Where do you look when you want to glimpse the future of fashion? The great fashion houses of London? Milan? New York? You probably won’t be thinking of a railway station in Tokyo as one of the world’s important fashion hubs, but you’d be quite wrong. Harajuku is the place to find some of Japan’s most unique clothing – it is even the inspiration behind two of Gwen Stefani’s fashion lines and one of her albums.
The young people of Harajuku lead Japan’s fashion trends with daring and innovative designs that established designers follow. The area is overflowing with different fashion cultures that are always evolving. Here kimono-clad geisha look-alikes share the streets with kings and queens of hip-hop and rub shoulders with aficionados of the flamboyant Visual Kei movement. Harajuku fashion offers a visual feast of colour, style and sometimes shocking innovation.
But much of the fashion is sheer fun. Take the madly popular Kigurumi costumes. These one-piece fleecy outfits depict cute animals or characters from Japan’s booming manga (comic) and anime (animated cartoon) industries. Kigus, as they are called colloquially, are taking the West by storm and are being adopted by the fashionable party sets in Britain, the United States and Europe, where they are known as onesies.
Where the Kigu is uncomplicated fun, other styles need a little more research. The popular Lolita look, for example has unwritten guidelines that the follower must respect. The classic look is reminiscent of the outfits worn by the girls of St. Trinian’s, the fictional chaotic British upper class girls’ boarding school created by cartoonist Ronald Searle. But there are distinct Victorian undertones and a maid-like quality to many outifts. Almost all, however, are based on the same formula of short, flared skirts with petticoats, knee-length socks and lacy, ruffled blouses. Boots with purse and parasol usually complete the ensemble. The boys match the girls by wearing knee length shorts, lacy cuffs and top hats.
There are, however, other Lolita themes. Sweet Lolita is influenced by the Rococo movement and manga. It features light colours and billowy clothing that combine to create a cute, baby-doll effect. Gothic Lolita employs darker colours and religious-themed accessories but use of lighter make-up and liberal use of white lighten the look to retain the Lolita ‘cute’ feel. Punk Lolita is a more recent arrival. It combines shorter hairstyles and punk-related accessories while retaining the ‘cuteness’ that pervades all Lolita styles.
Perhaps the most outlandish and bizarre of the styles parading around Harajuku is the look known as Visual Kei. Born out of a movement of Japanese musicians who used make-up and outrageous clothing to give a visual aspect to their music, it draws heavily on the styles of glam rock in the west. The outfits are often androgynous and extravagant and are complemented by thick make-up and strange hairstyles. Like Lolita, Visual Kei has a number of sub-styles. Dolly Kei and Fairy Kei are relatively new and employ pastel shades and classic clothing with pretty accessories to give a ‘cute’ look. Angura Kei, however, is darker, and demands piercings and black clothing complemented with spikes and chains.
These weird and wonderful styles might be bizarre but they have a beauty and attraction all their own. Look and be amused – or be inspired, but be sure to have fun.