I want to share my enthusiasm for Japanese art and design, as it’s given me so much inspiration since I first saw some in museums as a child. So let’s start with this. The most superb kimono I own. I would say the rarest too, but as most of the highest standard vintage ones are ‘one of a kind’ you could say they are all rare.
This is a hikizuri (or susohiki –both words mean basically the same: trail the skirt).
This would be worn for dancing, and would trail very elegantly along the floor. It’s about 6 feet from shoulder to heavily padded hem, and made to be worn by a tiny, very young Japanese woman. No wonder I suppose that so many people think that something like this must be a man’s wedding kimono. This was worn by a Maiko, a trainee Geisha. Geisha are called Geiko by the way, in Kyoto, home to the most traditional Geisha districts (Hanamachi). Maiko means ‘dancer’. Geisha means ‘arts person’.
I recognised this as a Maiko’s kimono the moment I saw it. Apart from the length, there are more clues. There are folds/tucks in the sleeves and shoulders for instance. This is done to give an added impression of being very young and slightly awkward and cute, as it’s the way children’s kimono are temporarily taken in so they can be worn even when the child hasn’t grown into it yet. They can be seen more clearly in the next photo:
The design on this pointed to it being for dancing at the New Year celebrations so a huge investment for such a short period of use each year. Maiko hikizuri are some of the costliest kimono to produce. Only the very best materials are used and the top textile artists paint/dye them by hand. Each one would take months to produce. They are relatively rare to find as they mostly stay in the collections of the geisha houses.
I have found a picture of a maiko wearing a similar style of hikizuri, from the same era and possibly even by the same artist, and it shows how mine would have looked when hitched up to wear out of doors, such as on her way to and from the teahouses etc.
The details on mine are superb. It shows lots of mandarin ducks on and around a snowy pond. There are bamboo and prunus blossoms, and daffodils. One part I love is a flower I have yet to identify being protected under a coat of straw. It’s hard to imagine that a western designer would have included such a homely detail on an item of clothing.