Research Highlight - The kimono as a spotlight on character

September 17, 2017

One of my favorite parts about writing Lotus Petals was researching kimono. These cultural costumes, so famous for elaborate design and artistic style, are so much more than simple clothing.

 

In Lotus Petals, three styles of woman's kimono are featured prominently, chosen for their contextual relevance. The first is the furisode

 kimono, which in my opinion may be the most recognizable style of the Japanese garment: the furisode features long-flowing, swinging sleeves, falling below the wearer's knees, and they're festive, colorful, and elegant. In Lotus Petals, Aijyn wears the furisode. Though the style typically makes its appearance at coming-of-age ceremonies, like quinceañera or prom dresses in western culture, or is worn at weddings by young, unmarried relatives of the bride, Aijyn has no such appearances to make in her role as servant. Still, I felt the spirit of the furisode's cultural connotation very strongly in Aijyn. She is coming of age in this story, in a way. She's spent her childhood and young adulthood as a prized treasure belonging to a powerful daimyo, and never observed any traditional milestones of Japanese culture. Though she's grown up, she's not had the freedom to change or grow—trapped in the domain of an unchanging demon, she's learned to behave in only one way: obedient, submissive, and unremarkable. She's been too busy surviving to actually live. This story is her chance to finally make a new choice for herself, a sovereign woman in place of an intimidated child. Perhaps paradoxically, her furisode conveys her sexual spring, she being the young, available, marriageable woman of interest between two vying warriors. The furisode conveys her transformation, in a story mainly featuring creatures who are wholly incapable of change.

 

The suzohiki style of kimono is my personal favorite, and the style showcased by the character of Nagisa,

 the epitomal courtesan of the story. Suzohiki is a stylish, formal, and fashionable kimono characterized by a trailing skirt and worn by geisha. Though the time period of Lotus Petals rules out Nagisa having ever been geisha, she is the very height of elegance, beauty, and class. Were she a modern character she'd be the Bond villain's femme fatale, flawless and deadly in dramatic evening gowns. Though she's not the only character to don a suzohiki in this book, she's the one they are all somehow made for.

 

The third important style in Lotus Petals is the homongi kimono: a formal style, most often worn by married women, in what I've come to think of as a more subdued, polished, serious style. Appropriate for both Nagisa and Aijyn, then, in a scene where the master of the house must pass judgment on one of his own. In this scene, Rhiannon—the master's bride-to-be—dons a bold, distinguished furisode, denoting her status both as his young, beautiful betrothed and as a valued guest in his home (the furisode is a gift he has bestowed on her for their engagement). Nagisa, his courtesan and unofficial matriarch of his household, and Aijyn, his delegate to his foreign visitors are not youthful lovers in this scene; they are not Rhiannon's competition. They are representatives of their master's family and will. Their adornment reflects their respect for her position. It highlights Rhiannon's status, and their tacit support of her.

 

It's always fascinating to me how fashions can be used to communicate aspects of character, culture, and point of view. The setting in Lotus Petals is shaped to fit two cultures: the Japanese culture, and that of the vampire race, which twists all human trappings it comes into contact with. Being able to twine them together, in a way, with something aesthetic and significant, was one of the more satisfying parts of writing this story.

 

 

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