Antique Irotomesode–Flashy Phoenix

Flamboyantly Colored Phoenixes In Flight Over Bright Pines And Chrysanthemums On Red Silk.

I picked this piece up recently, and it’s already up here because I get real goddamn excited about things that qualify as oddballs. And there’s so much delightful strangeness going on with this piece that it makes me vibrate with joy. Ever have your phone on your desk, and it just goes vrrrrr vrrr and moves its way across the surface? That’s me right now. I travel by vibrating. VRRRRRRRRR.


Although it is quite old–and I’ll get to how old in a minute–the only thing I needed to repair were a few loose stitches on the seams for the sleeves. Honestly, that’s basically a given. I can count on one hand the number of antique kimono that I bring in that don’t need the sleeves reattached at the armpit holes at least. There are two rules of buying kimono for me: I’m going to have to redo some stitches, and if it’s a haori (kimono jacket), then I’m probably going to have to take it apart if I want to wear it.

It’s whatever, though. I can reattach two sleeves inside and out (meaning sewing the lining back properly if there is one) in about an hour. That’s one of those things that looks fucking catastrophic sometimes but that I don’t actually qualify as “restoration” work because it’s actually a pretty straightforward process. The up side is that knowing how to handle patching up seams opens up a lot more options for buying and making things wearable again.

Look at me, shilling my tutorials like some guy on the street corner selling The Drugs™. “Hey kids,” -cough- “wanna learn how to sew some kimono?” -Opens trenchcoat-

You know what? I don’t care if you laughed at that. I did that one for me.

I guess I should start talking more about this kimono now, huh? I think it’s probably what you’re here for. So! The first surprise when she arrived earlier today (my day night cycle is fucky, so just go with that) was that she’s older than I thought she was going to be. That isn’t to say that the seller photos weren’t good–they were actually unusually detailed and fantastic for a domestic purchase. They just didn’t have anything in the photo that gave me a good sense of scale for much. Also I probably wasn’t paying enough attention, because I was too busy submitting and offer and then immediately deciding to just buy it at full price because I’m a normal, well adjusted adult with no impulse control issues.

When I got to finally hold this majestic beast in my hands, I was blown away by how bright it is. I needed some goddamn sunglasses for that red! Then getting to run my hands over the deeply textured silk was the best–and a burn test does confirm silk. (Here’s your occasional in-blog reminder that I take a tiny thread from inside of the seam allowance for this, please do not just put fire under your kimono.) The next thing that got me, and helped me to identify a proper age was the size of those kamon (family crests). Further, we have a very heavily padded hem.


Mm, that’s the good shit.

Let’s also talk about these screaming bright colors, and that vermilion lining. They exist! Good talk. Okay no really, we have some very judgemental looking houou (phoenix) floating beautifully above matsu (pine), kiku (chrysanthemums), and a big poufy cloud of shibori (a dotted tye-dye technique) with little sakura (cherry blossoms) inside of it.

When I put all of these details together, it makes it exceptionally fucking difficult not to break my own rules. My regular readers will know that I get real goddamn uppity about just slapping the “Taisho” label on items, because it was such a short era and because of how desirable items from that era are. So without provenance, I make faces and am usually satisfied to call something “antique.” That’s what I did here, too. Here’s where I get specific: I believe this to be a late Meiji to early Taisho Era susogara kimono. Susogara, to the best of my knowledge–because I know some of you are hear to learn and oh god I’m so sorry–refers to the weave of the silk. It has been brought to my attention that susogara refers to the pattern at the hem. Many moons ago, someone I believe knows better than me told me it was about the weave, and I just never questioned them. And I’m fluent in Japanese in the same way that if a cow is born in a tree, it’s a bird. This is my correction. While I do try to keep things very general for a broader audience, it’s very important to me that my information isn’t just straight up wrong. I appreciate being corrected very much. ❤

I have also called it an irotomesode (five crested women’s kimono with shorter sleeves and pattern on hem that is not black), but a very real argument can be made that I am making a modern distinction here. For the sake of contemporary formality rules, it is. In the context of its age? It works okay here, but insisting on applying modern categories on antique items will give you a massive headache and not much else. A lot of the rigidity about this stuff is surprisingly new, and she’s old enough not to give a single flying fuck about that.

I could also make the argument, based on how old I think it is, that this is part of a set, or “kasane.” That would suggest there’s probably black and white siblings out there for it. I don’t know that for a fact, but that seems to be a thing about this kind of fire-engine red kimono of this age.

Don’t worry, I’m about to back that shit up as to why I think it’s that old.

Crests of that size weren’t fashionable anymore as we get into the middle of the Taisho Era, but were common as fuck in the Meiji Era. You also don’t see silk textured quite like this as often as you get further into the Taisho Era and further, but that was common as fuck in the Meiji Era. The hem is dummy thicc, and that just makes it very formal, but that leans old school, too.

Now that I’ve justified all of the Meiji trends, why do I think it is closer to the Taisho Era?

Because one of the things that makes Taisho Era kimono so desirable and collectable is the absolute explosion of colors that came into fashion in that era. Blah blah history yadda yadda, chemical dyes being traded more readily, fucking look at that green. Meiji Era items tend to showcase designs that colors and designs that are more muted; or specifically, colors that are significantly less saturated. That isn’t to say that you won’t find solidly Meiji Era kimono that are color explosions, because that’s not true. It’s that those color explosions became more readily available and more popular with the introduction and trading of chemical dyes.

So I slapped the “antique” label on this kimono, because it most certainly is. As to how antique, this is the part where I remind you that the Meiji Era ended and the Taisho Era began in 1912. She old as fuck.

Remember the time way up there when I said there was weird stuff about this kimono? Yeah now I’m going to get to that. This kimono has been altered, and it has been altered in a way that I don’t encounter very often when buying domestically. Typically, when I come across a kimono that has been altered here in the USA, someone has cut the length of it to make a belt out of the excess fabric. I actually consider those to be total loss situations in terms of full restorations, because I can’t fucking fix that. (This is not me clutching my pearls at repurposing kimono or kimono fabric–this is me being specific to restoration.) I also see belt loops attached sometimes, and provided that no fabric has been cut from anywhere that matters on the kimono, I can just remove those if they didn’t do a nightmarish job of attaching them.

Rarely do I find, over here, a kimono that has had patterns added to it. Even more rare, these patterns were added by someone who had a somewhat reasonable understanding of how the symmetry of the design of this kimono matters, and they had an understanding of the themes they chose. First, let’s have a look at these orizuru (paper cranes):

These lovely little kinsai (gold paint) and whatever the hell silver paint is called–more specifically, the application of gold and silver leaf applied to kimono in this context is called “surihaku.” Mmm, vocabulary. Crunchy. So these were most certainly added later, and I’m going to tell you why. If we look at the front two panels of the kimono, we can see that it’s the same pattern that’s mirrored. Classic shit for the age, indeed. And we see that the person who put them there lined them up pretty well! Nice work!

Pictured: LOUD

I’m not going to dock them any points for having three orizuru on the left panel and only two on the right–that’s actually not what totally gave it away. They also don’t appear on the hakkake (inside skirt lining) even though the mirrored patterns continue there. It made me look closer, sure, but you will get intentional little differences in mirrored images from time to time. These are often partially stenciled and then hand-fucking-painted. It’s art. There’s going to be creativity. What got me, was that they forgot to mirror the stencil they used for the orizuru on the right panel. All of them are facing the same direction. And when the rest of the designs are mirrored, that stands out.

That said, the person who did it had an understanding of what they were doing. And I back that up by pointing out that they decided to add kinsai to the outlines of several bits of the original design, too. Behold:

Pictured: tExTuReS

You can see on the far right of the picture there that they wandered a bit off with whatever they used as a sizing media. (In this context, sizing refers to whatever was used to adhere the gold media to the silk.)

Exhibit B alterations, they added a fuji (wisteria) design to both collar areas:

I have a few things to say about it. One, you can tell that it was added later because it is very clearly sitting on top of the silk rather than dyed into it. Two, they did a fantastic job, have a very steady hand, and they’re a delight.


Why in the actual fuck did they put them that far down on the collar?

If you don’t have a good grasp on how this kind of kimono would be worn, then I understand that this might not be an obvious question to you. But those of you reading along with this that roll yourself up in these and squeal practice kitsuke (the proper way to wear kimono) have probably had the same question. Don’t worry, I’m going to explain it anyway.

Bearing five crests, this is a formal kimono, and so it has a very wide collar. That collar is folded in half, inward and not outward. The kimono is also folded over itself and bloused when worn, and the obi (belt sash thing) then goes over the kimono. And you know where it goes? Oh, right about where those wisteria are.

That means if you were wearing this kimono in the proper/traditional sense, you would maybe see a tiny peek of the wisteria pattern they’ve painted if at all. This brings me to conclude that the person who did it wasn’t intending to wear it traditionally, but knew enough about it to make the their choices. For example, kimono are worn left over right (this is really important–wearing it right over left suggest you are dead and ready to be cremated and is mega disrespectful), and they put the most orizuru on the left panel; suggesting that they knew that.

It makes me wonder what their purpose was. It also makes me delighted. I don’t mind seeing these kinds of things, because this is actually something that I encounter when browsing Japanese auction sites for antique kimono. People will alter their clothes. They always have. They always will. This was done well with some kind of intention by someone who knew enough to do it this way.

This will not be a restoration. I don’t consider this to be damaged. As an artist myself, an illustrator and serial alter-er of shit I think I can do better at: I consider this to be a part of this kimono’s history, and I’m proud to have her in my collection as she is.

As my very last thought before I wrap this up by screaming farewells at you in all caps, can I take a second to point out that these fucking birds are looking at something the way my husband looks at me when I scream “EAT SHIT YOU FUCK” at gacha machines?

Pictured: “Why are you like this?”

It makes the bird seem extra safe and cuddly to me. Husband bird. O.O


2 thoughts on “Antique Irotomesode–Flashy Phoenix

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