Yoshikazu Yamagata is a Japanese designer who, in 2008, shortly after starting his label Writtenafterwards, founded Coconogacco, a Tokyo-based school that turned Japan’s conventional approach to fashion education on its head.
Translating to “school of individuality,” the idea for Coconogacco takes inspiration from private school Setsu Mode Seminar which, in its operational years since 1954, trained the likes of Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto . Setsu Nagasawa, the school’s eponymous founder, believed in practical engagement over theory and fostered an environment of artistic expression through activities such as life drawing and artistic salons.
Coconogacco is also the product of Yamagata spending a total of five years in Europe, first studying at Central Saint Martins and later interning with John Galliano in Paris. On returning to Japan, he found that there was a lot of curiosity about how fashion was taught outside the country. In an interview with i-D, he said that “the Japanese way of teaching is historically very finely-tuned and technical, whereas the European way is much more open, so students can work with more general concepts like creativity and originality.”
The school’s structure is intended to supplement jobs and other studies, with courses taking place on evenings and weekends. Since its foundation, over 800 students have graduated and the school has partnered with institutions including Polimoda and Central Saint Martins, doing much to help students overcome the language and cultural barriers typically facing Japanese designers. Coconogacco students were the first from a Japanese school to win the International Talent Support prize in 2010 and LVMH prize 2016, and the school has since produced a string of successful and prize-winning alumni.
Yamagata has also found acclaim as a designer in his own right with Writtenafterwards. In 2015, he was the first Japanese designer to the be nominated for the LVMH Prize and, the year prior, won the Tokyo Fashion Award and special prize for the Mainichi Fashion Award.