[From October Issue 2010]
Nowadays, kawaii fashion originating in Japan is popular all over the world. “Kawaii” is a word to describe something lovable and charming, such as tiny objects, pets, children and young women. It’s often used by women in their teens and twenties. For them, it’s very important whether or not their clothes and belongings are kawaii. And now, women from outside Japan want kawaii clothes and small articles designed in Japan, too.
Harajuku is a part of Tokyo where you can find a myriad of shops selling kawaii items. PUTUMAYO, a brand with three shops in the area, sells clothes featuring original designs as well as plenty of lace and frills. Lately, customers from a variety of countries come to the shops. “In the past two hours, we’ve had customers from America, Spain and Germany in our store,” says KATSUTA Hiroko, a spokesperson for HYPER HYPER Co., Ltd., which runs PUTUMAYO.
Laforet Harajuku, a commercial building that houses quite a few stores selling kawaii outfits, also attracts a crowd of non-Japanese customers. 109 in Shibuya and Marui One in Shinjuku are other commercial complexes with kawaii clothing stores, and are much talked about among non-Japanese shoppers these days.
Sofia LIM, from South Korea, says: “Japan accepts the cultures of many other countries. They start out by imitating, but before long they create special cultures of their own. That’s not imitation but progress. I guess the Japanese are open-minded.”
More and more kawaii clothing Japanese brands are opening branches overseas. BABY, THE STARS SHINE BRIGHT (a.k.a. Baby), a brand whose items were used in the movie “Shimotsuma Monogatari,” opened a branch in Paris in February 2006 and another in San Francisco in August 2009. Baby’s clothes are characteristically adorned with plenty of lace and frills, like dresses from 18th-century Western Europe, a style called “Lolita fashion.”
UEHARA Kumiko, a designer for Baby, says when their Paris branch opened, Lolita fashion in France was quite different from that in Japan. “Most of their Lolita outfits were black in color and very Gothic in style, which was unique to European fashion. They were wearing a jumper skirt without a blouse, showing some skin,” she says. “But the next time I went to Paris, they were all dressed in the same way as the Japanese. Not only had their garments become more colorful but they were wearing a jumper skirt over a blouse, with everything coordinated properly from head to toe.” When Uehara saw that, she realized that they had studied Japanese Lolita fashion.
Uehara adds, “Lolita fashion is a style of clothes that is a dream come true for girls, because they can wear the clothes of princesses or the dolls that they admired in their childhood as modern outfits. Lolita fashion is not clothes that you wear to catch other people’s eye, but rather clothes that you wear because you want to wear them.” The whole point of wearing Lolita fashion, she says, is that it makes you feel happy.“Who’s going to feel unhappy to look at or wear something kawaii? Everybody can get a sense of happiness by looking at or wearing kawaii stuff. As far as I’m concerned, kawaii means happy,” she says.
“Japanese people all have the sensibility to feel that something is kawaii,” says MASUDA Sebastian, owner and designer of a shop in Harajuku called 6%DOKIDOKI. “Behind that sensibility lies their desire to create a world of their own, put their sense of values in there and find their own form of happiness. However, when young people in Western countries say the Japanese word ‘kawaii,’ what they mean is more like cool, neat or fashionable. By using a word that their grown-ups don’t understand, those young people seem to express their antipathy toward adult society.”
The items at 6%DOKIDOKI, which is located on a backstreet in Harajuku, are characterized by flashy color combinations such as shocking pink and black as well as fresh new designs, and are often described as “shockingly kawaii.” But Masuda’s job is not just designing products. He has acted on stage, and has also produced shows, doing everything from direction to writing scripts. “I wondered whether or not my work was good, but at the store, customers who don’t know me judge my designs in a visible manner, by buying them or not buying them,” says Masuda.
At 6%DOKIDOKI not only the interior but also the outer walls are painted bright pink. Inside the store, you see a purple wooden horse, mushroom ornaments and a decoration in the shape of a merry-go-round, as well as gorgeous lighting. “Customers from other countries look at the interior and listen to the music played in the store, and they often praise those things as well as the products we are selling,” says Yuka, a store clerk. “Nowadays, earrings made by putting together the hiragana ‘A RI GA TO U’ and a brooch with the kanji characters ‘kakumei’ (revolution) are very popular.” This store is what Masuda considers the embodiment of “kawaii.” Masuda also holds workshops for learning how to move in a kawaii manner or have a kawaii look on one’s face, and takes part in fundraisers to help developing countries, with the motto “Kawaii saves the world!”
“Young people choose kawaii items to express their feelings of not wanting to be adults. Young people these days think ‘becoming an adult’ equals ‘giving up.’ So by wearing colorful clothes, they say no to wearing gray like adults and assert that they have their own culture and lifestyle,” explains Masuda. “I think that the kawaii culture is even radical, as it is an expression of the young generation’s vast energy. The kawaii fashion in Harajuku is about pursuing what one loves regardless of rules and genres. I believe that the free, flexible ideas and styles in the fashion are what make it so popular outside Japan.”
Text: SAZAKI Ryo