FROM EAST TO WEST – Vintage Life Magazine

Vintage fashion collectors of any era will come across clothing, homeware and accessories which are influenced by the Orient. But it was surely the Edwardians who introduced the trend.
Designers like Paul Poiret were very influenced by Orientalism and this was evident in Leon Bakst’s ‘Ballets Russes’ costume designs, he designed beautifully. Over the years, Poiret worked with several artists who drew fashion drawings and textile print designs for him, containing elements of orientalism, such as Paul Iribe and Raoul Dufy. Poiret’s influence was so great that his prints and prints influenced by him can still be bought today.

He adored bright colours and introduced bold colours, often seen in Japanese clothing, whilst those around him stuck to the lighter colours which were more conventional in the Edwardian era. In fact, in 1913, he produced exotic designs which were based on oriental harem pants. His lampshade tunics and exotic turbans were all in vibrant glowing shimmering colours, with beaded details. His decadent gowns were also inspired by the Orient, with models even wearing parasols and ‘coolie’ style, conical hats. In the early 1900s, fur was also a symbol of Orientalism and it showed up in all sorts of Poiret’s garments: fur edgings on robes, cloche hats, finishing on coats and as trimmings on column shaped dresses.

Poiret’s love of extreme, dramatic designs also saw him drawing on Japanese influences; his infamous ‘hobble skirt’ was so narrow, that it forced the wearer’s legs so close together that it restricted movement. To achieve this effect, women wore a bondage style belt around the ankles, so movements were small and more graceful – very similar to the walking style of geishas. However, it wasn’t just Poiret who was influenced by fashions and fabrics from the Orient. Costumiers like Leon Bakst were pioneers of colour and his exotic use of bold hues and sharp contrasts, decorated with embroidery and heavy applique, definitely gave a nod to Chinese culture.

Kimonos are another Oriental import which crossed over into vintage fashion. In the 40s, American GIs brought them back as luxurious gifts for their wives and in the 50s, Hollywood starlets wore them for publicity shots, sat at their mirrored dressing tables in their boudoirs, or lounging on chaise lounges.

Perhaps a more everyday item, which takes its origins from Kimonos, is the shorter, Haori Kimono. A Haori kimono jacket is a traditional Japanese jacket that can be worn either casually or with evening wear. It’s a long Japanese jacket, with deep, kimono style and swinging sleeves. They are often made in sumptuous, brightly coloured silk, with lavish, embroidered designs on the back. They were a much easier item to wear for glamorous ladies, as they could be worn open or closed but didn’t have to be worn with a sash which needed to be tied.

After the World War 2, Oriental influences on fashion became even more noticeable. Chinese style lounge suits, complete with mandarin collars and Chinese button knots, with frog closures to fasten the shirts, were very stylish. Even traditional wooden, carved heel mules became fashionable – although they are very uncomfortable!
Many of these trends are still evident today. Traditional Oriental style parasols for example, are in abundance at any vintage event. It really is a stunningly beautiful trend and one which will continue to inspire generations of designers to come.

Words – Haili Hughes
Photographer: Emma Finch of Belle Privé
Models and MUAH: Baberska Hair and MakeUp and Miss Lillian Love
Styling: Kiku Boutique
Shot at Cirque Manchester