Kyoto Costume Institute

The international reputation of the Kyoto Costume Institute (KCI) is second to none! As its name suggests, one of the unique qualities of this fashion collection is the fact that it is not a museum, but an institution. Without a real exhibition space of its own, its collections are lent out to be exhibited in museums worldwide!
06_(c) KCI_Junya Watanabe_fw2000_inv.AC10362_photo by Takashi Hatakeyama
In 1975, the Kyoto National Museum of Modern Art (MOMAK) welcomed “Inventive Clothes 1909-1939” organized by Diana Vreeland of the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art. Among the many visitors was Koichi Tsukamoto, president of Wacoal (one of the largest undergarment manufacturers) as well as vice president of the Tokyo Chamber of Commerce and Industry. This exposition made such a strong impression on him that he forged an ambitious project to create a Japanese institution dedicated to the collection, study and exhibition of exemplary pieces of Western fashion. Three years later, the KCI was founded under a governmental charter for cultural affairs. In 1980, the inaugural exposition, “The Evolution of Fashion 1835-1895” was held…at MOMAK.
05_(c) KCI_Hiroaki Ohya for OhYa_ss2000_ photo by Masayuki Hayashi
If the shape of clothing has evolved over time, its morphology has changed even more. And to complete the staging of the aesthetic and historical value of this, the KCI created its own mannequins. Indeed, the presentation of a garment does not correspond to the same logic as the hanging of a painting. A three-dimensional piece of clothing demands support as well as volume; as such, the mannequin becomes a museum accessory that is far from superfluous. So four typologies were conceived, their anatomical joints offering a variety of natural, realistic poses.
03_(c) KCI_Fan_Netherlands_1760s_inv.AC5778_photo by Toru Kogure 02_(c) KCI_Fan_Japan_late19th_inv.AC2802_photo by Taishi Hirokawa
From the sixteenth century (and its iron corset!) to more contemporary outfits, there are about 12000 pieces of clothing and accessories and over 20000 documents composing this exceptional collection. Voluntarily heavy in Western fashion, which constitutes three quarters of the inventory, the KCI preserves the shared roots of modern Japanese clothing. And even if we are not counting some thirty kimonos, it remains the largest collection archive of Japanese fashion (the house of Comme des Garçons has conferred 1000 pieces).
01_(c) KCI_Koji Tatsuno_1993_inv.AC12207_photo by Taishi Hirokawa
Let us recall two key moments in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Staring in 1868, the opening of Japan the the West led to a rediscovery of this country that launched the trend of Japonisme while also allowing for Western fashion to introduce itself to the archipelago. In the 1980s, designers such as Issey Miyake, Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo defied the Paris catwalks, disturbing the aesthetic order and engaging the West in a new relationship between clothing and the body.
Akiko Fukaï, director at KCI for 35 years, underlines cultural exchange, mutual influence, and specific singularities. Her reading of a dress by Madeleine Vionnet, formed from rectangular panels like a kimono, allows us to re-understand our own observations. “Japonisme and Fashion”, which opened at the Galliera Museum in Paris in 1996, as well as the forthcoming “Future Beauty, the Tradition of Reinvention” at MOMAK in March 2014 both are demonstrations of these links.
The biannual journal “Dresstudy” and the exhibition catalogs of KCI understand fashion as an object of study, an applied art and a social mirror. Finally, a sample of this heritage is available to explore via an online database. To view the totality of the database, it is also possible to make an appointment at the institute!
Download Dresstudy
© The Kyoto Costume Institute