Cardigans thought life was cool, the world of chilly breezes and overcast summers was their oyster. But, even for cardigans, pride comes before a fall. Cardigans might have laughed at kimonos in the past, thinking the Western world would forever keep them hidden behind bedroom doors. Now cardigans know better. Kimonos are taking over the world one crisp evening at a time, and unlike cardigans, they are really easy to make.
Kimonos actually have several advantages over cardigans, one of them being that they can transport us back to a time before Helena Bonham Carter professed her affection for the Camerons.
In The Wings of the Dove, the antiheroine Kate Croy (played by HBC) is bankrolled by her Aunt Maude (Charlotte Rampling), who apparently decides that what Kate needs to catch a rich husband is some fancy kimonos. Works for me.
Kate makes friends with the sweet-but-dull heiress, Milly (Alison Elliott), who revels in Kate’s bitchy quips without realising that her new BFF’s venomous little mind will soon be used against her, too.
They run off to Venice together, making sure to pack even more glam kimonos and Kate’s impoverished lover, Merton (Linus Roache), who Kate has set as a trap for Milly’s fortune. The holiday coverup power of kimonos is made quite evident in this shot of the doomed threesome lounging in a gondola.
The Oscar-nominated costumes for The Wings of the Dove, made by Patricia Lester (with Sandy Powell as costume designer), are said to have been inspired by the designs of Mariano Fortuny. He worked in Venice at the beginning of the 20th century, when the West had a fancy for all things Oriental. Kimonos seem like a peculiarly Jamesian thing to wear, as the author is forever exoticizing everyone who is not a WASP in his novels. A contemporary reviewer is even quoted as saying “Isabel Archer is only Mr. James in kimono.”
Originating in Japan, kimonos have a wealth of history and significance way beyond the Western fashion world’s adoption of them, which you can read a bit about on the V&A’s website.
Make your own: Attract your own rich husband, or penniless journo, with this tutorial at Elle Apparel, of which Julia Bobbin has made a gorgeous version. DIY couture has a new pattern coming soon (free download!) which is also very like a kimono.
Buy your own: You can hardly avoid them these days, they’ve even been given their own tab on most online shopping sites. Victory over the stuffy cardigan is theirs! Laura at Roots & Feathers is rarely seen without one and looks amazing in them, even though her style is so different to mine. That’s the thing about kimonos: you can be a scheming socialite in 19th century Venice, or a nature-loving Texan. They are just so versatile.