“Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only,” said Coco Chanel, “Fashion is in the sky, in the street… fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.” Chanel would approve of Kobe.
150 years ago, when Japan opened its ports to the world, the government may never have dreamed that Kobe would become the chic, cosmopolitan city that it is today. Initially limiting the foreign settlement to one strictly defined area of Kobe, the idea was perhaps not to become a melting pot, but that is just what the city became when the sweet clash of east and west created the heavenly culture of Kobe. Patisseries and sushi shops, boutiques and antiques, tailors and kimono dressers all make their home together in this uniquely stylish city with a romantic atmosphere that is all its own.
A History of International Style
It all began in the hills of Kitano where foreigners built homes and shops and began to exchange ideas, foods, furniture, and clothing with their new neighbors in Japan. A fashionable lifestyle was born that included the pastimes and culture of the local aristocracy (with a uniquely Japanese twist) which endures over a century and a half later. In Kobe, ladies continue to have lunch and tea time and enjoy personal service at boutiques and department stores with classic Japanese omotenashi (wholehearted hospitality and service).
Many boutiques and depātos (department stores) offer personal shopping and custom tailoring, and all packages are properly wrapped with crisp bags and, when needed, rain guards. Select shop owners travel seasonally to Paris to research and order right from the runway for their discriminating customers. For many years, it was a commonly held belief, “If you can’t go to Paris, go to Kobe*” due to the availability of top fashion brands in Sannomiya, Motomachi, and Kitano.
The Kobe Fashion Museum
Thankfully, the international homes, boutiques, flower shops, restaurants and tree-lined streets have endured, and stand ready to whisk visitors away to a place where style is the rule and not the exception. It is little wonder that the stylish city of Kobe is home to one of the world’s few dedicated fashion museums, noted by CNN in 2010*. The Kobe Fashion Museum and Library is the place to study fashion in Japan. It houses a rotating collecting of gowns by style mavericks Christian Dior, Alexander McQueen, and Oscar de la Renta, as well as samples of international fashion from around the world. The library, which is open to the public free of charge, is home to an impressive collection of books and even more impressive collection of magazines and trade periodicals such as Vogue, Numéro, and WWD covering the ever-changing fashion industry, latest trends, and forecast reports.
Most importantly, the Kobe Fashion Museum is a launchpad for young local and foreign designers. Each year, Japanese and foreign residents have the opportunity to apply for a fellowship to study fashion in the UK, Milan, or Paris through the Kobe Fashion Contest, now in its 43rd year.
Videotapes of runway shows and fashion calendars are also available for students and the fashion-loving public. And the Kobe public does love fashion! The city hosts Kobe Fashion Week twice each year, along with pop-up fashion events which, unlike those in other cities, are open to all. Everyone, from young girls to advanced-style mavens, can live and explore in the Kobe fashion world.
Pearls and Pastries
With 220 pearl shops, Kobe is also the place to purchase pearls. With a history in the pearl trade as old as the city itself, Kobe’s pearls are among the best. Yoshihiro Utsumi, Executive Director of the Japan Pearl Exporters’ Association, shared that they are cut with expert technology which can shave 0.001 mm from the surface of the pearl past the top protein level to reveal the more beautiful layers beneath. Similar to diamond cutting, the brilliant quality of this process is what makes Japanese pearls so unique.
Kobe’s fashionable life extends to its appetite as well. Adopting parts of the food culture from its foreign residents 150 years ago, Kobe cuisine now has a uniquely international flair with Kobe baguettes and bakers ranking among the top in the world. Bakeries, tea rooms, and coffee shops, with their heavenly aromas, fill the streets and daily trips to the bakery are as common in Kobe as they are in Paris.
This year, Kobe is unveiling and celebrating its fashionable history and lifestyle. The city is opening its gates to the world once again with vibrant plans for a year-long 150-year anniversary celebration. Fashion-lovers and fun-loving foodies will not want to miss this opportunity to experience all that Kobe has to offer at its finest. Visit www.kobeport150.jp/en to get all of the information about the upcoming events and festivities.