In his unorthodox show for the “tenbo” brand, Takafumi Tsuruta chose a mix of disabled and able-bodied models to showcase his quirky designs, with several of them donning bright yellow wigs.
He is the latest designer to celebrate disability at a major fashion week, after an actress with Down’s Syndrome and a male amputee model graced runways this year in New York and Milan.
“We are introducing something called ‘people’s design’,” Tsuruta said after the show. The clothes are aimed at everyone in the world. I think it’s fashion’s responsibility to have trendy and easy-to-wear clothing”.
His ‘Dream”-themed autumn/winter collection included details such as magnetic buttons and reversible jumpers, aiming to reach a wider audience than typical high-fashion items.
Ami Sano, who was born with a rare disorder that left her without limbs except a left foot, said backstage before performing that she “really didn’t dream” she would end up modelling at fashion week.
The 24-year-old appeared before the packed-out hall in her wheelchair, donning a white wedding dress, in the show’s moving finale.
“Simple clothing for us is great. I think people in general will be thankful for this type of design, and there are various ways of arranging the pieces,” Sano said.
She told AFP that “there is still a wall” in Japan between those with and those without disabilities, but she thought the show could help to challenge prejudice.
“I would like people to keep having hope,” she said.
— Braille-inspired designs —
Opening the show was blind model Rina Akiyama, 27, who won a gold medal for swimming at the London 2012 Paralympics and works at a pharmaceuticals company.
Akiyama, who wore a dotted trapeze dress inspired by Braille — a tactile writing system used by blind people — said it was “very rare” for such a fashion event to take place in Japan, which is gearing up to the Olympics and Paralympics in 2020.
“I think there are a considerable number of disabled people who don’t leave their homes,” she said. “It would be great if chances like today increase.”
Often criticised for their narrow choice of models, global fashion weeks have lately taken small but significant steps towards greater diversity.
Last month US actress Jamie Brewer, who has Down’s Syndrome, took a turn down the runway in New York in an A-line black dress designed by Carrie Hammer.
Hammer launched the “Role Models Not Runway Models” campaign in 2014, choosing her models for their professional achievements, and brought the first woman in a wheelchair to the catwalk in New York.
British model Jack Eyers also made history in February as the first male amputee to appear at New York’s fashion week, in creations by Italian designer Antonio Urzi which he later showcased in Milan.
Two women with prosthetic legs modelled for Tsuruta this week in Tokyo, including 31-year-old Sayaka Murakami, who wore a stylish white shirt patterned with paper cranes.
As she prepares to compete in both sprint and long jump at the Rio Paralympic Games next year, she is hopeful the fashion industry, like the sporting world, will continue to champion inclusion.
“In the future, people with disabilities won’t have to give up their dreams of modelling and will be able to work hard to achieve them.” -AFP