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Friday, September 14, 2012

Fashions in the Archives

New York Fashion Week, one of the biggest fashion events of the year, just wrapped up yesterday. Twice a year the fashion industry, celebrities, and socialites converge upon New York City for the unveiling of top designers' newest collections. Fashion designers are often inspired by different cultures and different time periods. So what better place to find inspiration than the National Anthropological Archives?

DOE Asia: Assam: Willis Colln: Siang: Adi 04448900

DOE Mid East: Morocco : NM 268921: Willis: I 04066400

SPC Mexico Zapotec NM 37239 00810800

One collection I’d like to highlight is a Japanese fashion catalog of sorts from 1905-1906. This silk covered album contains 12 woodblock prints by ukiyo-e artist Mizuno Toshikata (1866-1908). Featuring women’s and children’s fashions for different seasons, these drawings were commissioned by the Mitsui department store to advertise their apparel.

Following more than two centuries of isolation, Japan underwent rapid change during the Meiji era (1868-1912) after it was coerced into opening its ports to the United States and European nations. Exposure to Western cultures influenced various aspects of Japanese life including fashion. While high officials and the elite adopted Western apparel for certain occasions, most Japanese preferred to wear traditional clothing. Nevertheless, the influences of Western culture upon Japanese fashion is evident in these drawings.

Some are quite subtle, such as a shawl over a kimono or a woman holding an umbrella.

While others are less so . . .

The drawings are captioned in English, indicating that this series was probably marketed towards Westerners. Ukiyo-e, which means “pictures of the floating world,” was a style of art typically associated with colored woodblock prints. Because these prints were cheap to produce in large numbers, they were considered affordable art for the lower and middle class. By the early 1900s, ukiyo-e art had decreased in popularity in Japan, unable to compete with photography and changing tastes in art. In contrast, ukiyo-e art was in high demand in the West and greatly influenced the Impressionist and Art Nouveau movements in Europe.

Make sure to check out the other drawings from this series. Incidentally, Mitsui still exists and is the largest corporate conglomerate in Japan. Not bad for a company whose history stretches back to the 1600s. These styles are probably out-of-stock by now, but who knows, that dress may still be available for the little boy in your life!

Lorain Wang, National Anthropological Archives

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