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Art of the Kimono
Photo by Vincent Lim.

Art of the Kimono

Kimono stylist Nobuaki Tomita explains the kimono-making process, while showcasing his work and discussing the traditional Japanese costume's history.

View an online slideshow featuring more photos from "Kimono: Sea of Silk."

Nobuaki Tomita says his inspiration for taking up kimono-making was linked to the memory of his mother, who passed away when he was young. She often wore a kimono and had a profound appreciation of its beauty.

"Somewhere in the depths of my mind and heart, there's an association between the figure of a woman wearing a kimono and my mother," Tomita said, speaking through an interpreter at the event "Kimono: Sea of Silk" held in the UCLA Faculty Center's Sequoia Room on March 17, 2008. The Paul I. and Hisako Terasaki Center for Japanese Studies and the Japan Foundation, Los Angeles, sponsored the exhibition, in which models showed Tomita's designs.

He never did a formal kimono-making apprenticeship because he wanted to go beyond textbook definitions of what a kimono was, he explained.

"The first step in learning how to become a kimono designer is to understand the heart of the person wearing it," Tomita said. He believes each kimono serves a purpose that aligns with the desires and motivations of the wearer.

In modern Japanese society, the few opportunities to wear a kimono include formal events like weddings, ikebana festivals, and tea ceremonies. Most of Tomita's creations are intended for films or art exhibitions, though he is better known as a costume designer for period dramas. He has worked as a stylist for Japanese actors such as Mitsuko Mori, Yuriko Hoshi, Yoko Yamamoto, Yukie Nakama, Kyoko Koizumi, and Takako Tokiwa. One model at the event walked on stage in a Tomita design that was worn at last year's Berlin International Film Festival.

A kimono is made from a single, 12-meter bolt of fabric called a tan, said Tomita. Some are formal, others more casual. Men's kimonos tend to be simpler, in one basic shape, and generally in subdued colors. Silk is the most desirable and formal fabric, but cotton and polyester are also used.