"Memoirs of a Geisha" (2005)

Photo courtesy of Sueko Oshimoto / Suehiro Kimono Agency.

Kimono worn in a Major Lazer music video featuring Sean Paul. Photo courtesy of Sueko Oshimoto / Suehiro Kimono Agency.

Photo courtesy of Sueko Oshimoto / Suehiro Kimono Agency.

Photo courtesy of Sueko Oshimoto / Suehiro Kimono Agency.

Photo courtesy of Sueko Oshimoto / Suehiro Kimono Agency.


Focus On: Kimono

October 2014

By Valli Herman

It’s been said that the history of the kimono is also the history of Japan, the only nation where the robe-like garment has been worn for centuries. With such a rich background, it can be challenging to correctly capture the many nuances that are literally woven into the fabric.

When Costume Designer Colleen Atwood created the historical and Academy Award-winning costumes for the film adaptation of the novel “Memoirs of a Geisha,” she consulted with a number of geisha and kimono experts.

“The creation of kimono was described quite well in the book and I was walked through it in Japan at the museum in Tokyo,” Atwood said in an email. “To create the level of kimono that the geisha of Gion wore in the era of the film involved many artists and steps, each incredibly expensive. It was a patronage of sorts, supporting many artisans.

“The cost of that level kimono at the time was equal to the cost of a house, so they were very treasured,” Atwood wrote.

Today, elaborate kimono of the type worn in modern marriage ceremonies can easily top $10,000, which is why several area stores and suppliers rent them to brides.

Still, the details of assembling and wearing a kimono properly often require the help of experts. In Los Angeles, Sueko Oshimoto’s Suehiro Kimono Agency in North Hollywood has been providing kimono rentals and custom designs for the fashion and entertainment industries for more than 20 years.

Oshimoto, a Guild member, is also a kimono stylist who can offer training to costume designers in the art of kimono dressing. Her inventory includes bridal, vintage, modern, men’s, women’s and children’s kimono, which have variously been worn in commercials, pageants, weddings and in a Major Lazer music video featuring Sean Paul. Her custom designs have appeared in fashion publications such as Italian Vogue, and in films such as “Swordsman” and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.”

Mikko Nakatomi, owner of Pasadena’s Kimono No Kobeya, also is a trained kimono expert.

“There are many kinds of kimono and they have a lot of rules,” she said. Kimono are worn for other Japanese life cycle events, including those for children, who frequently pose in them for formal portraits.

Nakatomi also is a hair dresser for her customers, even the children, who get special ornaments placed in their hair.

Former Costume Designers Guild President Mary Rose has presented detailed seminars on the proper procedures for making and wearing kimono, styling the hair and walking in the traditional manner to make the hem kick up a bit.

These days, costume designers can scroll through online videos to observe the many steps required to layer and wrap a kimono correctly. Designers also can venture to several areas of Southern California where Japanese populations support stores that sell a wide variety of kimono for men, women and children.

Here are other sources for kimono supplies, accessories and information.

1323 El Prado Ave.
Torrance, CA 90501
(310) 328-0500
The Torrance fabric and notions shop offers 100 percent cotton fabric and patterns to sew kimono using non-traditional 42- and 44-inch wide fabric. The store also offers sewing classes and a certified kimono dresser.

Kimono No Kobeya
380 S. Lake Ave., Suite 9
Pasadena CA 91101
(626) 796-8881
Wide range of kimono for life-cycle events.

Suehiro Kimono Agency
11423 Emelita St., #8
North Hollywood, CA 91601
(818) 646-8088; www.suehiro-kimono.com
Hollywood’s go-to source for kimono and accessory rentals, custom designs and education on proper dressing techniques.

123 Astronaut Onizuka St.
Los Angeles, CA 90012
(213) 626-0789
This Little Tokyo shop offers a good selection of kimono.

Satsuma Oriental Imports
2029 Sawtelle Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90025
(310) 473-3946
Don and Cynthia Sakai assist customers with the proper selection and wearing of kimono, which their store sells in cotton and silk.

SK Uyeda Department Store
230 E. 1st St.
Los Angeles, CA
(213) 624-4790
This Little Tokyo store offers men’s and women’s kimono.

Tokyo Bridal & Tuxedo
319 E. 2nd St., Suite 115-B
Los Angeles, CA 90012
(213) 617-3595
Sells and rents all types of kimono, including elaborate bridal kimono.

Yukata Kimono Market
Online marketplace for cotton yukata also offers accessories and online videos demonstrating how to wrap and wear kimono.

“The Story of the Kimono” by Jill Liddell (E.P. Dutton, New York) — An illustrated history of the revered garment.

“Creating a Geisha” – An educational video created by Sueko Oshimoto, available to view on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=atq4UvaOHhU

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