Everyone is very excited because later this month one of Sally and my ‘yukata’ and ‘obi’ outfits, produced when we were the Bentley & Spens textile design partnership, is to be featured in Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk an eye catching oriental fashion show at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum.
The exhibition- running from Saturday February 29 to June 21 – is a celebration of the iconic Japanese kimono tracing the antecedents of this defining garment back to the 16th century whilst reflecting upon its influence and inspiration for a raft of 20th and 21st century fashion designers.
I met Sally Spens (latterly Murdoch) at London’s Goldsmiths College. Later working together as Bentley & Spens our hand painted and batik designs drew favour from clothing and interiors outlets from London, to New York, and Paris, eventually coming to the attention of Japan’s foremost Kimono producer, Kawashima. The company intended to use our designs in a range of less formal lightweight summer kimonos known as yukatas – de rigeur for chic women at the nation’s popular and season defining cherry blossom festivals. An ‘obi’ is the waist belt or band.
Our first Bentley & Spens yukata collection in 2002 comprised a dozen designs with the theme Cool Flowers, Fruits Party, Exotic Japan, Sweetheart and Sea Story. To our delight an instant hit with Japanese retailers it prompted a second collection the following year entitled Tropical Daydream’ featuring hand painted birds, shells, elephants and fauna.
We were flown out to Tokyo for the launch (see adjoining photographs), taking the Bullet Train to Kyoto to meet the production staff at the factory. During the subsequent six years we supplied around 80 original yukata designs.
Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk, February 29 to June 21,2010, Gallery 39 and The North Court, Victoria & Albert Museum, South Kensington, London SW7 2RL. https://www.vam.ac.ukTickets £16-£18.