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Column "My Cool Japan"

CEO, Cool Japan Fund Inc.Nobuyuki Ota

Japanese Fabrics Valued Worldwide

CEO, Cool Japan Fund Inc.Nobuyuki Ota

By shooting himself

The French Fashion Federation holds Paris Fashion Week, - the World Cup of the fashion world - as a platform for the world’s greatest fashion designers to present their new collections. In recent years, there has been a definite rise in the number of brands showing pieces that make use of woven and knitted fabrics that are clearly Japanese in origin. High-density polyester and specialty print fabrics from the Hokuriku area, wool fabrics and jerseys from the Tokai area, ingeniously-made denim from Okayama and Hiroshima prefecture– these are all being seen in some of the top brands in the West, with most of the top ten brands making use of Japanese-made materials. In fact, for those popular brands using the most Japanese fabric, 70% of their clothing uses material made in Japan.

After the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake Disaster, back when I was Matsuya’s Merchandising Officer, I came across a beautiful denim handbag at Celine’s shop on the grand floor of Matsuya Ginza. It cost about 200,000 yen, which made it something that the average person would find difficult to get their hands on. I said to the clerk, “This denim was made in Japan, wasn’t it?” They answered truthfully, “Yes. It’s Japanese.” The majority of customers don’t know that Celine uses Japanese denim because the tag doesn’t read, “MADE IN JAPAN.” The country of origin is registered as the country in which an item goes through its final fabrication, so even when the fabric is made in Japan, if the final item was put together in, for example Italy, it will read “MADE IN ITALY.”

Denim is made in a twill weave, which means that it will always produce diagonal lines in the fabric. Jeans gradually provide a better fit the more we wear them, and that is because the material is woven obliquely; in other words, the characteristics of the fabric mean that strain in it always runs diagonally. For a cheap shopping bag, this is not such a problem, but for a high-quality item that just cannot be allowed. This is why Celine uses special denim in which the material doesn’t make those diagonal lines, and it was Japanese artisans who came up with the trick needed to create such special fabric. That’s why I asked the clerk whether the denim was made in Japan or not. And it’s not only denim. The world’s top brands are very aware of the Japanese artisanal spirit that goes into developing those fabrics, created using traditional fabrication methods that make them stand apart from all others.

By shooting himself

It’s a shame that Japanese customers have no idea that the popular seasonal collections seen at Paris Fashion Week are the result of the brands holding Japanese expertise in such high regard. As someone who is somewhat of a figure in the fashion world, it was a bit lonely keeping this information all to myself. That feeling made me start to think about holding some sort of event to show our customers just how good Japanese denim is. I wanted a way to communicate to the world just how great it is, from right here in Ginza. With the cooperation of Kaihara, a denim manufacturer in Hiroshima Prefecture’s Fukuyama City, and with the help of our long-time rivals Mitsukoshi Ginza, we held an open-air fashion show in the pedestrian district on Ginza Chuo-Dori called Ginza Runway, with the theme “Japan Denim”. More than 80 models walked the 100-meter long denim runway, including children from the disaster areas in Tohoku, students from Ginza’s own Taimei Elementary School, then-Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Yukio Edano, and actress Ryoko Yonekura, just before she made her Broadway debut. The show saw broad coverage in both newspapers and television, and people all around the world heard about this event, which took place one year after the disaster in March 2012.

A TV channel, TBS documentary Yume No Tobira (Dream’s Door) covered the open-air fashion show, including lots of footage from the area around where the denim is produced, and the filmmakers provided a detailed explanation of the difference between Japanese-made and Chinese-made denim using video taken with a microscope. Denim normally fades with use and becomes more customized to the person wearing it. This is because the core of the thread used to make blue denim is actually white - only the outside of the thread is dyed in indigo color. However, the documentary explained that in Chinese denim, the dye reaches all the way into the core of each thread so the fabric never fades. We learn that the different dying technique is where the skill of the Japanese denim makers lies, and it also showed us why the world’s top jeans makers and designer brands use highly-valued Japanese denim in their creations.

The denim promotion idea all started with a Celine handbag, and I mentioned this one day to the president of Dior, which belongs to the same conglomerate as Celine. With a sort of triumphant look on his face, he answered, “Well, we’ve been using Japanese denim at Dior longer than they have.” And in fact, ten years ago, current Yves Saint Laurent creative director Hedi Slimane was in charge of Dior Homme, Dior’s menswear division. Their jeans became an enormous hit worldwide, even at the high price they demanded. Perhaps this is what he was referring to.

Today’s Paris Collections wouldn’t exist without Japanese fabrics, but unfortunately, most Japanese people don’t realize this. Cool Japan Fund has many roles to play: to help pass on the Japanese expertise recognized by the world’s most popular brands, to gain bigger markets for that expertise around the world, and to increase the number of Japan admirers world-wide, but at the same time, we also want help the Japanese people become more conscious of what makes their country great.


Nobuyuki Ota

Nobuyuki Ota is CEO of Cool Japan Fund Inc., organized last November by Government and the private companies. He began his career as a freelance fashion journalist in New York.
After 8 years in New York, he came back to Japan to found Council of Fashion Designer's Tokyo with the leading designers at that time.
Serving Secretary General and Chairman of the Council, he joined Matsuya, a department store in Ginza as the head of marketing division to conduct the big renovation of the flagship store. And then, he became a president of Issey Miyake Inc. in 2000 and returned Matsuya as the Merchandising Officer in 2011.
Also he is serving as a board member of Japan Fashion Week Organization from 2006.