By definition, fashion shifts. One of the pleasures of the exhibit is seeing how many ways the intrinsically simple kosode can be transformed. Sometimes the back of the garment becomes a canvas. One early 19th-Century garment was painted by Sakai Hoitsu, a famous practitioner of the Rimpa style. The kosode features a plum tree whose branches curve onto the wearer's shoulders. Other kosode are superb examples of the dyer's demanding craft.
At the beginning of the Edo period, fashion trickled down from the ruling classes. But perhaps because fashion always resists the status quo, less lofty influences began to modify dress. The presence of Portuguese missionaries in Japan caused a temporary rage for wearing crucifixes. And at some point in the Edo period, fashion began to trickle up.
Men and women of the samurai class began to look to such raffish arbiters of fashion as the actors of the Kabuki theater, who would commission costumes for new roles that caused certain styles and specific colors to become wildly popular--for a time. Even the women of pleasure who inhabited the so-called Floating World began to dictate fashion. But a certain elegant eroticism is quite naturally part of the kosode's allure. Takeda pointed to painted screens of the 17th Century that titillated viewers by showing nothing more than two kosode on a lacquered kimono rack. Such garments might very well have been left behind by unseen lovers.
Part I of the kosode show continues through Dec . 20. Part II begins Dec . 24 and continues through Feb . 7, 1993. LACMA is at 5905 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. Call (213) 857-6000.