Sunday, September 16, 2007

Harajuku Fashionista Spectacular: August 2007

I like to explore Harajuku when I go to Tokyo. Back during the heyday of the Japanese Economic Bubble until 1998 when "Pedestrian Heaven" was closed, Harajuku was the epicenter of Tokyo street fashion... a torrid zone of visual artistry where self-expression, fashion school students and avant garde musicians mixed in a creative free-for-all... and therefore, pound for pound or kilo for kilo, the absolute coolest place on earth.

The visual bible of street fashion, FRUiTS, is still around, still going strong but Harajuku itself, especially narrow shopping street Takeshita-dori, is the home of a new breed of fashionista. The street style of legend has moved to newer places... Omotesando (which is also mostly a haven of upmarket and super trendy and expensive boutiques full of international brand names) and Kitijoji (lots of fashion students live there including an ultra-cute girl I briefly dated who broke my poor heart in twain) just to name two.

But in some ways, the Harajuku spirit lives on, in mutated form. I mean, beyond the outdated living corpse trendmonger Gwen Stefani is whoring around and cashing in on, 10 years too late. Currently, when you cross the street from Harajuku Station, you can find an advertisement featuring one of the most beloved icons of Japan- Audrey Hepburn. A symbol and patron saint of haute couture the world 'round:


She represents classic fashionista heart and soul. Not trend-following, but trend-setting, muse of the great Hubert de Givenchy. Style and grace. But the modern Harajuku girl is her own muse, a little wilder, a bit more colorful, at once childish and sophisticated. Like these two girls, our sailor-scout guides on a foray into the colorful wilderness that is contemporary Takeshita-dori:

I have no idea how long it took them to get ready on this steamy Sunday afternoon, but they're perfectly accessorized, each piece coordinated into an overall theme, or a visual expression of their personalities. They look almost like sci-fi princesses.

It was very sunny that day, and the ideal complexion is milky-white... hence a profusion of frilly parasols. The girl in black with all the bags and the stripey socks is a doll-like member of another Harajuku fashion breed, the gosu-rori, or gothic lolita. These are generally fans of a rock style known as visual-kei, a sort of darkly androgynous glam/goth movement.

These girls are probably fans of one of the big visual-kei bands, but their look is a sort of future punk with gosu-rori undertones. Note the white creeper shoes, probably chosen specifically so they'd match each other. The girl on the left wears over the knee socks, which are ubiquitous in Japan these days, crossing almost all style boundaries. High maintenance gyaru (a bleached and tanned brand-oriented style emerging from Shibuya's famed 109 Department store and its environs but common in Hamamatsu and other metropolitan areas throughout Japan as well) and more conservative stylies wear them as well.

This b&w shot is me being artsy again. It's more dramatic this way, with a Dutch tilt to give it a kick of energy. This next duo is another interesting phenomenon:

The girly-girl and the boyish-girl team. Best friends, one adopts a very feminine gosu-rori style with artfully customized sleeves, a triple-tier pyramid hardware belt, a layered skirt with a flash of milky thigh above her over the knee socks, while her friend goes for something more butch, a sort of ska look accessorized with big bangle bracelets. A little bit of gender variance for spice, safe transgression and an expression of a sort of platonic love-ideal between two female friends.

Here's another gothy punk duo:

Witchy striped knee socks and fat treaded shoes for a little aggro look. And the frilly parasol... again!

Here are a couple of really femmy girl-girl types. Note the piano key motif on the big white bag, perhaps indicative of the musical influence of many of these looks. The red plaid girl also has a few sailor accents bringing to mind the infamous high school uniform cliche, and childish mary janes for a sexy-cute look. Her friend goes for something a bit more mature and overtly sexy with her chunky-heeled shoes and black socks.

Here's something fun- literally a living doll:

This is another permutation of the gosu-rori look. There are sub-genres of this look. I'm not sure if this denotes fandom of particular visual-kei bands or some sort of tribal allegiance, or if she was just feeling a bit pink and childlike that day. Her shoes look like some sort of iced pastries. This is an almost aggressively cute look.


This girl almost crosses over into the cosplay (costume play) subculture. I'm not sure what the significance of the nose-band is. Maybe it's inspired by some manga or anime character. If you look closely, you'll see her blond hair is actually a wig. Maybe she is cosplaying!

This is also interesting:

That's obviously a man, wearing full-on gosu-rori regalia. Despite his hair and the female attire, he makes no particular effort to pass as a woman, meaning he might be differently gendered or maybe he just figures why should girls have all the fun?

Here are two more gosu-roris. This tribe was out in force! I would've liked to have photographed some decora (a look of multi-colored energy and lots of cute dangling cartoon characters) or some hip, urban individualists a la FRUiTS, but alas it was not to be that day:
The baby blue is an interesting choice. Alice's Adventures in Nihon-Land; where's Sir John Tenniel when you need him? Lots of layers and petticoats and lace make them both frothy confectionery treats.

This next girl is a floral representative:

The difficulty of taking pictures on Takeshita-dori is amply illustrated by this photo. The street is very narrow and just jammed up with shoppers and tourists. Getting a shot of anyone was almost impossible. It's really a 2-person job, for a spotter and a shooter. About halfway down is a t-junction that's the perfect place for two observers to stake out and get some really fun photos, one person covering two angles and the other covering the third.

Here's another fun gender-transgressive pair:

The boy-girl has a vaguely Germanic look, doesn't she? Almost as if she were wearing lederhosen. Her girly friend is in a modified high school uniform, perhaps the one she was wearing in earnest the week before, or last year in the event she's a graduate. I doubt either of them is any more than 18. The boyish one holds the umbrella; in Japanese culture, young lovers walking in the rain and sharing an umbrella is a common romantic image.

Here's another less extreme duo:

The girly one is a frothy pink vision, and the boyish one has a hard-edged ska/punk look. In some ways J-Pop group Puffy predicated this style. Ami (happy birthday, by the way!) is usually presented as the femmier of the pair, with Yumi being depicted as ever-so-slightly more butch or edgy. But in reality, their looks are fairly interchangeable. It may have something to do with various comic book and cartoon pairings as well.

And yes, they're holding hands.

Take a gander at the girly-girl's elaborate thigh highs. Black lacing highlights down the back add a not-so-subtle element of sexiness to her otherwise doll-ish get up.

Here's a blurry pic that again demonstrates the difficulties I faced on this mission:

Here's a gosu-rori pair made delightful by the expression worn by the girl on the right:

Her skirt isn't as lacy as some others I saw, but it does feature a big white bow accent. Her friend's costume is much more elaborate, a darker presentation of black and blood red.

And in conclusion, here's this guy:

7 comments:

RAB said...

It never occurred to me before, but Audrey Hepburn being a beloved icon in Japan just sounds so right. Of course she would be; it's as if I'd always known this but momentarily forgot it, except that isn't the case.

Is taking photos of the fashions worn by passersby a generally accepted practice in Japan or do you need to be relatively surreptitious? In New York I think people would be very suspicious about that sort of thing, but I can well imagine that having your photo taken goes hand in hand with such conspicuous display of style...or maybe that's just my stereotyped image of "camera-crazy" Japan.

Joel Bryan said...

Yeah, she's everywhere here. Bank advertisements, books, magazines. It's as if she never died. Hey, that's fine with me- I love Audrey.

And the surrepitious photo taking is probably viewed the same here as in NY, but people are generally too polite to complain. I could've asked "Shashin kudasai?" in my broken Japanese... but some of these people would've charged me the equivalent of 10 bucks!

Oh yeah... there's a shop on Takeshita-dori that features a sign telling you definitely no photos. They even warn of a massive monetary fine. If I were gutsier, I'd have snapped a pic of the sign.

yuki said...

i´m a japan fan and fashion student... i can tell i know every style and reason of they clothes^^; first...the guy in red is cosplaying Kisaki...an musician, the girl with the nose-band also cosplaying japanese musician..reita from the band GazettE very famous in japan and all over the world^^ thats it...
and i´ll tell you one more thing...fruits style is dead...decora is the new fruits... :/

- Patricia D.

Joel Bryan said...

Thanks for the info on the cosplay/noseband girl. I thought that was what she was doing, but I'm not particularly an anime or manga fan so I wasn't sure if she meant to represent a specific character.

But... as far as FRUiTS style being dead in as much as there are still plenty of people who go for something more individualistic and less readily part of a specific style group, and as long as that magazine is still being printed, I don't think it's accurate to call it "dead." While its peak has come and gone, it's still thriving, just not there on Takeshita-dori so much.

There will always be people who want to wear personalized fashion-forward things without being exactly part of a trend or group and that's where the FRUiTS person will be found.

Decora is interesting to me because what I thought of as "decora" was more candy-colored and heavily accessorized that what it seems to have become. For example, I would've considered magazines like Zipper and CUTiE to be more aligned with independent street style a la FRUiTS but they seem to be more decora. So now I'm thinking decora is more broadly based that I initially believed.

And if Japanese Schoolgirl Inferno is to be believed, decora and FRUiTS are sisters or at least first cousins in the Tokyo style world.

A girl I dated briefly as she started fashion college in Shinjuku was hugely into Zipper but she was never as heavily into outrageous accessories like the decora girls seem to be in photographs illustrating that type. I would have put her in the streets category, more personalized than categorized.

I don't think she would've called herself decora and she never wore stickers or stick-on glittery things on her face, for example. But she did combine disparate elements in her wardrobe. She just seemed to favor more subtle, much less outrageous color schemes than what I think of as hardcore decora. So I would've categorized her more aligned with FRUiTS, which can be viewed as kind of a catch-all for those who don't quite fit into an exact style tribe because of personalization.

So to my mind, there's less of a rigid defining of these fringe elements. That's why it's difficult to make absolutist statements like one group is "dead," when instead there's more of an evolutionary change and a metamorphosis... plus elements of crossover.

Although I do absolutely reject Gwen Stefani's misguided and inaccurate misappropriation/cultural stereotyping of these trends in order to cash-in and give Westerners a skewed idea of what it's all about. She didn't discover it and she certainly has never been part of it.

Anyway, thanks for the comment and the food for thought!

Anonymous said...

To answer your question, the girl with the noseband is cosplaying as Reita, the bassist of the visual kei band The GazettE. =)

cassiemattson said...

Hallo! Um, I believe the only one who can pull off a nose band is Reita from the Visual Kei band "The Gazette".....so possibly she was cosplaying him XD

Joel Bryan said...

Nice catch and thanks for the info! Harajuku changed a lot in the time I was there, btw!