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BOOK REVIEW | 'Kimono Evolution' by Sheila Cliffe Ushers in a New Era of Kimono

A captivating journey into the imaginative world of a kimono pioneer who inspires others to challenge preconceptions, experiment, and find their unique style.



"Kimono Evolution" by Sheila Cliffe (2024, Geijutsu Shinbunsha)

Kimono Evolution is all about Sheila Cliffe's deep love for kimono. Each style in the book is playful and fresh, leaving readers captivated and curious about the mind behind such a vibrant wardrobe.

Nowadays, kimono are often viewed as luxurious, expensive, and cumbersome. And it's true that some kimono can be pricey and time-consuming to put on. However, back when Japanese people wore them daily, there were no strict rules. In this sense, Sheila Cliffe's book not only offers new inspiration but also serves as a reminder that kimono fashion is about freedom and creativity.

Exploring Cliffe's Wardrobe

While getting to know this book, I was stunned by the originality and finesse of Cliffe's ideas. 

Wearing a kimono involves various steps to achieve a polished look, including using a waist strap called koshi-himo to adjust the kimono's length. 

Typically, this strap isn't meant to be visible. However, Cliffe introduced the concept of showcasing colorful koshi-himo instead of hiding it. She calls this "kazari-koshi-himo" (decoration waist strap). 

Another ingenious idea of hers is to repurpose rings into ornaments for the obi. 

These are just a few of the innovative ideas I gleaned from the book, which embody Cliffe's ethos of freedom as well as experimentation with colors.

Embracing Freedom

The very first time I learned to wear a kimono, I was told that it involved strict adherence to rules and formality. This gave me the impression that the kimono was all about tradition and elegance. 


However, the idea that all kimono need to adhere to strict rules may be a modern phenomenon. Historical depictions like ukiyo-e and nihonga show individuals wearing kimono in diverse and original ways. And Cliffe embodies this spirit of freedom and originality. 

Therefore, her powerful ideas position her as a pioneer of a new era of kimono fashion. At the same time, she is also bringing back the freedom enjoyed by our ancestors. 

Each of Cliffe's looks is beautiful and unique, and her collection is extensive. One standout piece is a formal black kimono adorned with the design of a charming finch design along the bottom of the skirt. The bird is a familiar sight in Japan.

Another one of my favorites is her summer furisode. Furisode are long-sleeved kimono for special occasions like graduations or when attending the weddings of close relatives. Nowadays, it is rare to find this type of kimono for the summer season.

Cliffe's furisode features an artistic pattern of wisteria flowers and water wheels in pastel colors created using the yuzen-zome dyeing method. 

These examples merely scratch the surface of Cliffe's wardrobe, which, when explored through her book, feels akin to wandering through an art museum.

In modern times, fewer people in Japan wear kimono due to the convenience of modern clothing. Many perceive kimono as outdated and confined by rules and formalities. But in Cliffe's vision of kimono fashion, there are no constraints. She embraces her own style, unbound by preconceptions, and constantly seeks new ideas.

A Kimono Evolution

Personally, my journey into wearing kimono as a hobby wasn't easy. Selecting color and pattern combinations, along with coordinating accessories like the obi and zori (shoes for kimono), as well as hairstyles, posed many challenges. 

Haru Naito, the author of this book review. (Photo by @boywithleica)

The process of choosing a kimono was vastly different from shopping for regular clothes. Additionally, at that time, there were not many examples to follow online or in magazines. Therefore, I sought inspiration from ukiyo-e exhibitions and books by the Meiji-era painter Yumeji Takehisa (1884–1934). I also frequented many second-hand kimono shops in Tokyo.

Finally, I now have a few kimono ensembles I'm happy with. My personal journey makes me appreciate Cliffe's immense love for kimono, evident in her expansive collection. Moreover, she has given me the courage to break through my preconceived notions of formalities. She has dared me to challenge myself to create new, original looks.

Kimono Evolution is for anyone interested in starting their kimono journey. It is also a perfect guide for those already immersed in kimono culture and are ready to embrace the new. Cliffe's passion and refined, colorful style serve as inspiration, making this book an ideal gateway to an exciting kimono lifestyle.


About the Book:

Title: Kimono Evolution

Author: Sheila Cliffe

Publisher: Geijutsu Shinbunsha (2024)

ISBN: 978-4-87586-688-6 C0077

Price: Available on Amazon for ¥3,080 JPY (around $20 USD), tax included

The book is in Japanese, but the English text can be found here or via a QR code in the book.


(Read the article in Japanese.)

Author: Haru Naito, actress


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