Just the other evening, I was walking home through the busy Shibuya neighborhood. I was in a chic but casual navy blue dress, black tuxedo vest and heels, and pastel pink handbag. It was definitely erring on the side of “fashion”-y, but nothing avantgarde or gothic. Still, this dark ensemble was worn much to the chagrin of some random Japanese dude on the street. He couldn’t help but make sure I knew how annoyed he was with my outfit.
“Excuse me, but…. What’s up with those clothes? Did you come from a funeral or something?”
There comes a point where trends become so heated that they boil over into a frenzy of incoherent parts. The streets in Tokyo have been like an open air discotheque, from the awe-inspiring costumes of decora or Shironuri, down to casual POP looks of Yume Kawaii. It is the era of “anything goes”. Editor in chief of FRUiTS Shoichi Aoki even told me that it has become so disjointed that he suspects something big should happen soon. “It was like this right before Harajuku style appeared too, in the 90s.”
I have had my own heyday in colorful Harajuku street style, and it was some of the most fun I have ever had experimenting with “anything goes” fashion styling in my entire life. Street fashion has become like a 96-color box of crayons, with every shade represented. But no color in particular stands out among all the others.
My breath becomes shallow. My eyes are swollen and damp, as if I have been crying. I`m constantly sniffling, but I do not have a cold. My fingertips are turning to raisins. Any shoe that is not a beach sandal gives me blisters. And the sweat ruins all of my clothes. Makeup lasts 5 minutes, tops. The air smells of sauna, but only with the putrid tinge of chlorine with none of the aroma oils. This must be hell.
There comes a point every year in Tokyo, a time when all of its people’s wills are tested. The weak do not survive. This is called “summer”. And no thanks to the proven “heat island” effect, it’s getting hotter each year. In fact, it may get so hot soon, that fashion as we know it will become impossible to consider from July to September. Will Japan devastatingly become like our Southeastern Asian countries and lose it’s 4-season climate to become a year-long subtropical one? (…no offense) Oh, that future may be closer than you think…
In Japan, we know that trends come and go very quickly (historically, new ones came and went in the span of 3 months). It takes a little longer for the modern ones to cook, and now the “neo” trends mentioned in this article below are getting to the point of being well-done. Specifically, I want to call out “neo ikemen” which as we all know, is now called “genderless” fashion. And genderless is starting to take on a life of its own now. Where are we at, exactly? First, the genderless icon above, Usuke Devil, is all over the TV airwaves and has spawned dopplegangers such as Ryucheru (with 450k followers) and more and more “pretty boys” are popping up on Instagram all the time. And who would have thought that androgynous O-nee Genking would be like the Kim Kardashian of Japan by now?
Some people think that fashion exists in a vacuum, but sometimes…it really reflects a society at large and can offer insight into where it’s headed. So are we in for pretty boys and girls for the foreseeable future? Hey, there are worse things that could happen. Read the original “Neo Ikemen/Genderless” article below.
Subcultures have long been an integral part of the Japanese fashion scene, but they weren’t considered something to be *protected* and *proud of* until recently. The catalyst for this is three-fold
1. The internet globalization
2. The struggling Japanese economy
3. The advent of the “Cool Japan” initiative.
#3 was a major turn, when Japan started to realize that selling their unique fashion culture abroad could be lucrative, instead of keeping it caged inside of Japan. Right now the big trends in this new era are being given the prefix of “neo”. And they are taking off big time, in and outside of Japan. …some of these are even being created outside of Japan rather than inside! What are some of the “neo” subcultures in Japan right now, and what new “neo” subcultures might be born soon?
As a fashion professional, there is some disturbing data out there that cannot be ignored. In Japan, the peak year for the highest number of fashion students in here was in 1985. After that, the numbers just get worse and worse. While in 1985 there were at least 500,000 students studying fashion, in 2015 there were only 30% of those numbers at about 150,000. If numbers keep going in that direction, then in 20 years there will only be 5000 students studying fashion in Japan (1/10 of the peak period).
Why? Is it because it’s becoming harder and harder to be successful as a designer, or in any other position in the fashion industry? That simply isn’t true. So then what is it? In fact, other creative fields like beauty, hair, nails, film, graphics, and photography are all also “difficult” fields and yet their number of students are growing. So then… why exactly are students here abandoning the fashion industry?
Right now the huge topic of discussion in the global fashion industry is regarding disruption of the cycle from runway to delivery (usually 6 months) to”see-now, buy-now” (making looks immediately available to purchase). “See now buy now” is a logistical nightmare in terms of production and distribution, but in capitalistic terms it makes total sense. We want what we see right away, and often by the time clothes hit stores, we are on to the next thing. Big brands with cash flow and resources like Alexander Wang are jumping on the bandwagon to hold on-season runway shows and many other commercial brands are following suit.
This is especially true in New York, which has always been the most commercial of the major fashion capitals. The New York fashion week calendar is mostly filled with sportswear and casualwear instead of couture, and thus I predict a “see-now buy-now” fashion week is just around the corner.
And then, after New York gets that ball rolling, I believe Tokyo will become the See-now buy-now destination for Asia. The most creative designers here are already producing on a trunk-show schedule, and the consumers have been attending see-now buy-now fashion shows for over a decade. ..could Tokyo even become the see-now buy-now capital of the world?
そんなミーシャの想いを形にしたのが、伊勢丹新宿の夏浴衣フェア”Now and Tomorrow” by Misha Janette ♡。伊勢丹1階のメインイベントスペースにてお披露目してます。そこでは、7階の呉服コーナーからセレクトした浴衣と、3階のリスタイルコーナーから選ん だ洋服を合わせてスタイリング提案をさせていただいた。同じ浴衣を、オーソドックスな方法と、呉服と洋服をミックスさせたモダンな方法で着たマネキンを並 べて置いて、その違いを際立たせた展示は伊勢丹にとっても初めての挑戦だそうだ！ここでは、４つのスタイル提案を紹介&解説します。さて、あなた のお気に入りはどれですか？
In Japan, the summer season brings out a type of traditional clothing called the Yukata, which is a lightweight summer kimono. While in the west we look to the runways and streets for new styles and trends in clothing, changes in yukata trends are pretty much limited to print and color as its design (shape), and how it’s worn, never changes. In Japan, wearing the yukata as it always has been is so normal, it’s like cereal and milk. You aren’t really *supposed* to mix it up… like putting coconut water in that cereal. But to someone like me, the long robe with the wide sleeves and obi belt just seems so versatile in possibilities! Can’t we play with it… just a little?
So with that concept in mind, I have collaborated with Isetan in Shinjuku to direct the Summer Yukata Fair “Now and Tomorrow” by Misha Janette ♡ which is featured on The Stage, which is in the middle of the 1st floor! In it, I styled my favorite new yukata designs with the newest western fashion from the 3rd Floor Re-style shop. You can see how the yukata are worn in an orthodox way, as well as in a more mixed-up “avantgarde” way. In fact, this is the first time Isetan has ever mixed traditional clothing with western fashion!! Please see the four main styles below…which is your favorite?
It was only a matter of time before a subculture came out of Harajuku that wasn’t just a happy pastel-painted fantasy. What happens when parts of real life seep into kawaii fashion? When people want to project whether they are happy or sad…but in this case, *especially* when sad? That’s when you get a subculture of fashion and design called “Yami Kawaii”. On the surface it’s your average cute, girly style with some twisted humor. But deep down it’s a heavy beast. Dive into this episode of Sick, Sad World….
(above: characters read “sick” and “death”, respectively)
I had been noticing an “anti kawaii” movement for some time in Harajuku. I was introduced to this subculture while writing an article for Z Tokyo, a new bilingual online magazine based out of Tokyo.
In the article, I talk about some otaku-types who wear clothes that say “DIE!!” In Japanese characters, and Harajuku brand MYOB who is popular for it’s cynical taglines (An illustration of a noose reads “I`m 17 and you let me drink here”). If you’re not familiar with this anti-kawaii movement, please read the article there first (and see there Banal Chic Bizarre’s intriguing “YURUFUCK” collection) and then come back to go in deeper with Yami Kawaii.
The word “yami” is the character for “sick” or “ill” and often alludes to physical maladies like pain or even “hospital”(病院)。There are several layers to the Yami Kawaii trend, and the first one is what you’d expect a Harajuku subculture to produce: cute, weird fashion.
Since yami means pain, the yami kawaii subculture revolves around accessories like fake bandages, skulls, pink blood, and gasmasks. It’s a little bit similar to “kowa-kawaii”, which was the “scary kawaii” trend. That one revolved around eyeballs and gore, with a goth spin on it. But Yami-kawaii has a more girly, otaku-spin with lots of pastels and anime-style illustrations for it.
NHK World TV Show Kawaii International’s newest episode is very timely, introducing this subculture as an underground fashion movement. You can watch the episode here until the end of the month. In it, we are introduced to a popular anime character who often gets hospitalized, and happy go-lucky KERA model Ichigo Masui (above), who accessorizes her frilly outfits with pills, bandages, and little devils.
She shops at Harajuku store Nesin (ネ申）which sells pink eye patches and lots of clothes adorned with the aforementioned cynical Japanese messages like “Die!”. Almost everything is pastel, not bloody or gory.
The show is quick to point out that it’s an aesthetic choice, and not a mental one. And that’s totally true, as it doesn’t take permission from one’s psychiatrist to shop at the store. It’s a natural progression from the scary-kawaii trend, and I think it’s actually a lot of fun. Especially being the cynical, sarcastic American that I am, I think this type of dark and twisted Kawaii fashion is actually an easier sell abroad than the fluffy, fairy kind. I mean, who wouldn’t laugh at a neon pink gas mask or a pastel green “DIE!” sweatshirt? It’s all in good fun.
This pastel and frilly style is also referred to as “Yume-Kawaii” (dream kawaii). It’s a fairy style with a heavy dose of dark cynicism. Either way, it’s all kawaii but with a serrated edge.
…but what if it’s not just all in good fun? While yami-kawaii mostly revolves around humor, there is another, deeper layer to all of it. That is when the word “yami” takes on a mental dimension and literally means “mentally anguished”(心に病気を患った人). The Japanese slang word for this is “menhera” which is short for “mental health”. It refers to people who are usually on the fringe, who converge on anonymous message boards like 2chan and who have serious mental issues.
These people used to only “exist” on the internet, but recently there has been a movement where people who are menhera have started creating art and fashion in real life. It has become extremely popular, and it is undoubtedly related to the popularity of Yami Kawaii fashion.
Meet Menhera-chan, the unofficial mascot of the movement. She was drawn by a young male artist named Bisuko Ezaki, who has turned the yami-kawaii popularity into a business. He has almost 100k followers on Twitter, and sends out pictures of his t-shirts and other ventures, like a photo editing app called “Yami Kawa-camera”. But make no mistake, he’s a dark dude and some of his tweets are so twisted, even I squirm a little bit (like asking his followers to play games like on “Where do you think the accident happened?”).
メンヘラチャンとそのLINEスタンプ かわいいながらも、「リスカ戦士」や傷跡などのとこがかなりダーク。 Menhera-chan and her LINE stamps. In the above “map”, notice the wrist scars, the little knife, and the introduction as a “wrist-cutting warrior”. Dark.
Another catalyst is a girl named Aoi-uni, who organizes a yearly art fair called the “Menhera Exhibit”. This is where young girls and boys can exhibit menhera or yami-kawaii inspired art and goods, and sell it for a profit. Aoiuni is a rather cute and attractive girl, but the truth remains; she proudly waves the banner of menhera and even Tweets from her visits to the hospital.
This isn’t all totally new in Japan, as while researching for this, a photo of Kusama Yayoi popped up. She’s known for having committed herself to a psychiatric ward. That is considered somewhat endearing to the public, such as the menhera-chan mascot (the mascot has it’s own LINE stamps).
As for Yami Kawaii, I think that the edgy-ness of it makes it a pill easier to swallow than typical “kawaii” clothing for the West.And in high-fashion, it’s seen at Banal Chic Bizarre, and even in the collage prints at Nozomi Ishiguro. I hope that the girls and boys out there who are truly suffering from menhera can find this to be a cathartic outlet, and meanwhile, you guys can shop for Yami-kawaii at various Harajuku stores.
Japanese fashion is known for being avantgarde, or of course for being wild and colorful. But have you ever heard of a Japanese brand designing for Muslim women? Rieka Inoue of the brand “GNU” is betting that it’s a market that will appreciate her designs, and see her brand grow. But what will it take for a Japanese brand to take that market on?