The Frist’s Looking East exhibit is a surprisingly riveting look at how the trade routes that opened between the U.S. and Japan in the late 19th century influenced American culture. That influence, once recognized, is overwhelming, not just on the making of art — Impressionism and Art Nouveau are both directly related to Japanese aesthetics — but on the textiles and clothing of the times.
Perhaps no one is better suited to speak on the issue than Patricia Mears, deputy director of the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. Mears was hand-picked for the FIT position by the museum’s chief curator and prolific fashion historian Valerie Steele, who co-authored the tome Japan Fashion Now with Mears in 2010. Come hear the sharp, endlessly informed Mears discuss how Japanese imagery was used to ornament haute couture garments from the Belle Époque to the Art Moderne era; how the shape of the kimono stimulated couturiers and ready-to-wear designers in the creation of new forms of clothing construction; and how contemporary fashion is still influenced by Japan’s unique and inimitable street styles.