Bunka Fashion College: A timeline of Japanese fashion 

Bunka Fashion College

Japanese fashion develops together with the history of Bunka Fashion College.

Japan’s first fashion school opens
The beginnings of Bunka Fashion College can be traced back to 1919, around the time of the end of the First World War. It started with Isaburo Namiki opening a small establishment called Namiki Women's and Children's Dressmaking Shop, which included a school for women's and children's dressmaking, in Aoyama, Akasaka-ku, Tokyo. After working many years as a tailor of women’s and children’s clothing, Namiki struck out on his own and opened this sewing school. But the sudden popularity of children’s clothing meant that there were not enough skilled sewers to meet demand. Namiki paved the way for the teaching of dressmaking, believing that it should be taught in a shorter period of time, and as a basic part of the skills of a housewife, rather than by initiating people into the art of dressmaking through long-term apprenticeships.

Reforming Japanese fashion

Seijiro Endo, who was a salesman at a sewing machine company, was shocked at the fact that housewives were failing to take advantage of the sewing machine because of their lack of knowledge of how to make Western clothes, and felt the establishment of an institution that would teach appropriate dressmaking was urgently needed. Endo met Namiki, and the two men were in complete agreement about reforming Japanese fashion. Endo envisioned a time in the future when fashion in Japan would change from traditional Japanese clothing to Western clothing.

Bunka Sewing School

In 1922, the shop became the Bunka Sewing School, located in a three-story timber structure at Fukuro-machi, Ushigome, Tokyo. It started with four students and seven apprentices. The following year, the school was renamed in accordance with a Tokyo ordinance and began a bright new future as Bunka Sewing School for Women.

Isaburo Namiki

Namiki was born in 1887 in Saitama Prefecture. He showed an unusually keen interest in sewing from an early age, and in 1903, at the introduction of Sekiko Toita, he went to study with Ijima Fujin Yofuku Ten (“Ijima Women’s Clothier”) a third-generation tailor dating from the Meiji Era. Over the course of 18 years, he attained profound skill and experience as a tailor of women’s and children’s clothing. In 1919, he opened his own establishment, Namiki Women's and Children's Dressmaking Shop, which included a school for women's and children's dressmaking. After working as a teacher in the Western clothing department of Toita Saiho Jogakko (“Toita Girls’ Sewing School”) and Shinga Mishin Saiho Jogakko (“Singer Sewing Machine Girls' School”), in 1922, he established the Bunka Sewing School, and served as its head. At the dawn of the age of dressmaking in Japan, he devised a teaching system utilizing patterns, establishing a foundation for fashion education. He died in 1933 at the age of 46.

Seijiro Endo

Endo was born in 1894 in Iwate Prefecture. In 1917, he went to Tokyo, worked as an interpreter for visitors to Japan. Interested in English he joined Singer Sewing Machine Company the same year, and achieved tremendous success as a salesman. In 1919, he met Namiki Isaburo, and while helping him to manage his school, he came to see fashion education as his life’s mission, and left Singer, devoting himself to the school’s administration. He recruited students and worked on PR, expanded publishing projects such as Fukuso Bunka (“Fashion Culture”), Soen, and Bunka Fukuso Koza (“Bunka Fashion Course”), and fostered the Bunka Fashion College Network, contributing to the organization and prosperity of the College. He died in 1960 at the age of 66.

Design of patterns
This pattern dates back to when Isaburo Namiki founded the school, devised according to his own unique system for teaching sewing skills. Incorporating techniques from cutting experts, he made patterns that expressed body dimensions and characteristics in two-dimensional form. Dress patterns made on this basis could be easily applied to a large range of garments. This thinking has been passed down to the present, with patterns being researched and produced for each period in order to match changing body shapes.
Teachers were fashion trendsetters!
Women wearing a new style—short skirts with low waistlines and bobbed hair and cloches—were called ”modern girls” or simply “moga.” Although Kimonos were still common, people were gradually becoming accustomed to Western clothing, and teachers sporting the “moga” style became fashion trendsetters for their students.
Publishing Department
In 1934, the Publishing Department was established in the Bunka Sewing School for Women, the precursor of today’s Bunka Publishing Bureau. In addition to the fact that publishing books that could be used as textbooks was a more effective way of educating the increasing number of students, the school also aimed to popularize fashion education and enhance fashion culture.

All six volumes of Bunka Yosai Koza (“Bunka Dressmaking Course”) were completed in 1935, after a year of work. The culmination of years of teaching traditional fashion, these volumes also came to be used in correspondence courses, and raised the school’s reputation to the highest level in the industry.

Western clothing and dressmaking skills
It became commonplace for Japanese to wear Western clothing after the First World War. Stores selling clothes for women and children could be found throughout town, and demand for children’s clothing in particular increased rapidly. As a result, there was a lack of skilled dressmakers, and dressmaking schools began to pop up everywhere. Bunka Fashion College became Japan’s first full-fledged, accredited dressmaking trade school in 1923, right around the time when the wearing of Western clothing in Japan was becoming more popular than ever. There was also a marked increase in women wearing Western clothing after the Great Kanto earthquake, which struck in September of the same year, and highlighted the need for improvements in clothing. It was the golden age of the Western clothing industry in Japan, and saw an increase in the number of dressmaking schoo

The Showa Era, beginning in 1926, became the age of technology. The technological wellspring of Bunka Fashion College was the artisan’s skills the school’s founder, Isaburo Namiki, had acquired working at clothing stores. Many teachers started out as tailors at long-established stores, and created practical courses that respected and passed on these artisanal skills, initiating students into the secrets of the trade in the classroom. And, after the Second World War, information from Europe and the U.S. became freely available, marking the beginning of an upbeat age full of new, exciting things and experiences. Graphic designers became more prominent, and there was also growing demand for professional training in order to foster designers in the field of fashion design.

In 1951, design courses were launched. At the time, with teachers also serving as designers, the College felt a need to train designers early on, and put effort into educating Japanese designers.

Postwar Japanese fashion and influences from outside Japan
During the occupation after the Second World War, American fashion and culture flowed into Japan. Young women adopted made-over dresses with a military look, using shoulder pads with blouses and sweaters. Soon after it came back into publication, Soen gave extensive coverage to these American styles, and the College studied these new lines. In 1947, a new designer, Christian Dior, made a spectacular debut in Paris, and Parisian fashion became the focus of global attention—a new look with gentle shoulder lines and long, flowing flared skirts. News from Paris also became an important source for fashion designs.

In 1953, as part of the events celebrating the 30th anniversary of the College’s founding, Christian Dior and his entourage were invited to Japan, and fashion shows were held in Tokyo, Nagoya, Kyoto, and Osaka. The Paris fashions displayed at the shows caused excitement throughout Japanese society, extending far beyond the fashion world. Afterwards many other designers came to Japan and held shows at the College, allowing students to see and study top shows from abroad when they were studying.

Aiming to become the world’s top designers
The first male students entered the College in 1957. The fact that 23 of 7,000 new students were men made the headlines. The head of the college, Seijiro Endo, expressed the following sentiment: “The world’s top designers and pattern cutters are men. It is my hope that you become active at the forefront as teachers and designers.” Many of the male students were aspiring designers, and are said to have clearly stated on their applications that they wanted to make lifelong careers as designers. Kenzo Takada and Mitsuhiro Matsuda, who were male students who entered the College the following year, and many others thereafter went on to become designers active in global fashion.
New curriculums for professional training in fashion
Demand for new curriculums arose as more professional education became necessary to train designers for the field of fashion. So, in 1951, the College launched design courses. Courses were created, with first-rate teachers brought in from each field, to study new ways of making clothes by working from the design concept on up. The fashion industry entered the age of prêt-à-porter in the 1970s, against a backdrop of mass production and consumption. The College also underwent its second education reform. In 1976, with changes to the legislative framework for specialized training colleges, the College developed a three-pillared education policy that took into greater consideration new forms of professional training in fashion.

Fashion Creation courses are programs that teach general fashion knowledge and skills. Fashion Technology courses teach specialized knowledge and skills in fields that manufacture fashion products, with the aim of training students to work in the apparel industry. Fashion Marketing and Distribution courses train students to be able to work with distribution channels in the industry. Fashion Accessories and Textiles courses were added in 1983, and continue to the present day.

Japanese designers go out into the world
In the 1970s, a growing number of Japanese travelled to Paris, which was the mecca of fashion, including many graduates from Bunka Fashion College, who worked hard in Paris in the midst of harsh social circumstances. Of them, Kenzo Takada (fashion design) became one of the most well-known Japanese at the time. He opened a store in the key Fashion district, and became a great success, on a par with Yves Saint Laurent and Sonia Rykiel.

The fashion show, “Ten Designers on the World Stage,” celebrating the 60th anniversary of the College’s founding, was held by graduates for the opening of Endo Memorial Hall. The brand names of each designer shone like neon on the stage, and the brightly colored clothes of Kenzo Takada were a great success. Yutaka Hasegawa, Tadayomi Sakaide, Norio Suzuki, Mitsuhiro Matsuda (Nicole), Yohji Yamamoto (Yohji Yamamoto), Hiroko Koshino (Hiroko Koshino), Junko Koshino (Junko Koshino), Meiko Kitahara (Mine May), and Isao Kaneko (Pink House) each presented marvelous shows. These were a great inspiration for students at the College, who looked up to these graduates of their school.

Stars born thanks to Soen Award, a gateway to success for new designers
In 1956, the Soen Award was established in celebration of the 20th anniversary of the magazine Soen. Created with the aim of fostering new designers, it was conceived as a gateway to success that would send new young talent into the fashion world.

Jurors consisted of a veritable who’s who of the fashion world at the time, including Bunka Fashion College teachers. An air of excitement filled the jury venue as fashion design underwent serious scrutiny, with questions such as “How should clothes be made to reflect the mood of the times?” and “What does it mean to create the clothes for the future?” All students attempted to win the Soen Award, and the number of challengers has increased year by year. The fact that Bunka Fashion College design students win year after year serves as a wonderful incentive for fellow classmates aiming to become professional designers.

Japanese fashion draws global attention
In 2015, Bunka Fashion College was ranked second in the world in the Global Ranking of Fashion Schools published by UK fashion information website The Business of Fashion. The fact that it receives such high acclaim from outside Japan demonstrates the global industry's confidence in Bunka Fashion College’s history and educational policies, as well as high expectations for its future.

New fashion quest

Since its foundation, Bunka Fashion College has worked closely with the fashion industry as a central actor in Japanese fashion education, and developed together with the industry. As a leader in Japanese fashion education, it explores new forms of fashion that adapt to the times, engaging in joint research with companies and participating in collaborative initiatives that involve industry, government, and academia. Japanese fashion will continue to evolve and produce creators capable of performing on the global stage as a result of Bunka Fashion College continuing to hone students’ individuality and fashion sense, and ensuring that they acquire the knowledge and skills required to compete at an international level.

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