At one point in Japanese history the colour purple was very rarely seen – this was because it was so expensive to produce and needed to be extracted from the Purple Gromwell Plant and the process was very long and arduous. The scarcity of the colour meant it was reserved only for the Imperial family. Eventually, in around the year 604 when Buddhism became prevalent in the country, monks, in recognition of their virtue, were allowed to wear the colour. Ordinary people were denied the romantic and mystical colour.
The Gromwell Plant known also as ‘Murasaki’ has very long roots – this coupled with the fact it was so mysterious and available for only to the highest orders of society meant it began to symbolise undying love. There are very few things as rare and everlasting as undying love and this was embodied by the richness of the purple dyes during the Asuka to Kamakura periods of Japanese history.
The colour was eventually introduced into popular Japanese culture during the Edo period when wealthy merchants, although not of a high social class, were able to purchase and obtain silks and fabrics dyed with the Murasaki plant. This enabled a much wider variety of Kimono designs and patterns to emerge, many of which now feature the plum blossom, chrysanthemums and other flowers that bloom with purple hues.
You can see from this ‘Ishidatami’ kimono the way that two tone of purple have been used to create a bold geometric pattern in the ‘Meisen Ikat’ style which creates beautiful, uneven feathered edges that are full of character and texture.