Colourful Phoenix On Soft Black Silk Adorned With Flowers And Fans
This kimono almost broke me. When I say that it almost broke me, I mean my spirit/heart/mind/whatever. I don’t remember what this was listed as when I bought it because a huge amount of frustration and RAGE has overtaken my memories of acquisition. This motherfucker, though. This is the piece that taught me two extremely important things things:
1.) That buying kimonos domestically is a goddamn gamble.
2.) That sometimes the best you can do is damage control, and not everything can be fixed.
So in the end, I suppose I would like to thank it for tempering my expectations going forward, and for being the piece I cut my teeth on when it comes to hardcore stain removal, fading, fraying/shattering, kinsai (gold paint) replacement, seam restitching, and lining repair. OH, AND ODOR CONTROL, DID I MENTION THAT? Because when I opened this package for the first time, I remember very distinctly the excitement in my belly turning into knotted sickness as the intense smell of violently angry mildew came out to slap that excitement right the fuck off of my face. And, indeed, hidden between those beautiful fans, judgey birds, and bright flowers are the water stains that could be faded but not removed. There are smudges from dye run that cannot be undone, fraying, shattering. This is the piece taught me that silk shatters. Not unlike glass, too. It just goes “Nah” and crumbles in your fingers. I was so full of confidence when I started this project. This kimono found my confidence to be delicious, if not also mostly useless.
After being thoroughly humbled and learning lots of new words to fill my search history with, that confidence did start coming back, if not very slowly. Getting the smell out was HELL, but I did it. Controlling the fraying and shattering was a huge problem, but I did it. Repairing the lining and seams was also hell, but Diet Hell™. That’s mostly just sewing and I’m fine at that.
Here’s the best, worst, or funniest part–depending on your point of view–of the stain removal process with this thing: these colours are such that when they are damp, you can’t see the stains very well. And by “very well,” I mean they are damn near invisible. So I would treat an area and it would look like the stain was going to be gone. Then it would dry up and it would still be there, laughing its ass off at my exercise in futility. I was able to lighten most of them significantly if not remove them completely, but it nearly drove me insane doing it.
I don’t recall paying very much for this piece. I get the feeling that I bought it understanding it would need a little love, but I also remember losing my absolute shit several times about it. I am an unreliable narrator here. So for the purposes of recording as close to a true and proper history as I can: I FOUND IT IN A TOILET OR SOME SHIT, I DON’T KNOW.
Anyway, on to the details that matter. As the title might suggest, this is another furisode with five kamon (crests), a formal garment. This qualifies as a wedding dress. With the sharp black shell and red lining. it can be considered to be pre-WWII. This isn’t always true, but there are small details that make me feel confident that it is.
Also, can I take a moment to point out that this means someone stored this now probably 100 year old wedding dress in a wet plastic bag before they sent it to me? Big yikes.
Truthfully, I have trouble dating this one. Those crests are really big, and consistent with the size of kamon that I see on Meiji Era pieces, but with its sweet, bright colours, this one feels very Taisho to me. This is why I am confident about pre-WWII.
Here’s another thing about buying domestically and trying to date these things, and make sense of the condition in which they arrive to me in; there’s a weird sort of dark side that comes about from buying things from people who don’t know what they are. Sometimes, there is every chance I’m buying something that was stolen–spoils of war, or taken during the Japanese internment. Sometimes, sellers will even say so directly. And I’ve actually had a pretty hard time with that, and I used to be very wary of buying when that was the possibility or the confirmed provenance. That shit sits really sour in my stomach. This isn’t an enemy rifle. It’s a goddamn wedding dress. Wrong is wrong.
It was Grandma Mitsui that changed my mind about such things, actually. As she was someone who had spent years in internment, I found truth in her words. If I’m bringing these items home and restoring them, “Well, that’s different. You’re fixing them up.” Make of that what you will. But after hearing some of the things she had to say about it all those years ago, now small part of my drive to repair and clean these things, then display and name them for what they are is because it feels like righting a wrong. I’m not here to argue about that, and I won’t. It’s not the only things I do with my collection, and it’s not my only goal.
ANYWAY. This piece is adorned with kiku (chrysanthemums), hou-o (phoenix), sensu (fans), and kiri (paulownia). It has five kashiwa (oak leaf) kamon (family crests), making it formal wear. It’s made of silk, and is surprisingly light for being fully lined. In spite of the flaws, and even though it made me want to rip my hair out while I was putting it back together again, I’m happy I have her.