As you might well be given to expect from the output of the country as a whole, fashion education in Japan is a very different beast from that found elsewhere in the world, and, while I may be biased in my judgement, no bad thing too.  With its dizzying number of technical colleges and bastion of talent – Bunka College, all focused on the fundaments of fashion over outright creativity, the criticism oft leveled is that the stringent system files away individuality, a view oddly at odds with the stereotype of “wacky quirk” that external observers like to hold at the same time.  In reality the emphasis on the basics at an undergraduate level is well justified when you look at the work of graduates and rebellious alumni that span Yohji Yamamoto to Keisuke Kanda, who often manage to be pioneers while also upholding the standard to finish synonymous with Japanese fashion.

The post-graduate level of fashion education is another matter altogether, and you might well be surprised how shallow its history is relative to the institutions of Europe and America.  In reality while the infrastructure was there, in the past students simply rode out their difficult experimental years in the micro economies of Harajuku and the like, or else by developing their skills at internships that echo the traditional Japanese craftsperson model over the Western view of interns.  As such Japanese students have in the past tended to end up abroad at a post-graduate level, while the vast majority simply entered the industry until they gained the skills necessary to start their own brand.  However, things are changing, and it is telling to note that many of Tokyo’s current big names only ever entered fashion education at a post-graduate level, and from Anrealage to Mikio Sakabe, the focus is shifting to the post-graduate to create visionaries and designers, leaving the fundamentals to the undergraduate level.

The fact that this is a recent development means that the emerging post-graduate institutions, of which Bunka Gakuen University and Bunka Fashion Graduate University are currently taking center stage, are actually surprisingly international in their outlook, attracting a good mix of foreign students and even offering courses in English as the primary second language after Japanese, a policy in line with schools in Europe where English is not the first language.  Nonetheless, “international” is a relative term, and the atmosphere and theory remains thoroughly Japanese beyond the new found accessibility, and why should it be anything else?  There is clearly a huge interest from abroad to grow their own ideas out of Japanese soil, and as you will see below, one can’t argue with results.

The BFGU Fashion Week is a celebration of graduate work from the BFGU as well as related departments of the university, attracting buyers sniffing out young talent and journalists clocking names to look out for alike.  This time it coincided with the IFFTI series of lectures, exhibitions and shows, making it one of the best opportunities I have had to view all the student’s work in one place.

We begin with one of the largest draws of the Week, a lecture with Yohji Yamamoto, who did not disappoint acolytes with frequent references to, and an appearance by his muse – his mother, before graciously taking questions from the audience.

I won’t spoil his words by rushing through them, but highlights did include his very interesting thoughts on cultural appropriation in fashion and how much of fashion is cultural, and a succinct explanation of why his most recent AW 2014 menswear collection was devoid of his trademark black.

From there we pushed on with the graduate fashion show, graciously giving the opening to students from the partner institution from SUTD – Saint Petersburg University of Technology, and Modeschule Hetzendorf.

The Russian students did not disappoint with impressive baroque inspired details next to sumptuous fur.

From the latter school, street style took the lead.

Moving on to Bunka Graduate student’s work and Miki Ono’s “Fun With Hands” was an early highlight:

This streetwear themed school uniform was beautifully conceived, the printing used to make an obvious but effective sociological point.

Shiko Kata’s “Non-avian Dinosaur” was an exercise in commercial potential, but still had enough of the kind of flourishes you can only get away with as a student.

My personal highlight was Hirotaka Shintani who regular readers of this site should know from the Zetsumei and Cocogacco exhibitions.

The skill with which he contrasts the masculine and feminine is remarkable and no better exemplified than below where a pair of Japanese men’s hakama explodes into frills and ruff-esque shapes – simply stunning.

Taiwanese Lee ChinHua’s skill with textiles was undeniable.

While In Seo was definitely channeling the Tokyo Underground zeitgeist with a “Dream in a Concrete Jungle” themed collection.

Finally we have “Symmetry Tessellation” from Viviano Sue, a very accomplished explosion of geometrics in the Pugh oeuvre.

Moving on to the exhibition highlights and it was great to see one of my own students grappling with 3D printing technology to produce some lovely petal shaped bone corsets.

As well as another whose recent experience interning at the polar opposites of Yohji Yamamoto and Balmung was very evident in his first year output.

Elsewhere there were mannequin after mannequin of students of various levels work, and it is important to note that not all were aiming to become designers as such, for some their final work is focused on textiles, technical advancements in construction, costume design, brand planning etc.  I always feel guilty that the “designers” get the center stage, while the boffins at the back (paging Mudsnail) don’t get their share of the limelight for bringing the vision to life.

Stand by for more recent graduates, and for a closer look at the current crop of BFGU graduates you can follow this link.

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