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February 7, 2020
THE ENLIGHTENED JAPANESE SCHOOL OF FASHION
Six words: Yohji Yamamoto, Junya Watanabe, Kenzo Takada.
Well, what comes to your mind when you think of Japan’s cutting-edge and avant-garde fashion world?
Over the last half-century, Japan has fittingly earned its place at the top of the fashion food chain, producing globally lauded designers, labels, and innovations. Dating back to the 1960s, when Kenzo Takada’s designs began to emerge internationally, Japan had already started the movement to revolutionize Western fashion norms. Judging by the unique, signature style of the likes of Kenzo, Yamamoto, Watanabe, Rei Kawakubo, Issey Miyake, and more, Japanese designers had different priorities – their looks played on cuts, shapes, fabrics, and prints. Meanwhile, the West remained focused on sexuality, the female body, and commercialism.
The left-field shapes and high-tech fabrics that these designers employ in every piece they envision has enlightened the school of fashion as we know it, redefining fashion philosophy. It could be said that these Japanese designers changed the course of fashion’s future.
Kenzo Takada was born in Himeji, a city in Japan’s southern Kansai region, in 1939. He actually attended Kobe City University for Foreign Studies, before he found himself completely uninspired, leaving to pursue fashion. He then founded Kenzo, which saw decades of success in Japan, France, and on an international scale, and still releases innovative, cutting-edge collections today. Yohji Yamamoto was born in Tokyo in 1943, and similarly studied law at Keio University before his foray into fashion design later on. Today, Yamamoto is credited as a master tailor, mentioned in the same breath as the legendary French wartime tailor Madeleine Vionnet. He’s well known for his eponymous line, as well as Y’s and Y-3. Junya Watanabe, the youngest of the three, was born in Fukushima in 1961. He graduated from a fashion college in 1984 and quickly became Rei Kawakubo’s protégé (think: Comme des Garçons.) He’s known for his CDG designs and for the multiple collaborations (Converse, Levi’s, and more) he’s been commissioned to design.
Earlier this year, Business of Fashion investigated the roots of these three designers, gathering that they all attended the Bunka Fashion College (文化服装学院) in Tokyo, which played a huge part in shaping their creative identities. Just a few days ago, Highsnobiety revisited Business of Fashion’s look into the school, bringing these designers’ history back to the surface today. Business of Fashion spoke to professors at the institution in an attempt to find out just how the school has been credited with redefining this fashion movement. Professor Sanae Kosugi, the current dean of the institution and Yohji Yamamoto’s former classmate, explained that “before designing anything, students must understand the human body shape and how human bodies move.” She clarified that, in fact, “every student, whether they’re studying design or merchandising, has to study this first. To know the body well is very important.”
An interesting aspect that sets Bunka Fashion College apart is the fact that its mannequins are diligently measured and modeled off of students to produce bodies and shapes reflective of average, real people. In Paris, Milan, and New York, the common fashion school mannequins are standard Dritz dummies. This speaks volumes about the cuts, shapes, and the general craft of these revolutionary, visionary Japanese designers. Indeed, there’s a method to their long, successful, and fruitful careers in design: the Tokyo years that formulated their fashion ethos.