Junko Shimada has the modesty and the humility of a well-raised Japanese, the independence and the frankness of a Parisian amazone. At the dawn of the thirtieth anniversary of her eponymous fashion house, Junko Shimada is less nostalgic than a young girl.
“Today better than yesterday and tomorrow less than today! I hate looking back to the past”, declares, a few days away from her anniversary show, the designer with a gracious silhouette over which lies an airy, salt-and-pepper bun.
At a time where all fashion houses exploit their heritage to be talked about, she does not care to possess archives. “My style is still the same, it is the shape that changes”, argues the one that plays with trends to create timeless collections with a singular and now identifiable signature.
Junko Shimada has always dreamed of Paris. “As a teenager, this city represented the aesthetics of the ‘Nouvelle Vague’ but, most of all, the liberty of not entering in the Japanese shackles.” After studying at the Sugino Gakuen Dressmaker Institute of Tokyo, she treats herself to a three-month trip to discover the fashion capital.
Charmed by the Parisian women she would love to dress, she settles in for good in 1968. Of her first years, she remembers the “terrasse” of cafés, Roy Lichtenstein’s total look in jeans, Loulou de la Falaise’s wedding and her debuts in 1970 in the style bureau Mafia for which she drew, without speaking a word of French.
In 1975, she joins the fashion house Cacharel to manage children and men ready-to-wear. “It made me learn casual wear, refined and easy-to-wear. This obsession never left me.”
This jean lover leaves Cacharel five years later with a dream: travel to the United States and work for Levi’s. But her roots catch hold of her: a Japanese investor contacts her to launch her own collection. The quest for liberty that got her to leave her natal island starts to make sense. This independence, she still claims it today since her brand is one of the few not to be part of a big group.
Fashion week, spring summer collection of 1982: Junko Shimada launches her very first fashion show under her own name at the Pavillon Gabriel. “I used shirt fabric to make trenches and suits… And I remember a lot of blue, white and red stripes…”
With her style shaking up the Japanese minimalism, she quickly becomes “the most Parisian of Japanese designers” as we call her. The fashion microcosm kneels in front of her energy-filled, casual yet refined silhouettes full of femininity. Collection after collection, she shows herself to be more audacious, mixing prints, making dots and panther cohabitate in harmony.
Her creativity and her independence are a success, especially in Japan where she now owns around twenty stores and several licenses as well as in Paris where she has settled down in two inevitable fashion districts: rue Etienne Marcel and rue Saint-Florentin. Her collections charm the most specialized divas such as Lady Gaga who has fallen for her pair of ballet shoes mounted on a high Plexiglas heel (spring-summer collection 2009).
Back to Paris, in the middle of the preparation of the anniversary show.
“I have conceived this collection on my own, it is very personnal. 2011 has been a painful year, I lost a loved one and there was the tsunami in Japan. My head was caught up and I was missing inspiration. I ended up finding it in paintings from Van Eyck, Vélasquez, Delacroix and their Orient”, she explains in front of the first finished pieces of her spring-summer 2013 collection.
She shows “The man with the red turban” of Van Eyck to explain the origin of these turban hats with medieval accents. She also show images of Rajasthan that inspired these Indians shoes traditionally colored and put on wedges and that light sarouel of which the pattern is a reinterpretation of an ancient fabric.
Without nostalgia, she reissues for this anniversary some pieces like this very tight red leather draped skirt.
“This piece is twenty years old, yet when I wear it, everyone thinks it’s recent! Creating a timeless fashion far from the diktats of trends, that is perfectly my wish.”
Playing with time, a philosophy that perfectly suits this woman that maturity embellishes. As to know whether she feel Japanese or French, Junko Shimada answers while smiling that, like Josephine Baker: “I have two lovers, my country and Paris”.