New to the Atomica Gallery Soho from March 9th, Kimonoé seeks to weave together the threads of ceremonial Japanese fashion with modern utility to find a place for a new breed of kimono in fast-paced, multi-cultural London. In artist Tomo Shinya’s debut show, contemporary luxury and traditional elegance are the bywords. Maddie Salters shares her experience from a recent Kimonoé presentation at the gallery.
Called Kimonoé, the é is representative of dialectical speech in Kyoto, kimono’s stronghold in Japan. Still used by refined Geisha, the é sound is a soft but dignified to the Japanese ear, exuding inner strength. Upon entering the gallery, a small look book of Shinya’s work, tied in silk, is offered. The pages portray women sitting portraiture style, their faces shaded so that they might represent the everywoman, their forceful profiles in contrast to the gentle drapes and delicate folds of the modernized kimono they wear, echoing this principal of é.
The Atomica Gallery welcomes guests into an intimate space where it is easy to reckon how white-washed walls can transform to fit any theme. For Kimonoé, blue tiles have been set out across the floor, creating an urban pond on which lilies float, their origami petals printed over in the daily news. Playful paper curls and flowers around the gallery harken to the colourful traditions of the Japanese Tanabata festival, and clash with childish fancy against the sobriety and ritual patterns of Shinya’s work.
Perhaps that is because, for Shinya, it is about childhood. Having launched her brand in 2011, her clothes were inspired by growing up in a family of textile manufacturers. Exposed to the plight of tourists and Japanese youth who continually desire to clothe themselves in the rich history and resplendent patterns of kimono, but find the difficult folds, multiple layers, and expensive fabrics too treacherous to navigate, Tomo combined her passion for the family trade with her desire to find a place for it among the collective consciousness of her new home in London. Hanging in racks along the walls of the gallery is her dream realized.
The luxury kimono are shorter than the traditional style, and instead of thick obe belts, they come with stylish waist slings. High quality wool and silks come in dark, rough blends for winter warmth, and light, springlike bolts of vibrant, floral fabric for more show-stopping pieces. The outer fabrics of each piece are each selected by Shinya from manufacturers in Japan, and the contrasting inner lining is hand-dyed in a colour of her choosing, intended to best compliment her initial pick. Each kimono robe is hand-made overseas, and each is an individual, bespoke piece. Incredibly versatile, this crossing-over of vintage motifs with progressive form and flow caters to London’s need for speed and style.
But are they really ready to hit the city streets?
Shinya thinks the answer is yes. “They’re very wearable,” she insists, “And you can wear them with anything, from converse to high heels.”
Proving her own point, the artist-du-jour wore a professional, woolen black kimono with punchy pink lining over a formal cocktail dress, which was stylish on her. Her on-the-rack designs range from bohemian bold, to very romantic, to quirky. “The quirkiest we have uses a tartan pattern,” she confesses, “I like to think about what’s popular overseas when I make my selections…” just so long, she assures, as they don’t deviate too completely from the Japanese aesthetic. Her kimono keep their long, narrow collars, their playful juxtaposition of colours, and their flowing sleeves, proving that she has indeed managed to create something modern women will want to wear while still honouring her roots with hard work and progress.
Complimenting her theme, the gallery’s art installation by Charlie Roberts shows women in various stages of their day, going about activities ranging from business to leisure, sport to play. The quirky watercolours form an idea of where you might wear one of Shinya’s kimono, and what type of woman might do so: namely anyone, anywhere. With a strong focus on female friendship and bonding, it brings a sense of femininity and versatility to the exhibit.
The event was sponsored by another company fond of cross-overs, Rebel Drinks, whose blend of Japanese matcha tea with the modern-day health food king, coconut water, proved a great refresher while browsing the wares.
Overall, I enjoyed my time at Kimonoé, and I don’t think that’s just the punch talking. The juxtaposition of the forbidden world of kimono that I as a foreigner (and a modern women) might never otherwise experience is broken wide open. Set up against a backdrop of women driving, primping, and just hanging out, Kimonoé dares us to challenge our ideas of fashion and dive into the unknown with relish. There were a few kimono on display that I myself wanted to wear, to dinner, to the park, and beyond- easy statement pieces with enough artful impact to really qualify as something special.
Check out Kimonoé for yourself at kimonoe-kyoto.com, or visit the the Atomica Gallery at 7 Green’s Court, W1F 0HQ. All pieces are for sale. Find out more about the gallery at atomicagallery.com.
Written by Maddie Salters, a native New Yorker who has lived abroad for half of her life – from cities spanning Montreal to Osaka. While there’s still a lot on her “to trek” list, she has currently landed with both feet firmly in London. As a seasoned travel writer and cultural essayist, you can find her work on TripAdvisor, and in print in Wanderlust Magazine and other international publications.