed new life into a long-forgotten technique for surface design, Kubota also had a passionate desire to transform the way kimono were perceived and worn.

He believed the formal rules for wearing kimono should be discarded so that women could wear kimono with new flair and freedom, bringing them into a contemporary fashion mode. He introduced his innovative ideas of how kimono should be worn by staging a fashion show that was unlike any that had been seen before in Japan.

This show, the “Itchiku Grand Show,” was staged in Tokyo in 1982 at the Shin Takanawa Prince Hotel in Tokyo and then traveled to a number of other cities in Japan. The production was completely Kubota’s concept, and he took personal responsibility for all matters of production and stage effects.

“My goal was to make the entire production into a single piece,” he said. In explaining his concept for his vision of kimono as fashionable dress, Kubota noted that, “I tried to present new ways of thinking about the kimono. In particular, I had been bothered by traditional rules, for example, that the left lapel had to lie over the right, and that one could not mix Western high heels or jewellery with kimono. If the Japanese kimono is to remain important in our lives today, it must be brought up to date. We must go beyond the staid tradition of accepting the kimono as a uniform with set rules.”

Kubota did not hesitate to break those rules. In his “Grand Show,” high-fashion Western models wore his kimono in unheard of ways. They were wrapped to show lengths of leg, or to slip from one shoulder to expose another kimono beneath, or to be draped like cloaks over the shoulders. Sashes of various widths and covered with tsujigahana imagery replaced traditional obi and were tied high, low, or to the side; beautifully dyed gossamer-thin scarves floated over models’ heads like veils; and all were accessorized with high-heeled shoes, sparkling costume jewellery or ornate tribal treasures and wildly modern hair styles and hair ornaments.

The kimono themselves were lavish creations that showcased Kubota’s masterful presentation of light, colour and tsujigahana design. The first five kimono made for Symphony of Light were showcased during this fashion extravaganza, with models completing their runway stroll standing next to each other, with backs to the audience and hands holding out the skirts of the kimono so the gorgeous landscape panorama created could be well appreciated by the excited audience.

Although Kubota’s audiences were held spellbound by the opulence and originality of his “Grand Show,” his innovative ideas for wearing kimono were not received as enthusiastically as his designs at the time. Many women sought to obtain an Itchiku kimono, but few were willing to take the step of wearing the kimono as he proposed. He did not, as he hoped, “breathe new ideas into this rigidity in the Japanese mind,” but he brought a sense of freshness and innovation to the stage and set a higher bar for kimono design that still resonates today.

Modernising the Kimono – the Itchiku Grand Show of 1982, by Dr Jacqueline M. Atkins, Collection Curator