This pieced is named after the Phoenix motifs on this immaculate piece. It combines multiple motifs layered upon each other, showcased on a Tomesode, a type of formal dress kimono only worn by married women of the highest rank.
The phoenix is an imaginary bird, the Chinese characters for which mean "spirit of fire" and "female." Much debate surrounds its origins, evolution and history. A common depiction is that its feathers come in five different colors and the characters for respected Confucian virtues such as righteousness, propriety, benevolence, wisdom and fidelity, were worked into the feathers of its neck, back and chest respectively. It is said that many other birds follow when the phoenix takes flight.
Legend has it that its appearance is an omen of the birth of a virtuous emperor. These various beliefs have made the phoenix a favored motif for celebratory garments. In the early Showa period (1926 - 1988), designs were given a Japanese touch and color schemes were toned down to make the phoenix motif more suitable for women.
The Phoenix motif is placed upon a background of the flowers and waves. The seigaiha, or wave, is a pattern of layered concentric circles creating arches, symbolic of waves or water and representing surges of good luck. It can also signify power and resilience. The wave symbol or motif was originally used in China on ancient maps to depict the sea. In Japan its earliest appearance was on the clothing of a 6th century haniwa (funerary terracotta clay figure). It continued to be used as a symbol on clothing, particularly kimonos, for over a thousand years. The name originates from the gagaku ancient court dance called Seigaiha, in which the dancers wear costumes with this pattern. There is a scene in The Tale of Genji where Genji dances the Seigaiha.
Japanese embroidery (nihon shishu in Japanese) is an embroidery technique that goes back more than one thousand years. In its early stages Japanese Embroidery was only used for decorating items used during religious ceremonies. Over time, as shishu developed its own unique Japanese qualities and characteristics, it took on a more artistic purpose. According to historians, from the early Heian Period Japanese embroidery was primarily used for decorating the costumes of the Ladies of the Court. During these early stages, shishu was exclusively available to this very select group; only the highest ranks of society could afford such costly work.
Historically, Japan thread embroidery began in China with gold, silver, and copper metalwork. Gold and silver yarns were made by pounding gold and silver stock into extremely thin leaf, which was sliced into very narrow strips and then rolled around a core and twisted into yarn.
Layered with the embroidery, this kimono likely uses Yuzen Dyeing for its intricate designs. The term yuzen is named for the legendary Kyoto-based artist Miyazaki Yuzen Sai (1650-1736), who was a lauded fan painter and the man who came up with the original techniques still seen in traditional kimono dying today.
Likely using the Kyo-Yuzen technique, it hails from Miyazaki Yuzen Sai’s home city of Kyoto. Created for the higher echelons of society, such as members of the imperial court, Kyo yuzen is all about showing off the finer things in life.