In the port city of Kobe, where the apparel industry and other fashion-related sectors have blossomed under Western influence since it opened to foreign trade in 1868, a unique library at the Kobe Fashion Museum boasts an extensive collection of fashion books and magazines from around the world.

Many of the publications are rare items that are unavailable elsewhere in Japan, according to the library’s staff. Following Kobe’s declaration in 1973 to become a “Fashion City,” the museum was opened on the city’s man-made Rokko Island in 1997 to promote the local lifestyle- and culture-related industries.

In addition to fashion-related books in 19 genres such as ornaments, textiles and perfume, the library’s collection of some 40,000 publications also include books in over 40 categories such as confectionery, Japanese sake, architecture and interior design, and film.

Among them are one-of-a-kind publications such as an antiquarian French book detailing the shapes of corsets and a photo collection that focuses solely on Thai movie posters.

“We pick books that are out of the ordinary and specialized for enthusiasts,” says Yumiko Fukuya, 45, who is in charge of the library. “Most of the books here cannot be found anywhere else even if you search all across Japan.”

What is even more impressive is the library’s vast variety of magazines. The latest issues are available for about 280 magazines from Japan and abroad.

The June issue of fashion magazine Vogue, for example, is available in eight different country editions, including the British edition with Princess Catherine, the duchess of Cambridge, featuring on the cover, as well as the U.S., French, Italian and other editions.

“Even with the same headlines, the types of clothes and models featured differ depending on the cover,” Fukuya says. “The differences in culture and tastes become very obvious.”

Furthermore, precious vintage magazines are kept in the library’s stacks, access to which is restricted to staff only. These include copies of the French women’s magazine Les Modes published in 1907 and the French Vogue in 1920.

It is interesting to read such fashion magazines that appear mostly in words with few pictures, or ones with covers created with hand-colored monochrome photographs.

While the items cannot be borrowed, any person of junior high school age or above can access and read them at the library by providing a form of personal identification.

Starting in June, the library will also organize tours for the public to visit the stacks.

“I hope that even people who are not interested in fashion will visit the museum,” Fukuya says. “Through exposure to books beyond one’s initial expectations, I am sure visitors’ spectrum of interests will broaden as well.”

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