Dr. Yuniya Kawamura

01 April 2008
An interview with the Assistant Professor of Sociology at Fashion Institute of Technology, New York
Dr. Yuniya Kawamura is Assistant Professor of Sociology at New York's Fashion Institute of Technology. She holds a PhD from Columbia University, writing her dissertation on Japanese designers in the Paris fashion system. This research culminated in the 2004 work The Japanese Revolution in Paris Fashion. In 2003, she published a book called Fashion-ology: An Introduction to Fashion Studies. We caught up with Prof. Kawamura at the "J-Wave USA" conference at UCLA in March.

How did you originally become interested in fashion?

I wanted to become a fashion designer in the early 1980s. I liked making clothes myself.

Did you go to a fashion school directly from high school?

No, I went to Sophia University in Tokyo, and it was my senior year when I decided that I wanted to become a fashion designer. So I went to the Bunka Fashion College [Japan's premier fashion school.] I did three years, and in the fourth year, I became a teacher there.

Is it common for students to become teachers?

Yes, they usually recruit from graduates. I taught sewing, designing, pattern making, and garment construction.

What was the student culture of Bunka at that time?

The DC ("Designer and Character brand") Boom was really big. LaForet Harajuku had just opened and was very, very popular.

How did you end up in the United States?

I went to FIT. I studied pattern-making technology, because I knew enough about fashion design. I wanted to learn about pattern making in more detail. When I graduated, the economy in New York was really bad, and I couldn't find a job in the fashion industry. So I got at the newspaper Nihon Keizai Shimbun, doing translation, but I was really bored with it. But my boss said, "You have a very interesting background: you studied fashion Japanese, you can read Japanese and write it too. Why don't you write about the fashion industry in New York?" So then I started interviewing major designers, presidents of major retailers.

I really enjoyed this work, but there was no one to teach me how to do fashion writing. So I decided to go to graduate school in sociology.

How did you come to write about "fashion as a system" in Fashion-ology?

I was very influenced by other scholars' work on the art industry. There's an American sociologist who says that art is a "system." He rejects the idea that the artist is a genius. Art is a collective activity, and there are multiple people involved. There are different institutions and professionals, and they create an object of art.

Another scholar did something on 19th century Impressionists in France, and he talked about individual networks within the art world at the time. How people were connected to each other. And there was a new system that was emerging that was critical system, and that's why the painters became famous.

So I was influenced by these two works, and I thought, you can say the same thing about fashion. That was the beginning.
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