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Student Stories: Alex Douglas Newton, Kimono: History Design and Development

Fashion Illustration
Fashion Illustration

Written by
Mariana Jaureguilorda Beltran
Published date
15 April 2020

*In these unusual times, we love hearing from our students. If you'd like to share your creative journey and encourage other creatives, please get in touch!

For this week's story, we spoke to Alex Douglas Newton, fashion Illustrator, designer and Kimono enthusiast. He's currently self-isolating in the sunny Australian Gold Coast and before the outbreak, took the Kimono- History Design and Development short course taught by Sheila Cliffe.

Tell us a little bit about where you are from and your journey to taking a short course at London College of Fashion

I am Australian, I live in the UK, though as we speak, I am in lock-down on the Gold Coast in Australia. I spend half my year living here anyway so it isn’t the biggest upheaval.

I have been drawing Kimono for as long as I know or at least thought I knew, what a Kimono was. I would say maybe 20 years ago, I remember Madonna in the video clip  “Nothing Really Matters” was my first introduction, a look inspired by Hatsumomo in “Memoirs of a Geisha”, I would draw things like these. They were very nascent ideas of Kimono, usually just a garment with a wide sleeve or Obi-Esque sash.

Recently, I started to drill down into understanding, not just the garment itself but the whole concept of wearing Kimono learning more and more at every turn whilst at the same time realizing the enormity of its cultural significance, social stratification and historical importance.

I have made Kimono style garments and even bought a few vintage Kimono. Then I started to read anything I could find about Kimono including, Sheila Cliffe’s book “The Social Life of Kimono”.

At the start of 2020, I chose to focus on nothing but Kimono this year. I told myself would only read books about Kimono, I would draw a Kimono every day, I would feast on anything Kimono related and visit anything exhibiting Kimono, I was going to become a Kimono expert.

About two days later my aunty wrote to me. My mother had talked to her about my obsession with Kimono and she mentioned she had a friend who was a Kimono expert in Japan, I should look her up and learn from her. When I saw Sheila Cliffe in the email I knew I had already seen that name before and was bowled over when I realised that she was the author of the book.

I wrote to Sheila on social media and she told me about the upcoming class months away at LCF! It was fate!

What did you enjoy the most about it?

On the first day, I realized just how in-depth we were going to go.

I loved the history component, it was my favourite subject at fashion school and certainly was a highlight of this course.

On the last day, we all made a 1/5 scale Kimono, that was something else. This class of chatterboxes, or was it just me butting in the whole time, who knows, we fell silent for the whole day, all you could hear was the rip of thread passing through the cloth as we HAND MADE KIMONO! It was a fantastic experience and was included so that we could understand how the garment was made completely from straight cut pieces from one long strip of cloth, so fun!

Alex's handmade Kimono

How has your short course benefited your career, education and/or personal development?

I knew more by lunch on the first day than I did from all my other researching. We had an expert who is English but lives in Japan, to whom we could ask any questions.

I had read books and watched documentaries but there is always something that flies overhead, especially when you are dealing with Japan, this culture that is at once completely recognisable and understandable and at the same time upside down different in every way. Having someone “on the inside” was priceless.

She would explain something, a part of the Kimono say, she would then say the Japanese name for it and then translate it, then, she could explain the translation and put it into context and how this word became the name for that part and what that may mean socially in Japanese culture. Brilliant!

So I take away knowledge, more than I thought I would gain and that I could have hoped for.

Alex's Kimono Illustrations

Where are you planning to use your new creative skills?

I will make Kimono with more knowledge and respect. As an illustrator, it has already changed the way I draw and I am drawing with the techniques of Kimono dyeing and decoration in mind which is a lot of fun.

What you can do and what has been done with 8 rectangles of cloth is eye-watering.

What would you say to someone who is thinking about taking a short course at LCF?

Do it! To sit in a room for a week, a month, a year with a group of people who are all into one thing in life, it’s in that environment that you realise what it is you were supposed to be doing and what you truly love.

Otherwise, it could confirm that you truly hate something and in a way that has it’s own merits!

I am happily of the former.

What 3 words best describe your Short Course experience?

Knowledge, Creativity, Purpose

Follow Alex Douglas Newton on Instagram