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4 Mar 2020

Bringing the banyan to the V&A

Written by Emma Inglis, Curator
The front of a blue early 18th-century kimono with coral-coloured lining and collar hangs on a dressmakers dummy
A gentleman’s early 18th-century night gown, known as a baynan (from the front)
A gentleman’s early 18th-century nightgown from the collection at Newhailes, known as a banyan,​ is one of only a handful that survive in the world. It’s the only one of its type known in Britain. Now, the banyan forms part of the exhibition ‘Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk’, currently on at the V&A in London.

How the banyan came to be at Newhailes is not precisely known, but it’s reputed to have belonged to Sir James Dalrymple. Recent research in conjunction with curators at the V&A and Tokyo National Museum has proved that the silk was woven and dyed in Japan before being made into a kimono-style garment ready for export to a Western market. Japanese methods of stitching show the banyan was pieced together prior to export, which was not always the case. Sometimes Japanese fabric was exported and then constructed into a Western approximation of a kimono by Western tailors.

During the early 18th century only the Dutch East India Company was permitted to trade with Japan, so we know the Newhailes banyan must have left Japan by this route. One theory is that the banyan was part of a shipment that left Japan in 1711. Records refer to a ‘silk kimono with family crests’, which it’s tempting to link with the unusual fake crests, or mon, that adorn the shoulders and sleeves of the Newhailes banyan.

The back of a blue early 18th-century kimono with coral-coloured lining visible on the cuffs and three coral crest patterns on the back, hangs on a dressmakers dummy
A gentleman’s early 18th-century nightgown, known as a baynan (from the back)

Around this period members of the Dalrymple family are known to have travelled to the Netherlands, and to have acquired items of clothing or to furnish their expanding house. As MP for Haddington in East Lothian and Auditor General of the Exchequer, Sir James travelled frequently between Edinburgh and London, as well making tours of the continent. His wife, Lady Christian, may also have travelled to the Low Countries, according to family accounts. Displayed at the V&A alongside similar garments in Indian cotton chintz, silk brocade and painted silk, the Newhailes banyan is the last word in home comfort. With thick silk interlining, it’s more akin to a duvet than a nightgown – perfect for a Scottish country house!

A circular design coloured in pink, green and coral sits against a blue fabric patterned with white flowers
Decorative ‘mon’ adorn the Newhailes banyan

Although the banyan follows the basic style of a kimono, the proportions and pattern alignment were adjusted to suit Western tastes.

The mon, or samurai family crest, would normally indicate a gown given to Dutch traders by a Japanese daimyo, or lord of a clan. On the Newhailes gown, however, the mon are purely decorative – crudely painted and with no reference to an actual family crest.

The soft blue silk is stencil paste-resist dyed with waving stalks of Japanese parsley. The brilliant red lining forms a perfect contrast.

The Newhailes banyan will be exhibited as part of the Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk exhibition at the V&A in London, on now until 21 June 2020.