On Sharkey’s Shelf: "Kimono" Celebrates 4 Centuries of Japanese Design

Take a detailed look at Japanese history through the lens of fashion.

A large part of design is about being on the forefront of innovation, but you’d be amazed how much contemporary creativity stems from heritage inspiration. I’m always struck by how modern some vintage designs are. Designers often think that they are innovating or coming up with something revolutionary, when really it’s been done before. 

Photography by: Courtesy Thames and Hudson

A geometric pattern from the 1930s or 1940s could easily find its way onto a bedding pattern that we’ll be selling at Macy’s next year, or an elegant tablecloth featured in a beautiful two-page magazine spread. It’s so exciting to realize how prescient these early interpretations really were. Nowhere is this concept of design continuity over decades and centuries clearer than in the brilliant garments displayed on the pages of "Kimono." 

Photography by: The Khalili Family Trust

"Kimono" offers an incredibly comprehensive history of the garment and great detail about its construction as well. The kimonos in this book come from the Khalili collection, which houses upwards of 200 costumes in total. The sheer breadth of those pictured is phenomenal. 

Photography by: The Khalili Family Trust

Four major epochs are on display in the tome, taking the reader from the Edo period in 1603 to the Showa period that concluded in 1989. Centuries of political and cultural change are written across the construction of each kimono. Each element of a kimono offers insight into the life of the wearer. The fabric, pattern, and hue of a kimono could reveal everything from their age to their societal standing. Take for instance this silk kimono adorned with flowers, and blinds. Its pattern reveals that the garment was fashioned for a young woman, and its fabric composition suggests wealth. Looking at each kimono is like peering into the past at an artistic rendering of quotidian life. 

Photography by: The Khalili Family Trust

Books like this additionally help me communicate with my designers what we want to achieve when we’re creating a new line of designs, whether it be bedding, tabletop linens, rugs, curtains, plates, furniture, or anything else. They are a wealth of ideas for pattern, style, and color palette. In product design, these three key elements must work together harmoniously or you simply don’t have a saleable product. 

Photography by: The Khalili Family Trust

One of the greatest facets of working at Martha Stewart is discovering these stimuli and applying them to just about anything. Here at the company, we greatly appreciate the craft and the construction, and "Kimono" really celebrates both.