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The rise of historical and cultural perspectives in fashion studies in Japan

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This article seeks to clarify the historical process by which the study of western clothing developed in Japan, and to discuss how this has related to traditional Japanese clothing culture. From this perspective, the study of dress and fashion in Japan will be seen in conjunction with the processes by which the Japanese fashion industry adopted western clothes into its own fashion culture. In the 1970s, a strong desire to promote further development of the fashion industry fuelled the advancement of research that looked at clothing from a historical and cultural perspective. The symbolic event at the origin of this paradigm shift was a large fashion exhibition titled The Origin of Contemporary Fashion (held in 1975 at the National Museum of Modern Art in Kyoto), and the 1978 establishment of the Kyoto Costume Institute (KCI) as mécénat (corporate patronage of the arts and culture) of a lingerie company. The KCI was strongly influenced by western museums and referred to accumulated knowledge in western academia. Thus, the exhibition and the establishment of the KCI will be seen in this article as the link between western and Japanese fashion studies. The fact that this significant transition in fashion studies was driven by the fashion industry has had both positive and negative effects. The KCI’s role as a mécénat organization made it possible to attract the newest forms of fashion exhibition from western countries and to establish a research institute promptly. On the other hand, the KCI’s role in promoting the study of fashion has complicated the relationship between academic research and the interests of the fashion industry, which they also stood for and were interested in developing.
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Keywords: Japan; Kyoto Costume Institute; The Origin of Contemporary Fashion; exhibition; history; industry; research

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Tokyo, Japan

Publication date: April 1, 2018

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  • The International Journal of Fashion Studies is a scientific peer-reviewed journal that fosters the worldwide diffusion of Fashion Studies. Fashion Studies is an interdisciplinary field of research that has been producing an extensive repertoire of theories, analyses and enquiries.
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