Nick Knight is contributing the image he shot of Björk for her third studio album, Homogenic (1997), to the Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk exhibition, that opens tomorrow (Saturday 29 February 2020) at the Victoria & Albert Museum. In the famous photo, Björk stares at the camera with her cherry red lips sealed and her hands crossed, attired in a silver satin kimono embroidered with filigreed flowers that blend in with the background. Her elongated neck, wrapped in rings reminiscent of those worn by the Kayan people of Myanmar; the claw-like nails that feel like icy weapons; and the two sphere-shaped slabs of hair enhance her extraterrestrial figure.
The Japanese-inspired garment (and the album cover itself) was designed by Alexander McQueen, and photographed by Nick Knight. According to McQueen biographer Andrew Wilson, Björk approached Knight after seeing his futuristic image of model Devon Aoki in the February 1997 edition of Visionaire. McQueen and Knight’s Homogenic cover showed Björk in total harmony with the themes she explored in the album; an avant-garde, experimental hybrid that combined familiar historical elements with a futuristic twist.
This exhibition will present the kimono as a dynamic and constantly evolving item of fashion, revealing the aesthetic and social significance of the garment from past centuries to the present day, both in Japan and the rest of the world. More than 100 kimonos–from Freddie Mercury’s cherry-blossom-pink robe to gold-embroidered ceremonial silks worn by Japanese samurai–are to go on display, among original Star Wars film costumes and designs by Yves Saint Laurent, Rei Kawakubo, Christian Dior and Alexander McQueen. A short montage of kimonos on film, which includes scenes from Killing Eve and Murder on the Orient Express, a Madonna video and footage of David Bowie on stage, is also a major part of the exhibition.
The kimono, meaning 'thing to wear,' is constructed of mostly rectangular pieces of fabric, cut from a specific textile known as a tanmono. Various types of kimono indicate the wearer's age, gender, the formality of the occasion, and less commonly, marital status, when worn. Even if it has garnered a reputation as a traditional uniform in the Japanese culture, it has experienced a number of revivals in popularity over the decades and is now established as one of the most fashionable garments in the industry. From its strict form during the 16th and 17th century to its latest modern iterations, the kimono remains a timeless symbol of heightened beauty and aesthetic with rich history.