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London-based art gallery fetes International Kimono Day with catwalk



This photo taken on Nov. 19, 2022, shows participants of a “Kimono Catwalk” organized by the Japanese Gallery at Camden Passage in London’s Islington. (Kyodo)

LONDON (Kyodo) — A London art gallery recently showcased its first-ever “Kimono Catwalk,” a modern take on the concept of fashion shows and haute couture, as models shuffled down the runway in a wide range of traditional Japanese garments.

The event arranged by the Japanese Gallery in Islington, which specializes in Japanese woodblock prints, or ukiyo-e, was held to celebrate traditions around kimono, cultural diversity and inclusiveness among fans of Japan’s national dress.

The organizer said it collaborated with contemporary designers and kimono specialists, with models coming from far and wide in line with the multicultural and inclusive spirit, for International Kimono Day, celebrated annually on Nov. 15.

Rhiannon, a British photographer and social worker who asked to be called by her first name, said she heard about the event on social media. A former 1970s punk, she loves to wear “unusual and wacky” designers like Alexander McQueen and Issey Miyake, mixing and matching fashion styles to form “(her) own take on things.”

“I love my kimonos because they’re very comfy, and you can layer them up — I just need someone to show me how to wear them properly. I’d never seen anyone wear kimonos like this before today,” she said.

One of the designers participating was Nange Magro, the half-Italian, half-Japanese founder of Dead Lotus Couture, whose designs have been worn by the likes of Katy Perry and Madonna.

Also showcasing her work was South African-born designer Tia Oguri, who promotes the dress as a form of sustainable fashion through her Uber Dandy Kimono collection.

Oguri’s cross-cultural work combines African prints with traditional kimono silhouettes, fashioning new designs from vintage “tsukesage” and “furisode” kimonos, two highly formal styles. She calls her ensembles “traditional kimono with a hint of madness.”

Vintage kimono dealer and long-time gallery associate Sonoe Sugawara also lent some traditional antique pieces to the show. She was a key contributor to the gallery’s recent exhibition “Kimono: The Making of a Cultural Icon,” which showcased how the dress has been chronicled in woodblock prints and other mediums.

Japanese Gallery was established in 1978 by the parents of its current owner, David Wertheim, and is now the oldest retailer on Camden Passage — a picturesque street filled with antique shops and small, independent businesses.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Wertheim was inspired to expand the gallery’s noncommercial work through the Ezen Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing access and education about Japanese art and culture to the British general public.

The gallery already collaborates with organizations like the British Museum, and the foundation further promotes Wertheim’s ethos of cultural appreciation and discovery.

“It’s about the combination of different cultures becoming one entity,” he said. “If the foundation can serve as a cultural platform for artists, artisans and curators of exhibitions, we would become an introduction to Japanese culture.”

The “Kimono Catwalk,” held on Nov. 19, was as much about the local community as it was about international collaboration. Many of the gallery’s small-business neighbors contributed to the event’s prize draw and attended to show their support.

The local Japanese community also joined in.

Masami, who works in tourism and only gave her first name, became involved after taking Zoom classes about kimono by the event’s organizers. She thought it would be nice to have an occasion to wear the traditional dress by participating in the catwalk.

She also has a fondness for ukiyo-e, has experience working with antiques and enjoys discovering more about kimono through the gallery’s work.

“I chose to wear the most comfortable kimono I own today, made by my mother,” she said. “It’s warm and made of wool, so perfect for Christmas.”

“Everyone here today is wearing so many different kinds, from wonderful garments made from kimono material to vintage kimonos…it made me think there are so many possibilities with kimono,” Masami added.

The gallery hopes that as the “Kimono Catwalk” becomes an annual event, it will help Camden Passage grow by attracting more people to its local businesses.

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The dwindling case for living in London




The recent debate around ‘levelling up’ may be missing something. I would argue that there is another way to consider geographical inequality – and, by this alternative measure, a levelling has been under way for more than 20 years.

I’ve spent three decades working in advertising, so it’s unsurprising that I tend to view economic life through the lens of consumption. By contrast, mainstream economists tend to view disparities through the medium of earnings or wealth. To me, measures of wealth should include not only the quantity of money you have but the breadth of worthwhile options available in choosing how to spend it.

Let’s put it another way. If you live in a boring village, and suddenly a great pub or café opens on the high street, then by my measure you have become richer; by the economist’s measure you have not.

Things that would once have been available in London decades before the provinces now appear everywhereat once 

There was undoubtedly a time when you were richer in London in two ways. You had more money, but you also had a far more exciting range of ways to spend it. Now not so much.

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London is a great city but, in terms of consumption quality, it has not improved markedly in the past 20 years. Over the same period, many smaller cities and even towns have advanced rapidly, significantly narrowing the gap. The kind of things that would once have been available in the capital decades before making it to the provinces – like sushi – now appear everywhere at once. Consider Turkish barbers, who seem to have taken over the country in only five years. (I can remember a time when it was enough just to get a haircut without having burning methylated spirits flicked in my ears. Back then I just didn’t know any better.)

This levelling is especially true of anything in the digital world: Amazon gadgets, Netflix films, Asos fashions and PlayStation games hit Aberystwyth the same day they hit Islington. But it also applies to the physical environment, as anyone over 50 can attest. I went to Manchester and Sheffield for the first time in 1989. Compared with London, they were then, let’s be honest, utterly rubbish. Now, when I visit those same cities, I experience mild ‘northern envy’. There are interesting places open everywhere. Northerners have better cars, because they have more money left over after paying for housing. And they are much better-looking, because they can nip home to get changed before going out.

Relatively speaking, London has improved far less dramatically than these provincial cities have. (New York, many aficionados argue, has got worse.) OK, the Tube is better than it used to be. Uber is a handy addition. But some things are awful – the last pleasure of driving in London ended when they put speed cameras on the Westway. Accommodation costs for the young wipe out any salary gains.

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By my measure, high property prices won’t just hit Londoners once – they’ll hit them twice. Not only do high rents wipe out what you earn, they also put at risk London’s once unassailable advantage as a great place to spend what money you have left. Creative businesses of any kind require space at a price which allows them to take risks. For a time, London found this space by moving its heartland from west to east. But suppose the people supporting what Douglas McWilliams calls ‘the flat white economy’ flee altogether? In my own experience, Kent suddenly seems weirdly full of fascinating restaurants founded by London exiles. If more of these people leave, the case for staying weakens further.

Londoners always say things like ‘Yes but there’s the theatre’. Let’s face it though – even Shakespeare left London for Stratford in his mid-forties. As he no doubt found, the theatre is all very well, but it’s nothing like being able to park outside your house.

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