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Fashion show at Univ. of Tokyo aims to break down gender barriers, academic elitism

Tomoyo Matsumura, left, designer and head of "blurorange," a ready-made clothing brand based in Osaka, and a male model wearing a dress designed by Matsumura. (Photo courtesy of blurorange)

TOKYO -- A fashion show aiming to remove barriers not just between genders, but also performers and audience members, will be held June 3 at the University of Tokyo's Yasuda Auditorium -- the first such event to be held in the historic hall of Japan's most elite university.

The event's organizers -- University of Tokyo professor Ayumi Yasutomi and fashion designer and head of Osaka-based fashion brand "blurorange" Tomoyo Matsumura -- have dubbed it a "fashionposium" that aims to promote discussion about diversity by challenging common ideas on gender.

Matsumura had always liked "men's" clothes, which led her to pursue the creation of designs that do not conform to society's notions of gender. She studied male skeletal structure, knowledge about which she now applies to her clothing designs.

For example, men's rib bones spread outward at an angle different from women's. Their waists are generally not as small as women's, either, which makes it hard to create volume in the hip area when men wear skirts. Matsumura solved the problem through the abundant use of gathering in her dresses, a sewing technique that helps achieves the optical illusion of a full silhouette.

In recent years, there has been increasingly more coverage by the media of sexual minorities such as transgender people, whose sex assignment at birth does not align with their gender. Moreover, it has become more common for men who enjoy wearing "women's" clothes to show off their fashion on social media.

Promoting the idea that "we all have the right to enjoy fashion regardless of sex, gender or body shape," is a major objective of the fashion show, Matsumura says.

Among the models who will be appearing in the fashion show is 32-year-old Satsuki Nishihara, a transgender actress whose assigned sex at birth was male, but now lives as a woman. The show will entail mixing and matching clothes and shoes from different brands that suit the models.

University of Tokyo professor Yasutomi, who once attracted widespread attention for a book the professor authored, "Genpatsu kiki to 'Todai waho'" (The nuclear crisis and the "discourse of the University of Tokyo"), which exposed the smoke-and-mirrors logic of the powerful, has been living in women's clothes for the past five years. The upcoming fashion show is the first such show to be put on at Yasuda Auditorium, the professor says.

"The University of Tokyo stands at the apex of our academic-career-obsessed society, and it has a significant gender gap among students, staff and instructors." Yasutomi continues, "By holding a fashion show and symposium with transgender people and others who are trying to overcome the barriers of gender at Yasuda Auditorium, a symbol of this society's gender gap and elitism, we are hoping to challenge systemic discrimination based on academic background and gender."

The "fashionposium" will be held from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. on June 3 at Yasuda Auditorium, at the University of Tokyo's Hongo campus in the capital's Bunkyo Ward. No reservations required. For inquiries, contact fashionposium@gmail.com (in Japanese).

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