From ancient Rome to modern-day fashion houses, there is not one topic in the history of fashion that Kaori Nakano has not covered in one of her columns or discussed with her students.
As an expert on Western fashion history, especially dandyism and British royal fashion, the author, fashion historian, and professor of one of the top universities in Tokyo, raises the awareness of the cultural significance of fashion. “Fashion is not just clothes”, she says, giving fashion an important social and political relevance.
Kaori Nakano is the perfect example of a woman with purpose and intellectual flair, who shares her expertise and knowledge, and has been instrumental in creating the modern field of fashion studies in Japan.
You are an expert on European fashion. In general, how would you describe the main differences between Asian and European fashion? Are there even any similarities?
Asian people are more inclined to show off high fashion brands and trends as their nation's economy grows. In Europe, people think it is meaningless to display something with fashion. They do not like the obvious brand logos or designs that are too recognizable. I think European people prefer something more discreet. Both demand high quality from brands, that is something they have in common.
Your view on nowadays fashion in Japan?
More and more young people prefer casual, not too flashy styles. It is a phenomenon that came up several years ago when deflation and economic disparity began to grow. The pandemic also contributes to this trend. Secondhand items are becoming more and more popular among young consumers. For them it is important how reasonable their purchase is.
What sort of impact does fashion have on society?
Fashion inevitably reflects the state of a society and the mood of an era. In addition, fashion is able to support movements. For example, if you seriously wish to build up a diverse society in Japan, you should begin with the elimination of the uniform that job-hunting students must wear. Why should all students even wear hairpins in the exact same way? It deprives them of presenting themselves personally and effectively. It also makes them believe that they are obedient and replaceable components.
How would you describe your personal style?
I like to change my outfits according to the occasion and the people I will meet. I wear a bespoke suit to create an image of reliability when I visit a company as a consultant. And I wear high heels. When I meet students as a professor, I wear sneakers with a suit to create a sense of familiarity.
I choose dresses for receptions and parties. And I often wear a dress with an eye-catching point at the back because people tend to turn their attention to others' backs.
You are a fashion writer, what is the role of a fashion essayist in the 21st century?
Entertainer and moralist. Some try to save the fashion industry, some try to save fashion journalism. But what I can do is to amuse people by my words (either written or spoken). And I think fashion will be more and more a matter of total personality, not clothes. So, to discuss fashion will be more about how to behave, how to think, how to talk (not only how to dress). Personally, I would like to portrait the brave people in the fashion industry, who are working to build a system that benefits the environment.
What projects are you currently working on?
I am currently writing an academic book about business suits and another one about luxury in a new era. In addition, I am writing columns for newspapers and magazines, I teach at the university and I plan to produce sneakers and travel goods. There is never enough time.
What is your most treasured item of clothing?
I treasure items that have emotional value for me and things that are linked to memories or people. Such as a unique piece that my friend made for me based on the Union Jack, the bag for which I was the brand ambassador or a watch I was given as a commemorative gift.
The Japanese style in 3 words…?
Politeness, harmony, and order.
What is the relevance of today`s fashion? What future to you predict?
All design ideas are almost exploited. You may have to rely on materials to express newness. Consumers, generation Z in particular, will more and more emphasize the values of brands rather than the design of the clothes. What matters is the way products are made and sold. Transparency is increasing today. Information is disseminated quickly, and a company will lose support if they discard a massive amount of stock, treat producers unfairly, or engage in production activities that lead to the destruction of the environment. Fashion designers will be successful if they are able to create a recycling system. More people can see through the meretricious appeal of Instagram posts which can be easily made to look better than reality. Thus, authenticity will win support in the future. In other words, reality wins out over forged beauty.
What does being a woman of purpose mean to you?
It means being brave enough to act for the wellbeing of others. Thinking of the issues of society as your own issues and knowing that this conclusively bring back happiness to you.