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Cross-cultural collaboration, Covid and Playful Kimono

Cross-cultural collaboration, Covid and Playful Kimono

Euphemia Franklin describes the creation of Playful Kimono, collaborating with the Victoria and Albert Museum and cross-cultural collaboration during lockdown.

Casting my mind back to March this year, I am anxiously reminded of news unfurling on the first lockdown in Britain. As the words unprecedented and new normal entered the national vernacular, the population were left dumbfounded. It seemed, and still seems, impossible to decipher what this extraordinary era could mean in the long run.

At the time, I was wrapping up five years of studying graphic design and working towards a final portfolio. Amid a global health crisis, the graduating question of ‘what happens next?’ took on an entirely new meaning. As a designer and producer working mainly in events and exhibitions, bringing people together is at the core of my practice. Indeed, my last project before I had to digitise my portfolio was an interactive installation held in the basement gallery of G.F Smith in Oxford Circus. Such a project would be impossible to do now. As Covid-19 asserted its presence and we were instructed to socially distance, I began to think more critically about the idea of gathering.

Paper whale installation at Under Water: paper and movement at G. F Smith by Euphemia Franklin, Tilda Rawls and Nathan Ward, March 2020

For several months museums and galleries bitterly closed their doors, as it became clear that it would not be safe for public places of gathering to be open. Suddenly, we saw culture thrust into the digital medium in a way that we have never experienced before. Virtual galleries, video tours of museum collections and online art history quizzes were popping up on our phones, filling our junk mail and bombarding social media. The overriding question was, how can we deliver a meaningful cultural experience from afar?

Birth of Playful Kimono

Playful Kimono is a project I started out of the challenging circumstances of this pandemic, as a way to provide a creative activity for the home-bound. Using a simple template, which shows the outline of a flat kimono, anyone can place an image inside the template to imagine what their unique kimono would look like. The inspiration for this project came from Edo period kimono sample books, or hinagata-bon, which beautifully illustrate and catalogue kimono designs. At first I was worried that the idea was silly, but when I showed some initial designs to my Japanese mother, a long-time wearer of kimono, she exclaimed, ‘That’s so playful!’

Contemporary Patterns: Cry of the Crane, by Nakajima Tanjirō, Osaka, 1724 © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

First Playful Kimono design by Euphemia Franklin, using a photograph of a Swedish forest

The original template was made on Photoshop as a quick and fun way for me to try designing a kimono digitally. Once I shared some initial designs on my Instagram page, friends began to ask if they too could have a go. After sharing the template, the kimono designs they sent back were astonishingly creative. So much so that I began to curate a selection on a dedicated Instagram page, @playful_kimono. More and more people began to reach out and soon the page was full of colourful, unique kimono ideas. In this way, I wanted to invite people into the wonderful world of kimono and create a platform to celebrate cross-cultural collaboration during a time of isolation.

Patchwork by Maili

Nectar by George Davison

Hope by Megan Barclay

Playful Kimono and the V&A

Having written my dissertation on Nishijin-ori, a form of silk weaving in Kyoto that dates back over a millennium, I have a particular interest in the design and textiles of kimono. Throughout my final year I was looking forward to the Victoria and Albert Museum’s (V&A) Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk exhibition. It was then sad to hear that the exhibition had to close after four years of careful preparation, having been open to the public for only nineteen days.

Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

It was amid this closure period that I received a message from a member of the V&A’s marketing team asking whether they could promote Playful Kimono. Overwhelmed by the honour of being approached by one of my favourite museums in the universe, I replied yes, without hesitation. Soon four Playful Kimono designs were created using images from the V&A’s collection and were posted on their social media. The post reached the V&A’s 1.4m followers, receiving 10,510 likes and over 56 comments. In that morning, the number of followers on both the Playful Kimono Instagram and my own work page doubled and I received hundreds of messages about the project. Suddenly, I was sending the template to people as far as Israel and Colombia, all wanting to imagine what their kimono would look like.

Playful Kimono designs by the V&A museum

It was in this moment that cross-cultural collaboration in the project truly took off. I could never have imagined, as I was fiddling around on Photoshop one afternoon, that the project could have such a global reach. Since the initial V&A post, I have written an article for their blog and ran a competition on their Instagram to feature a selection of winning Playful Kimono designs on their Instagram story. Now, thanks to skilful coding by Alex Franklin, there is a Playful Kimono website, which streamlines the design process and allows easier access.

Persia by Kathy

Greek Mosaic by Lily D

The Lads by Tom Knapton

Cross-cultural collaboration

Despite the UK fluctuating between easing and isolating, interest in Playful Kimono has been surprisingly consistent. Each day I find new submissions through the website and find great joy in curating these on the website’s gallery page and on Instagram. As people from all over the world click on the template and imagine their unique kimono, a cultural collaboration takes place. At a time when countries close their borders and museums cannot fully open, having an online creative community is essential. Currently I am developing Playful Kimono and look forward to sharing its growth with the global community of participants.

About the author

Euphemia is a Japanese-English graphic designer and producer based in London. Her work focuses largely on shared cultural experiences including events, exhibitions and learning initiatives. Currently she is an assistant producer at the National Maritime Museum, helping to deliver educational programmes for young people, and is undertaking a masters degree in History of Design at the Royal College of Art and V&A. Playful Kimono is an ongoing project which combines Euphemia’s design practice and academic research.

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