Kimono to Kamino: How the kimono influenced Star Wars

Many costumes in the Star Wars universe have been inspired by the kimono, from the original Jedi robes to outfits worn by Queen Padmé Amidala. To find out more, we caught up with costume designer Dave Crossman, who has worked on many of the Star Wars films, including: The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi, The Rise of Skywalker, and spin-off films Rogue One and Solo.

Can you tell us about how you got involved with the Star Wars films?

Dave: There was a lot of buzz during that year, I think it was in 2013 or 2014, about the Star Wars franchise returning and being made again. The big question was who was going to direct the films? Well, it was announced it was J.J. Abrams, who has worked for a long time with the designer Michael Kaplan, who then approached me to do to come and do Star Wars in the UK at Pinewood Studios.

Michael and I got together and, we formed a crew for the workshops and worked out what was going to be needed to produce so many costumes, because, J.J. wanted, I suppose a nod to the older the original Star Wars films where everything was a bit more in camera, characters such as the stormtroopers to be manufactured rather than digital.

And, so that was the task really, to rebirth Star Wars in a way, and introduce new characters whilst involving some legacy characters, such as Han Solo, Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia. In the end, I did Star Wars solidly for about six years at Pinewood, across 5 different films.


Many costumes in Star Wars are inspired by kimono, including Alec Guiness’s original costume, where do you think that inspiration comes from?

Dave: I think it's basically George Lucas looking at Kurosawa films, when he was a younger guy. And you look at these films, they're just amazing, they had this kind of amazing look and such great drama that they're just great films to watch.

I suppose in the original Star Wars films, the inspiration from kimono is far more explicit when you look at Old Ben/Obi-Wan Kenobi and this costume, You’ve got the crossover of the kimono and the hooded outer robe. The kimono itself looks more like a kind of men's winter kimono, with this crossover belt acting like an obi. And then in keeping the world of Star Wars based in some form of reality, rather than being too sci-fi or fantasy, the outer robe is made out of a brown wool, so you couldn't really get less glamorous than that for a hermit. The whole thing has this kind of warrior influence, which is inspired by many Japanese films, but especially Kurosawa films.

This costume in particular is a good example of things starting off in a costume house. I believe John Mollo, the original designer of Star Wars, went to Bermans and Nathans, the iconic costumiers in London where I actually started my career, and then he pulled shapes and original pieces from the stock to kind of try and guide and inform what's possibly going to work, what's not gonna work. I remember we spent most of our time in Bermans looking for things from Star Wars because they made all the costumes, originally back in the 70s.

The first Star Wars had money restrictions, so everything had to be kind of created from scratch. So instead of tons of money being thrown at things like costume, then there was this feeling of “this is going to have to be the best that we can do for what we what we have to hand.”, and this often produces the best results, often giving you a kind of alchemy to create something special, even when you look at Stormtroopers face, you know it's not perfectly symmetrical, it's kind of slightly off, but that's something nice about that.


How did kimono inspire costume in the films you worked on?

Dave: I think one of the best examples for myself and Glyn Dillon is when we were designing Rogue One. If you look at Mads Mikkelsen (as Galen Erso) at the beginning of Rogue One, in some kind of homestead, the Death Troopers are arriving and he's about to be executed by them. If you look at his costume, we've done a period/vintage kind of Japanese peasant costume, which is slightly padded and based on a very short, men's working kimono. It's got hand stitching all over it, and it's actually one of my favourite costumes that we did.

The process behind the design and creation of these costumes, it's always about concept and the concept artists are very important on Star Wars as you're led by the whole kind of weight of Star Wars itself. So you've already got that design history to go on and you kind of know roughly which direction to go in, but that makes it's very important to try and flesh out original, interesting looking costumes that furthers the legacy of Star Wars.


Why is it important that an exhibition such as Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk is highlighting such an iconic national costume?

Dave: The kimono is an amazing expression, it's a piece of art, isn't it? What I love about kimono is, you can get the most basic working-class kimono, which is hundreds of years old, and they look just as cool as the most elaborate kimono. There's something they all have, this great character, a kind of story, and they're all telling people something, they're kind of very much who you are.

You can learn more about George Lucas's inspiration from kimono in our latest major exhibition, Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk

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