The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
Email This Page
How to get that kimono right

After their successful Oscar-winning collaboration on the musical Chicago, costume designer Colleen Atwood was a genuine choice for director Rob Marshall when he assembled his creative team for Memoirs of A Geisha.

'When Rob called me to do Geisha, I was thrilled,' recalls Atwood. 'In our very earliest conversations, we began to discuss the challenges that lay ahead. One month later, Rob, Dion Beebe, John Myhre, the production team and I took a cultural journey to Japan.'

It was a trip of a lifetime. 'It was the first time I've ever been to Japan, so it was an extremely exciting trip for me,' Atwood says. 'We first flew to Kyoto and went as a group to many, many really amazing shrines and temples and teahouses. We saw all the people as a group, kimono makers, and the whole process of making a kimono.'

Having visited obi-makers there and also a couple of main kimono collections and antique shops, Atwood started to get a feel of the period of the film. She also could distinguish a little, one textile from another. 'Soon after that, we evaluated all that we learned and loved and began work,' she says.

'After I came back to America and set up my department, I went back to Japan and started to actually shop for fabrics. I went to places in the mountains where the weavers live and ordered obi fabric. I also found amazing peasant textiles ' very old and worn,' Atwood describes.

But it wasn't an easy task. 'The cultural challenge of Geisha was massive,' Atwood feels. 'At the same time, we were making a fictional film about a time and place. I had studied painting in school and had an affinity towards Japanese and Chinese art because I love water colours. I had an acquaintance with the aesthetic of Japan through the historical painting'

To get the authenticity spot on, Atwood visited geishas. 'Of course, very few geisha in Japan speak English but I did meet a young geisha and saw her through her dressing process, and then I went with her to her night of entertainment in a very highly esteemed teahouse in Kyoto,' Atwood reveals. 'I enjoyed two geisha performances and a stunning night at the kabuki theatre. I attended a tea ceremony and saw those things that are part of what the geisha do.'

Apparently there are differences between the style and fabric in high class and lower class geisha wear. 'A really high-class geisha might wear a kimono that you don't notice at all unless you're a high-class geisha,' explains Atwood. 'For the film, because we had to tell the story in an impressionistic way, we took the beauty of the period and pushed what a geisha wore way past the boundaries of what a real geisha would wear.'

The length, too, mattered a lot. 'The geisha kimono is incredibly long because of the dancing, and because of the train of it,' Atwood describes. 'The way it's worn makes it different, too. For instance, the collar on the back. And we exaggerated all that in the film. So a real purist of this would have a heart attack.'

Email This Page