Forget haute couture and catwalk fashion shows – in Japan, the place to go to find the current hot fashion fads is the streets. Fearless, innovative and imaginative Japanese teenagers and young adults lead the way when it comes to dictating trends, and the designers and manufacturers are left to follow in their wake in this society where fashion is more multi-layered, quirky and diverse than anywhere else in the world.
The hub of Japanese fashion is the area around Harajuku train station in Tokyo, which has given its name to a whole fashion genre, encompassing an ever-evolving list of sub-cultures. Hang out in Harajuku and you will see it all, both in and out of the stores, from traditional kimonos worn by white-faced geisha look-alikes to Gothic and hip-hop, and Kigurumi (dressing up in anime costumes). The range on offer would even make the flamboyant rock star Lady Gaga fade into the background!
The over-riding theme in Japanese street fashion can very evidently be summed up in one word – ‘cute’. This is hardly surprising in the country that spawned Hello Kitty and a host of adorable animal costumes. Kigurumi animal and character suits are obviously hugely popular as part of this frenzied fashion scene, and tame enough to be increasingly adopted by less daring Americans, Brits and Europeans.
Japan undoubtedly puts the fun into fashion with a capital ‘F’, but to emulate the Japanese trends one has to study up and become a bit of a fashion fundi. Mixing and matching is okay, but only within the bounds of the sub-culture you choose.
One of the biggest trends currently finding fashion favour in Japan is the Lolita look, which sticks to the cutesy theme, but with a variety of overtones, all reminiscent of the fictional English boarding school St. Trinians (created by cartoonist Ronald Searle, who spent time in a Japanese POW camp during WW2), which satirised posh British boarding schools. Followers of this fashion all stick to the basics: knee-length schoolgirl socks, short, full skirts puffed up with petticoats, and lacy, ruffled blouses, accessorised with boots, pretty purses and parasols. Some go Gothic, choosing dark colours and religious reliquaries as jewellery. Others mix in punk influences, or go pretty in pastels with buttons and bows. Lolita is not just for girls – boys can adopt the look too with knee-length pants and top hats, offset with lacy cuffs.
Another big trend is to follow one of the incarnations of a look known as Visual Kei – all grounded in androgynous extravagant outfits, thick make-up and unusual hairstyles, inspired by Western-style glam rock. Piercings are peculiar to the look, especially the sub-set of Angura Kei, which demands black clothing accessorised with spikes and chains. There are new versions of Kei too, sticking to the cute theme – inspired by ageless fairytales. Dolly Kei and Fairy Kei require pastel rainbow shades, vintage clothing and pretty accessories.
It’s all bizarre, but rather beautiful, still being eagerly discovered by a world hungry for unique new looks.