If we look at Japan back in the 1940s, kimono and other traditional wear were very much prevalent. However, nowadays Western fashion is the norm. Should we be worried about a loss of cultural identity, especially in the younger generations? Maybe not. Enter: Yū Tanaka. This young designer from Bunka Fashion College doesn’t just repurpose and revamp traditional wear—she also recreates and innovates the past using unconventional materials like vinyl. We interviewed Yū about the Japanese concept of “Wa”, reinventing the Japanese aesthetic, and the future of tradition in fashion.
Please introduce yourself to The COMMunity!
Hello! My name is Yū Tanaka. I do nothing but make clothes. I am a 21 year old fashion student who really loves fashion and really loves Japan.
You’re currently a 3rd year student at the renowned Bunka Fashion College. What is it like to be a design student there?
I met like-minded people when I started university and I’m competitive so they encouraged me to devote myself to acquiring knowledge, mastering skills—anything and everything. But the workload is heavy so I have to juggle my personal projects and collaborations with completing each assignment to a good standard.
How important, in your opinion, is fashion when it comes to identity?
I had a really traumatic experience when I was in middle school. There were days when I would spend all my time drawing to distract myself from it. But one day I thought that maybe I could try letting out that sadness by turning my feelings into clothing—and I’ve been obsessively making clothes ever since. Sometimes I feel like these clothes that I make are me, like a reflection of me looking in the mirror.
Tell us what “Wa” means to you.
This word is such an important word. For me this is a word that I, as a designer, also have to be conscious of because it can be incorporated into fashion. Simply put, it is the spirit of Japan.
Do you think Japanese traditions are in decline amongst the youth?
I think it is in decline. Young people know about Japanese culture on only a superficial level. I have organised collections in which the decline of traditional culture has been the theme—and the globalisation of Japan has acted as the backdrop for that. I want to tell more people about Japan’s true beauty with that kind of work.
Apart from traditional Japanese clothing, what else inspires your pieces?
Current social problems—so basically the news. Problems that aren’t really spoken about in public spaces. I’ve done a project about prostitutes working in the entertainment district, for example. I’m a designer so I have to keep my ear to the ground. I tend to be sensitive to things. I’m also often inspired by the world, the environment, and society—they make up my own pool of design knowledge.
Can you tell us a bit about your design process?
I make a note in my notebook or on my phone as soon as I’m inspired by something. I write down the words that came to mind, a poem, or the kind of material. If I’m inspired by something historical or cultural, I will research it. I’m often in the library looking things up—that’s also how you come up with better designs.
As for the fabric, it’s great when I find one that matches what I had in mind, but lately I’ve been designing graphics and digital printing them to make the material that will be the main focus of my design. A garment takes about a month to make. But if it’s a single item of clothing, it’s about two weeks.
What are your future goals and dreams?
My goal is to become a fashion designer and set up my own brand. I want to make it big overseas. I really hope it comes true. My dream is probably a collaboration with Yayoi Kusama, haha! Her artwork saved me in middle school so I want to be able to repay the favour somehow.
What’s the last piece of culture that you enjoyed and why?
The movie Mitsu no Aware. I watched it recently. It’s a story about an ageing writer and a goldfish girl. A pet goldfish turns into a girl and lives with the writer. It’s based on a fantasy novel so it’s like you are in the middle of a dream from beginning to end. I like the visuals most of all—I highly recommend it!
Top 5 fashion must-haves?
Shu Uemura lipstick, business cards, tea, charger, and wi-fi.
Any last words?
Thank you for reading to the end of this interview. I am so happy that you were interested in little old me!
Model wears: @you_tanaka_lr
Questions and introduction by Kay, interview translated by Anna.
Featured image courtesy of @wanderjunioru.