Could it be? Is Harajuku becoming …. *whispers* uncool?
Since the 1970s the area has been THE epicenter of new trends and fashion icons in Japan and undoubtedly boasts the most unique shopping anywhere in the world today. Lolita, goth, decora, kawaii, hiphop, neo, otaku, vintage and schoolgirl, it is a veritable wonderland of subculture and chaos all blended into one scrumptious parfait. But then gentrification happened, and that parfait is melting into an unfashionable mess.
Calling it uncool is really unfair to the long history the area has endured, as well as my own affinity and memories attached to it. But what is even more unfair is letting it go and handing it off to the highest bidder. I`m talking about chain stores and fast fashion and shopping mall developers and rude tourists. Harajuku has survived both in part to foreign investment (aka tourist shopping and global chain stores) but is also becoming gentrified because of it.
With furry mascots-cum-Frankeinstein monsters, teddy bears disemboweled to hold iPhone cases, and white overalls with a giant ghost face plastered on the paunch, you would be excused for finding it all a bit… disconcerting. But that was the point, with HEIHEI’s 2016-17 collection titled “Horror School”.
This young brand’s (since 2014) designer Shohei Katoh has his roots planted firmly in Harajuku. ..and before you say, “Well, of COURSE Harajuku”, let me just remind you that nowadays the ‘juku is rampant with commercialized goods and ever-rising rents that are making it difficult for eclectic designer labels to get off the ground. So beyond scary animal character, are the clothes worth their salt? Let’s see:
It was a total shock when Patricia Field announced that she would be closing her famous New York City store indefinitely. No date has been set yet, but it is speculated to be in March (Update: it appears to be Feb 28!). I was actually surprised that it wasn’t MORE of a shock to the fashion community. Perhaps the grief hasn’t really set in yet. After all, she is a godmother to the unique, flashy side of New York City fashion and to all parties concerned, had been supplying the club kids with their clothes for decades. Then those NYC club kids went on to inspire many high-fashion designers and it has been a self perpetuating cycle for a long time. While she is more known for being the stylist of Sex and the City or Devil Wears Prada, she in fact did a service to the young start-up designers who made fringe clothing when no other shop would take their stuff. I suppose it would be like World’s End closing in London, or DOG closing in Harajuku.
Perhaps, there was a reason there weren’t cries of grief like I expected, and that’s probably because the fashion scene in NYC has changed so much, there wasn’t such a huge market for club-ready street-style fashion anymore? Is that what happened? Patricia herself just said she was too busy these days to run the shop, and that she got such a “good offer” on the real estate she couldn’t pass it up.
My first thought was, “Oh-no”. My second thought was, “Wow, maybe Harajuku is one of the the last bastions of unique clothing on Earth.”
Street style for men in Tokyo has been getting a fair chunk of the world’s attention lately, and with good reason – a Harajuku boy can rock deconstructed jackets and long skirts like no other. But where are my ladies at? They still know how to innovate, and this is especially apparent in the niche used-clothing styles that are keeping Tokyo’s fashion subcultures on the map. Three of the city’s most popular are “forest girl”, “80s disco”, and “neo vintage mix”, and I set out to find the girls who are making and cultivating these genres into successful new style trends.
This paragraph is the opening to an article I wrote for The Senken Newspaper, a daily fashion and apparel newspaper in Japan but also available in Paris and Tokyo during fashion week. It’s titled “Tokyo’s Girl Trend Setters are Behind the Registers” and I interviewed 3 leading ladies of fashion in Japan for it. Please pop over and read it online (In English only) . Everyone is so busy that it’s hard to sit down with people and hear their stories, so I was glad to have the excuse to get a one-on-one. Since I could only fit a couple hundred words onto the page, here are their interviews more in-depth.
今回この冒頭のイントロダクションで始まる記事を、“Tokyo’s Girl Trend Setters are Behind the Registersと銘打って繊研新聞で書いたのですが、普段多忙な彼女達のインタビューはあまりに興味深く、新聞の文字数では足りない！ということでここで未公開トークも交えて披露したいと思います！ちなみに原文の記事はオンラインでもご覧頂けるので、英語の勉強がてら読んでみてもいいかも！(英文記事)
*Let’s start with my first interviewee, Coi the head honcho and used and new boutique Bubbles in Harajuku. It opened in Feb 2011 and Coi was about 27 when she jumped ship at her previous used-clothing shop position at Kinsella. She took 7 years of experience in that market and decided to open a shop that more suited her tastes….
Coi: I knew about the malls, like 109 and Laforet but to me, I wanted to wear things that were more “free”. I was working at a [famous] place called Kinsella in Harajuku and learned the ropes there. My boss told me one day, “If you want to start your own shop, I`ll help you out.”
*I started to really pay attention to Bubbles last Dec when I heard news they were moving to a new location right off of Meiji Dori. I thought how amazing it was that a new shop was already moving to a better place from popularity! Well…
Coi: I`m super lucky that everyone thinks we moved because of just popularity, but to be honest our new store is a little bit smaller than before. The truth is our past owner was a little bit strange and unfair and wouldn’t renew our lease even though that’s what we were promised. So I had to pack up my shop and move it away! One of the most stressful things I’ve been through!
*Bubbles has a rather unimposing atmosphere, and is decorated kind of like the bedroom of a girl in her 20s who doesn’t want to grow up and still nostalgic for the 70s, 80s and 90s (but also wants some MiuMiu). There’s even a Mac computer on display (is it still there?) like any stylish girl would have. That, and funky bags and backpacks strewn from the ceiling and closets full of mom’s cool vintage clothing. For the interview, Coi herself was wearing flat sneakers (she was on a bicycle), a vintage MiuMiu dress, huge gemstone costume jewelry and an NBA basketball cap. Just try and make THAT fashion cocktail yourselves! Caution! Not for the amateurs….
Coi: I just wanted a store full of stuff that I liked. And I didn’t even really have an idea or concept until 3 months before we opened. I don’t even have a name for my personal style, even though I get asked to tag it as something all the time [oops, sorry for asking!!]. I used to like 70s style a lot but now I`m more into the end of the 70s into the 80s.. a big mix. But now the 80s stuff is starting to run out. It can’t last forever! We’ll have no choice but to move onto the 90s eventually before 80s stuff gets too expensive. I go on buying trips once about every 3 months to the US. Where do you recommend I go, Misha?
*I had no idea, sorry…I`m in Tokyo 11 months of the year for the past 9 years….. but back to Bubbles. I spent one entire afternoon perusing her blog because she puts together some really great outfits that have an air of maturity to them, but still experimental enough to play a leading part of Harajuku culture. This blog helped spur Bubbles to instant buzz…
Coi: I really was surprised that people knew about my shop so quickly. Especially since I was doing everything myself and couldn’t do tons of proper PR. But you know, everyone gets excited about a new shop, the hard part is keeping them interested. So I would put up lots of posts on my blog…. but then something terrible happened. Apparently one of my ideas from my shop was copied by another store. I couldn’t believe it. I felt really hurt…we are all just trying to keep Harajuku exciting and fresh and make our own way and stay in business. So now I don’t know if I should put anything on my blog anymore… even though some customers see something they like there and then come in to buy it. It puts me in a difficult position.
*I asked about an online shop then, and she explained she was setting one up as we were speaking….herself. She does her shop’s main website as well, and pretty much everything else. POWER! Gurl keeps the reins on and won’t just relinquish to anybody. Sometimes being a female and trying to grasp so much power is looked down upon in Japan. It’s far too “masculine”. What does Coi do when she has doubts?
Coi: Ari who owns The Virgin Mary is kind of my friend-slash-mentor and she gives me advice or stops by to see me. After six months I realzied how tough running a store was…I wanted to really do everything myself and control it all. I guess it’s like a maternal instinct a woman might have. This shop is my baby. But men are able to delegate and leave work to others which allows the business to get bigger. I have to work on that, I guess.
Coi: The Virgin MaryのオーナーのAriちゃんて子がいて、彼女は私の親友兼メンター なんだけど、私が困ったときには彼女にアドバイスをもらうようにしてるの。お店をオープンして半年経ったとき、その大変さを身に染みて分かったんだけど、やっぱり自分で出来る限りはやりたかったし、多分女性特有の根性強さが幸いしてなんとか切り抜けられたの。このお店は私の赤ちゃんみたいなものだからっていう考えもあるけど、でもそういう時に男性のビジネス的なやり方も必要なのかなと思って、今はそっちに頭がいってる。
*It must be really exciting though, to have so much influence and see your concept of fashion being put into practice on the streets of Harajuku with your customers.
*Girl, you are totally influential! You know that, right?
Coi: I try not to acknowledge it…I think it’s better that way now, to not let it go to my head or influence me.
*Ok, but all of your fans love you. I know they’re there…
*I’ve seen them on Twitter. They want to know when you’re working in the store! I KNOW you have fans!
Coi: ….I try not to think about it. It’s a funny thing. Of course I’m happy and thankful. But recently I`m not in the store as much, I`m doing back-end things.
Well, since this interview I didn’t see Coi around much, so she must be growing her balls and getting shit done. Good girl!! Your child is growing up and leaving the home…set it free! (she has a lot more employees to help out now). I suggest checking out her instagram and of course her shop’s blog. She also got her Bubbles online store set up as well! And the shop’s Twitter account is @BubblesTokyo (Japanese, but you’re jsut going to click on the photos anyway). Bubble go forth and float, up and away~
I walked into a nearly empty exhibition hall yesterday at Laforet to see the Mika Ninagawa and her mother, Hiroko Ninagawa’s exhibition preview. The exhibition was of Mika’s photos (of course) and of Hiroko’s quilts. Quilts?! I was there before the reception started because of scheduling conflicts, and wasn’t sure what to expect…especially without people there to infuse some life into the lonely tapestries on the wall.
Her mom was actually an actress before she gave it up to raise her daughters, including Mika. Mika is in the biz now herself, in the director’s chair (along with her photography work, she has a new movie called Helter Skelter starring Erika Sawajiri coming out this July). I am very familiar with Mika’s work, but would I be inspired by her mother’s quilts?
I have never seen such imaginative quilts before… many of them feature flowers and goldfish and other motifs turned into objects of obsession by her daughter. Photo-realistic prints of flowers, or quilted fabric flowers, odd shapes and chiri-men (traditional crepe fabric) all are used in different, creative ways by Hiroko. There is an area set up like a bedrooms with most of the knickknacks and interior made of fabric from Mika’s photos and Hiroko’s imagination. The table with a fabric strawberry shortcake is a sweet touch.
I have a special affinity for quilts as my grandmother makes them… they may not be fashion in the sense that you wear them outside on your body, but seeing the patchworked pieces of fabrics and all of the hand stitches warms the cockles of my fashionista heart.
I am never one to let my legs go bare… I just can’t. Too white…pasty….like a blank canvas….and you know what we do with canvases… paint them up! I have drawers full of stockings I have collected over the years…I suppose that was all too obvious. Still, for many years finding unique, high-quality tights was always a challenge in Tokyo, and good ones would pop up only once every blue moon. It wasn’t until the ast few years have we seen an upsurge of unique stockings and leggings for our stems (and shelling out 100+$ for cool ones became no biggie. Me, I have Bernard Wilhelm, Balenciaga and Phi among others…). When searching for places to find unique leggings and tights in Tokyo, there was always the default; the 4th floor of 109 in Shibuya. But those imports are expensive, and one little hole and they’re finito (RAGE!!).
Then came local brand MAM 3 years ago, and a shop in Tokyo followed. It was recommended to me within *days* of its arrival in Harajuku last year.You’ll find the entrance thanks to the mannequins outside with prom dresses that look like a tango of 50s and 80s styles overdone. Either that, or from the disembodied legs hanging from the roof outside that lead you down a staircase to the basement shop. Inside, it’s all very straightforward; with racks and racks of colorful tights and leggings. There are imports here too, but most are from the original brand MAM.
Also, I would never wear Disney on my person…and wouldn’t really recommend it for an adult (unless you’re Azaelia Banks) but I would go for these tattoo tights….preferably with a contrasting sleek LBD and Louboutins.
Also, don’t forget to check out the pieces by Osaka-based illustrator Choco Moo. I have the “OMG” versions. The Elvis stockings actually look like Karl Lagerfeld to me.
Also in the shop is an interesting interior that straddles between kitsch, chic and schizo. There is also randomly a rack of high-grade denim, a hobby of the manager’s…and a rack of costumes for stage shows…er…drag shows…and that explains the mannequins outside.