Taking on the task of reinvigorating Tokyo’s beleaguered attempt at producing a world-class fashion week requires a good deal of gumption. In this regard, Nobuyuki Ota, CEO of leading fashion house Issey Miyake, is relishing the task and achieving a measure of success.

Last week, he spoke to The Japan Times about his role in improving the event.

* * * * *

The fortunes of Japan Fashion Week, particularly in terms of media exposure, seem to have improved since you came on board. To what do you attribute this success?

The overseas media exposure is thanks to the support we’ve been getting from the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO). They’ve been sponsoring foreign journalists’ trips to JFW, and that’s done a lot to strengthen our visibility.

Most fashion weeks in other cities have major sponsors, like Olympus in New York and Mercedes in Australia. Is the absence of a major sponsor for JFW the result of a lack of appreciation for the fashion business here in Japan?

To a certain extent, yes, but I think that’s changed a lot. The prime minister attended the opening event last time [in March 2007], so that’s a sign of shifting attitudes. The government is very conscious of the need to strengthen Japan’s position as a cultural powerhouse, as Japan moves toward a more knowledge-based economy.

In an interview with U.S. apparel-industry daily WWD last season, you cited the words “international” and “incubation” as being key to the event. Please elaborate.

The word “international” applies not only to persuading overseas designers to stage their shows here, but also to attracting buyers and journalists from overseas. This time we have two designers from South Korea and we’re staging an event with young creators from Israel, Georgia, Germany, Taiwan and other countries — so we’re making progress there.

In terms of overseas attendees, we’re seeing a steady increase in numbers, but we’re not satisfied yet.

For the “incubation,” element of JFW, the event I just mentioned with young overseas designers, which is titled “Newcomers Who Met in Europe,” is being held at 21-21 Design Sight, and features several Japanese designers who graduated from fashion schools in Europe.

Because the schedules of the major fashion weeks are so packed, there’s no way young designers with no cash can get people to go to their shows, so we believe there’s great potential for attracting newcomers to Tokyo where they can get a got slot on the schedule and good media exposure.

One of the great strengths of Japanese fashion is its fabrics. How are you incorporating this aspect of Japan’s fashion business into JFW?

We’re going to stage a big event in November . . . We’re arranging lots of opportunities for designers to meet the artisans behind the great fabrics created in this country, and an ever-increasing number of top designers here are using Japanese-made textiles.

At the moment, JFW’s spring/summer collections are held before the other major fashion weeks (in September), but the autumn/winter shows are held after them (in March). Can you explain the discrepancy in the scheduling of JFW on the world’s fashion calendar?

The most important thing is not to overlap with other collections, so we have to stage the event either before New York (the first fashion week on the calendar) or after Paris (the final one). The factory production schedule for autumn deliveries [to retailers] is tighter than that for spring deliveries, so that’s why we have this lop-sided cycle at the moment.

I think this March-September cycle is fine for the time being. When everybody comes on board and says “OK, let’s really take this thing to the next level,” then we may be able to move to a January-September cycle, but I don’t think we’re at that point just yet.

What do you think about brands such as DressCamp that will in future show in Paris and not in Tokyo?

I think brands that have the resources to stage their collections overseas should go ahead and do so. It’s our job to keep producing brands that can compete on a global level, and in a way it’s a tribute to the success of JFW that they do so.

The main venue for JFW has changed every season since its inception in November 2005. Finding appropriate locations is clearly very difficult in Tokyo, but will you stick with the current venue at Tokyo Midtown?

We’ll have to see what kind of feedback we get from participants about Midtown. There are problems finding venues in every capital, but it would be nice if museums and galleries would cooperate like they do in France and Milan.

What are the overall objectives of JFW?

One impprtant objective is to support young creators whose work hasn’t been seen before. JFW brands like Somarta and Matohu have received critical acclaim and are producing very exciting clothes.

I think we are just arriving at a very exciting time in Japanese fashion. The legacy of Comme des Garcons and Yohji Yamamoto was so great that it was hard for Japanese designers not to incorporate something of their very distinctive aesthetics into their work — rather like in France, where there haven’t been many new talents emerging since Jean Paul Gaultier, and in the U.S. with Ralph Lauren. But now I think we are finally moving out of the shadow of those great names and into a new era. JFW is here to support this generation of talented newcomers who have a great deal to offer.