Updated: Feb 19, 2021
In 2019 we were approached by Cream Studios to provide authentic Japanese kimono for use in a Netflix production, The Age Of Samurai. Taking place in the Momoyama period, we knew modern kimono would not meet the historically accurate demands of this film, however, we do have experience in converting modern Japanese kimono into period costuming such as patchwork kosode, which were popular with concubines and fashionable women of the era.
Though the production has a heavy eye on historical accuracy, we were working under tight time limits and there was room for creative innovation for stylization. We arrived on a Thursday, and filming began that very Monday. Here are a few of our notes that we provided for the costume department to consider, as well as reference books that we sourced our information from.
We could not be prouder to have been involved in the work on this set, and it was a delight to be able to take our knowledge of historical period costuming and be of assistance. In this post not everything will be discussed in detail, as there is simply too much research and materials to share in a single post. If you want a more 1 on 1 discussion on some of the techniques, choices, and more feel free to reach out personally and we can talk further. We provided notes, offered research recommendations, showed the differences between modern kimono and period kosode, and helped do a few conversions before leaving the costuming in skilled hands. We had an influence, but we were not in charge of costuming.
Now, let's take a look at some of the behind-the-scenes work that went into creating the costuming for the new Netflix Series: Age Of Samurai. These behind-the-scenes photos are not intended to be a guide on how to construct your own historical costuming, so much as a fun sneak peeks behind the scenes.
Here is a list of SOME of the reference books sourced and can recommend for doing historical research on this period, and its costuming.
Japan's Golden Age: Momoyama by Money L. Hickman - ISBN: 978-0300094077
History Of Japanese Women's Costumes by Ken Kirihata - ISBN: 978-4-87940-572-2
Japanese Costume and Textile Arts (The Heibonsha survey of Japanese art) by Seiroku Noma - ISBN: 978-0834810266
Under Kimono by Kodansha - ISBN: 4-06-204554-0
Shinto: Discovery Of the Divine In Japanese Art by Sinead Vilbar and Kevin Gray Carr - ISNB: 978-0300237016
Tale Of Genji: Japanese Costume Through History, The Custome Museum (Kyoto, Japan): https://www.iz2.or.jp/english/
There are many more resources that can be consulted on the topic, and we have a great many books however the books and website mentioned above are among the better resources we have that have more targetted period information.
---These are behind the scenes photos of inside the workshop space for props, and other equipment. ---
Behind the scenes of every production, there are lots of hard-working staff who pour hours of hard work into making every film possible. Being on set really drove home the work ethic, and passion for the industry there is. The photos below are of some of the time we spent in the prop shop going over costuming research and design. While there we provided research, suggestions, and ideas while also doing some sewing ourselves. Working on such a tight deadline meant that we had to be focused.
Now let's do a breakdown in the costuming we were directly involved in. For this production, we sold them many men and women's clothing. If there is a samurai with black or green hakama, you can bet it came from us. The photo below is the selection of older style modern kimono which were to be converted into period attire. Kimono throughout the ages have evolved and changed, meaning that modern kimono are not perfectly suitable for a Momoyama period film. For the women's attire I focused a lot on iromuji for a few reasons: first when worn in layers it will be more comfortable for the actors, but also the layering of the costuming demands color pop for the period.
The area were we did the most work and consulting was with the women's period attire. One of the largest differences between modern kimono and historical ones (of the momoyama period) is that the historical ones for this period had rounded shorter sleeves, that were attached to the main body of the kimono. Modern kimono tend to have more squared and longer sleeves with an open armpit separate from the body of the kimono. There are other differences as well, but the sleeve difference is the most easily noted difference.
Here is a photo of what was potentially to become the period nagoya obi, which were popular with concubines, courtesans, and 'play' women in the later period. Originally the nagoya obi started as little more than a beautiful cord with a tasseled end, over time it evolved into the modern form which is rather different. After the photo there is a breakdown of the costuming reference.
First: Momoyama period nagoya Obi, and patchwork kosode.
Below you can see the information this costume choice was based off of. The diagram below shows the Momoyama period nagoya obi, paired with a patchwork style kosode as worn by a period courtesan or women of the likes. The source of these images and research is the Kyoto Costume Museum.
Let's next look at the costuming of the noble ladies and their maids.
Another issue for us to tackle was the beautiful layers women's attire, and the period obi that were NOT in the nagoya style. To get the right quality of fabric, the choice was made to source vintage maru, fukuro and nagoya obi (in the modern style), for the fabric, and to reconstruct those more modern obi into period styles. In a matter of a few hours, we were able to remake around 10 modern obi into historically accurate ones.
First, here is an example from the Kyoto Costume Museum of what a period style noble lady should look like. For additional examples of this style I recommend the book History Of Japanese Women's Costumes by Ken Kirihata - ISBN: 978-4-87940-572-2.
First, we took modern obi, cut them to side, sewed them, and then ironed flat. The interior interfacing when possible was salvaged and reused. Here are some of the more modern obi that were selected to be remade into period ones.
The process was fairly straight forward, and the results far better than if we had tried to go to a modern fabric store to source Japanese textiles for the style. This was also much more budget friendly a method, and fairly quick. We first did this obi conversion method well over 11 years ago.
Step 1, seam rip open your obi.
Step 2 cut to the dimensions you need. I find 1 modern obi can create 2 momoyama period ones on average.
Sew them to size, include interfacing when possible, then iron flat to get the right shape - and done. A modern obi converted into a Momoyama period one, suitable for historical costuming of a Noble lady, and or her maids.
Don't worry you will getto see a photo of the finished obi style shortly. Next let's jump to the kimono to kosode conversion. There were many paths and options to take, over the creative choice was made to convert a few furisode into the outer layer for the noble ladies, known as an Uchikake. In modern times that Uchikake is bridal attire, however in this period it was not.
In the photo below you'll see the head of costuming preparing to remake a furisode. A template had been made to use on the sleeves to give them the proper historically accurate silhouette verses the modern style. As said earlier in this post, the main difference one can quickly see between modern kimono and period kimono are the sleeves. In this period sleeves were attached to the body of the kimono, shorter, and more rounded. In modern kimono you see the sleeves longer, more square, and not attached to the body of the kimono with an open armpit. There is a reason for this difference in sleeves, which evolved in the Edo period but is a separate topic. There are many other differences, but this is one of the most central conversions that must be done to alter modern into historical, at least in our opinion.
Without a doubt cutting into such a beautiful kimono was difficult. Worry not, we saved the scraps for use in other projects while on set.