March 29, 2010 The Art & History of the Kimono

Although originally from Japan, the world has fallen in love with the kimono thanks to its long, graceful lines, gorgeous colors and stunning patterns. The word "kimono" literally means "thing to wear." The term was first adopted in the mid-19th century; before that it was known as a kosode, which means "small sleeve."

Kimono are T-shaped, straight-lined robes that fall to the ankle when sashed, with attached collars and 399px-TokioShibuya-Kimono long, wide sleeves. They’re always wrapped around the body with the left side over the right (except when dressing the dead for burial), and secured by a sash called an obi, which is tied at the back. Usually, kimono are worn with traditional footwear, especially zōri or geta, and split-toe socks called tabi. Kimono can be made of silk, cotton, wool, linen or synthetic materials.

Etiquette plays an important role in choosing a kimono. The wearer must take several aspects into consideration, including age, marital status, season and taste. Traditionally, unmarried women wear a style of kimono called furisode, with long, swinging (sometimes almost floor-length) sleeves, vibrant colors and complex patterns. The younger the woman, the higher the pattern would reach on her kimono. Married women wear tomesode, which have short sleeves, fewer patterns and more subdued colors.

Kimono Symbolism

Kimono designs often come from the natural world and have great significance and complex meanings. The crane, for example, is one of the most revered and auspicious animals in Japanese art, representing longevity and good fortune. The crane kimono below, for example, is a wedding kimono created during the Showa period between 1926-1989 (photo courtesy of the Textile Museum). The phoenix represents benevolence, Crane kimono wisdom and feminine energies, while the koi symbolizes vigor and endurance. Some motifs, like certain flowers and plants, have seasonal significance. Bamboo, pine and plum blossoms—some of Japan’s most popular winter motifs—are known as the "three friends of winter" when combined together in a single design, symbolizing longevity, resilience and renewal.

Colors also have strong connotations and often correspond to the characteristics of the specific plant dyes themselves. For example, purple—which represents undying love—was traditionally created from the gromwell plant, which has very long roots. Red, which symbolizes glamour, passion and transient love, is derived from the safflower plant, a dye that easily fades over time.

Kimono in History

Kimono as we know them came into existence during the Heian period (794 – 1192 AD). At this time a new garment-making technique was developed, known as the straight-line-cut method. This involved cutting pieces of fabric in long straight lines and sewing them together to create a long robe, or kimono. Kimono makers liked them because they didn’t have to worry about the shape of the wearer’s body. In addition, these straight-lined garments were suitable for all weather: They could be layered in winter for warmth and made of lightweight fabrics, like linen, in summer.

Kimono were originally worn by commoners, or as undergarments by the aristocracy. During the 16th century, the kimono became the principal garment for all classes and both sexes. By the end of the 17th century, during the Edo period (1615–1868), differences became more pronounced; patterns on women’s kimonos were more intricate and vividly colored. At this time, the kimono became an important indicator of class and wealth. Despite the sumptuary laws put in place by the ruling samurai class (which restricted use of certain fabrics and colors), wives of wealthy merchants would try to outdo each other with lavish displays of kimono design, each one more stunning, vibrant and complex than the next.

By the Meiji period (1868–1912), Japan was opened to the West, and for the first time, kimono were exported to Europe. Also at this time, Japan’s textile industry began to adopt western technology; new techniques and the end of sumptuary laws made silk kimono affordable and thus more available for popular use.

During the prosperity of the Taishō period (1912-1926), western-style clothes gained popularity among women, though the kimono continued to be worn. Motifs inspired by western designs—such as Art Deco and Art Nouveau, began to appear—while chemical dyes allowed for the production of even more vibrant colors. The development of innovative machinery, like power-operated spinning machines and jacquard looms, sped up production and continued to lower costs, making high-fashion kimono more readily available than ever.

Since the end of World War II, western-style clothes have become the norm in modern Japan. Some older Kimono3 women and even fewer men still wear kimono on a daily basis, as well as geisha or people engaged in traditional activities, like tea ceremony. But most often they are worn on special occasions, like weddings or celebrating the New Year. Interestingly enough, the 21st century has seen a sort of rebirth of the kimono, and beautiful contemporary designs as well as vintage kimono are being seen again on younger people, who wear them in more modern ways.

At Peruvian Connection, we continue to find inspiration in the artistry and design of traditional kimono silhouettes. Our interpretations often merge Eastern and Western themes: Japanese florals grow lush on skirts and sweaters, while Turkish geometrics, Indian paisleys or even Andean manta stripes grace contemporary kimono shapes. This season, our newest designs include the Parisian Kimono (adorned with Art Nouveau scrolls) and the Catoga Kimono (patterned with graphic paisleys). And don’t forget our luxurious Leather Obi Sash… a versatile, seasonless standby that no wardrobe should be without.

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March 17, 2010 Through the Grapevine

March is a time for dusting out closets and heralding the first glimpses of spring sunshine. In Peru, it’s the time of the annual grape harvest. Every year, the southern Peruvian city of Ica hosts the traditional International Vintage Festival (Fiesta de la Vendimia), celebrating an important agricultural gem, the grapevine. The abundance of grapes in Ica is especially celebratory because the greenery of local vineyards stretches across hundreds of acres of once desolate desert. The first vines were brought by the Stills_05_116 Spanish centuries ago and has turned a bone-dry desert into fertile land. The whole city participates in the festivities along with an estimated 200,000 tourists who flock to Ica for the majestic celebration.

The Vintage Festival is kicked off with a colorful parade, where folk dancers and traditional music invigorate the merriment. During the parade, the people of Ica crown their Queen of the Vintage Festival. The Queen will then ceremoniously tread through a grape-filled vat to extract the sweet juice, which will eventually be fermented into either wine or pisco. Pisco is a clear distilled grape brandy made from the quebranta grapes grown in the fertile Ica valley. To partake in the festivities at your home, try serving up the national drink of Peru, the  
Pisco sour Pisco Sour (see recipe in our Fiestas Patrias blog). Made from simple sugar syrup, lime juice, pisco and frothy egg whites, the tangy Pisco Sour is sure to brighten any day.

During the week-long Vintage Festival, the streets of Ica are filled with fairs, floats, competitions and mouth-watering local sweets. Tejas, a delicious confection made from pecans or candied fruits, filled with caramel and then coated with sugary icing, are a traditional favorite during this time. Locals are also known to host parties where guests dance the traditional Afro-Peruvian festejo, which celebrates Peruvian Independence. Although the celebration formally ends March 15th, these festive vines will continue to inspire remarkable pieces such as our Vendage Cardigan and Grapevine Skirt, as well as out Tendrils Pima T-Shirt.

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March 10, 2010 Explore Santa Fe’s Spectacular Textile Treasures

The Textile Museum in Washington, D.C. is arranging a wonderful educational travel program, Santa Fe: Historic and Contemporary Treasures of the Southwest and Beyond. From May 19 – 23, join Maryclaire Ramsey, CEO of The Textile Museum, for an exclusive curator and director-led, behind-the-scenes tour of one of the world’s most fascinating cities.

Santa Fe is a crossroads of American Indian, Spanish Colonial and other influences, and was designated a UNESCO Creative City in 2005. Within this small city are more than a dozen museums, hundreds of galleries and excellent restaurants and shops.

Under the guidance of a world renowned textile expert, Susan Brown McGreevy, travelers will have access 440px-Navajo_blanket to the exquisite collections of the Indian Arts Research Center, the Wheelwright Museum and the Museum of International Folk Art, as well as several private collections and artist studios. Participants will also have an opportunity to engage in lively discussions with museum directors and curators, gallery owners, collectors, contemporary weavers and textile artists at private receptions. Visits to the Spanish Colonial village of Chimayó, as well as Santa Fe’s culturally vibrant Canyon Road area and Railyard District will also be included.

Peruvian Connection will host a special private reception at our Santa Fe store, an easy walk from the hotel.

See the Textile Museum’s brochure for full details. Please note that space is very limited for this tour and is on a first-come, first-serve basis and is for Textile Museum members at the Supporter level ($250) and above only. To become a member or to upgrade your membership, call (202) 667-0441, ext. 17 or visit the Textile Museum online.

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March 1, 2010 Caviar, Couture, and Peruvian Connection

Caviar affair Peruvian Connection has just been featured in the Winter 2010 edition of Caviar Affair, an über-tony quarterly magazine dedicated to the lifestyles of the rich and famous. With articles on decadent culinary experiences, bespoke travel and opulent style, the magazine brings the best the world has to offer to those with discriminating tastes and boundless budgets.

The article itself focuses on PC’s passion for preserving Peru’s treasured textile traditions, its commitment to fair trade practices, and, of course, the collections themselves—from the intricate designs and luxury fabrics to the global-chic, old-world-meets-modern-world aesthetic that has been Peruvian Connection’s signature style for more than 30 years.


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February 25, 2010 Blooming Inspirations

Spring is here…at Peruvian Connection at least. Although the snow is falling and winter is still calling, warm up your wardrobe with our latest spring selections. We traveled back in time and across oceans to bring you an inspirational palette of ethnic textiles. From Tajikistan embroidered bridal veils and traditional Mexican pottery to antique textiles from India, discover a cultural feast of prints.

For centuries, India has been at the heart of textile traditions, renowned for their brilliant use of color, ingenious embroidery techniques, and artistic patterns. This season, our designers were particularly inspired by the ancient textiles of Gujarat, India. Once the home of peace leader Mahatma Gandhi, Gujarat is now the economic center of India, representing 25% of the country’s textile production.

Both our Ocean Tide Cardigan and our Gujarat Cardigan were inspired by a Gujarati antique block printed head covering, known as "Odhani". Block printing is an ancient technique that was used more than 4,000 years ago. It involves cutting a pattern out of a block, usually wood or tile, which is then used as a "stamp" to transfer the cut-out design.

Odhani Our Spice Route Dress melds two distinct cultural traditions: Gujarati and Irish. The jacquard for this dress was inspired by an ancient textile from Gujarat that was block printed and then resist and mordant-dyed. Resist dyeing methods are used to "resist" or prevent the dye from reaching all the cloth, creating a pattern and ground. The most common resisting agent is wax, which is used in batik-prints. Mordant is a substance used to set dyes, resulting in a complex shading or intensification of color. Interestingly, this ripe Gujarati pattern is then paired with a crochet neckline inspired by traditional Irish Crochet.

Another ancient textile hub, Turkey, provided the artistry for our gorgeous Sardis Cardigan. This design is inspired by a Turkish plate made in the Turkish plate Ottoman reign of Suleiman the Magnificent in the early 16th Century.  The decorations are commonly known in Turkish as "saz leaf and rosette style," which translates "reed leaf and rose."

Let’s travel now to the gorgeous coasts of Uzbekistan, where our designers discovered the majesty of ethnic Russian textiles. Once considered part of the Soviet Union, Uzbekistan has managed to preserve the cultural traditions of the Uzbek nomads, who still represent a large portion of the country’s population. The jacquard for our Tashkent Top and Chintz Knit Coat was inspired by a Russian printed cotton cloth from the 2nd quarter of the 20th Century, which was used in Uzbekistan to back tribal textiles.

Our globally inspired prints carry cultural customs, ethnic ties, and ancient legacies. We take you across oceans and centuries to fill your closet with histories and traditions. We have only elaborated on a handful of inspirations here, but our catalog is filled with cultural heritage. If you ever want to know more about the story behind your garment, please feel free to ask! We hope you will cherish these unique pieces and carry forth their legacies for years to come.

–Amanda Hart

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