Japanese Fashion Education and the Creation of a New Generation of Designers
University of Amsterdam and Bunka Fashion Research Institute
Bunka Gakuen, one of Japan's most prestigious fashion schools, started about 90 years ago as the first Japanese institute devoted to teaching Western dress making. The institute proudly celebrates its status as producer of globally famous Japanese designers like Kenzo Takada, Junya Watanabe and Yohji Yamamoto and attracts thousands of students dreaming of a career in the fashion industry. More and more international students (most of whom Asian) choose to study at Bunka, apparently a guarantee for a "glamorous" future in fashion.
Since the shock that Japanese fashion designers caused on the Parisian runways in the 1970s and 1980s, the international fashion world has agreed upon the fact that Japanese fashion has long passed the label "traditional." Rather, it is viewed as one of the most progressive fashion countries in the world. However, a closer look at didactic practices at Bunka Gakuen and the struggle young designers encounter when starting their career within and outside of Japan, shows us that both progression and stagnation are at stake - with conflicting interests between different actors. Young people are stuck between the expectations of older generations and the reality of working in the fashion industry. Whereas teachers tend to stress "Japaneseness" as the distinguishing feature and quality of their graduates and current students, the young designers themselves - many of whom are not Japanese -encounter not just advantages from this focus on Japan.
My longitudinal ethnographic project investigates Bunka's position within the fashion world, its students' daily lives in- and outside of school, their future dreams as well as alumni's realities in the (inter)national industry. Through analytical consideration of fieldwork data, I want to discuss how Japanese fashion education ensures a cultural distinguished construction of creativity and how starting fashion designers in Japan try to navigate internationalization, personal identity and "Japaneseness" in fashion.