PARIS – This year marks the 35th anniversary of 75-year-old fashion designer Junko Shimada’s participation in the Paris Fashion Week. In a world of ever-changing fashion trends, she continues to present her designs at the forefront of the industry.
In her 2017 spring/summer collection shown in October, she included pieces embroidered with aquatic creatures, taking inspiration from “Urashima Taro,” a Japanese folk story featuring the eponymous fisherman. The collection seemed to encapsulate the new wave of interest in Japan that is currently in vogue in Paris.
Influenced by French movies among other things, Shimada moved to France after graduating from dressmaking school in Tokyo in 1963. In 1970, she joined a designers’ group called Mafia. A move followed to Cacharel, one of the major apparel brands in France, where she worked on menswear and children’s clothing.
She launched her own brand, Junko Shimada, in 1981, and in autumn that year unveiled her first collection, which included dresses and other clothes using striped fabric usually used to make men’s shirts.
She has been releasing new collections every season, creating clothes based on traditional designs that emphasize a woman’s natural charm.
When she was an up-and-coming designer, she was also single-handedly rearing her eldest daughter Kyoko, who was born in 1976.
“I gave a speech at a runway show while carrying my daughter, who wouldn’t stop crying. Now it’s a fond memory,” she says.
Although she has years of experience in the fashion industry, creating new designs is still a struggle.
“When I go to bed, I always leave the light on to illuminate my sketching materials so that I can start drawing right away when I wake up (to new ideas) in the middle of the night,” she said.
Shimada has never been fully satisfied with her collections, and it is this constant self-reflection that drives her to create new designs.
“It’s never too late to learn. It will be many more years until I can retire,” she says.
Recently, young Japanese designers have been showing their collections in the Paris Fashion Week and Shimada is supportive: “Fashion knows no borders. It’s wonderful that young people with a gift for design can emerge,” she says.
Shimada presented her new collection in October with Urashima Taro as its theme because the designer, who has worked continuously for half a century in France, saw parallels between herself and the fabled character, who visits an undersea palace for a few days, and when he returns to his village, finds himself many years in the future.
“My hair has turned gray without my realizing it, but I’ll always hold my head high and try to be myself,” she said.