Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Book Review: Kawaii! Japan's Culture of Cute

Recently I've been accumulating books about Japanese pop culture, particularly ones that reference the Lolita fashion in one way or another. There aren't a ton to choose from, but there have been a few releases that seemed worth checking out! 

The first one I'd like to review is Manami Okazaki and Geoff Johnson's Kawaii! Japan's Culture of Cute from 2013. Of the few I've recently picked up this one is probably my favorite of the bunch! I had actually almost skipped over this one completely because the cover made it look like a much more shallow book than it actually was. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was insightful as well as authentic, showcasing some things beyond just Hello Kitty bento boxes. Kawaii! contains a number of interviews with a variety of different creators about their own take on the kawaii lifestyle. The book is divided into six different aspects of this kawaii lifestyle!

The first section of Kawaii!, "The Roots of Kawaii" is probably the most wordy, even though it's composed of almost entirely interviews, just as the rest of the book is. There's really just a lot to be said about the early days of kawaii in the 60s and 70s! I love the kawaii characters of the 70's and it was really cool to get to see some pictures of the "fancy goods" of the era, in addition to the totally iconic shojo art of the era!

Interviews in this section include the curator of the Yayoi-Yumeji Museum, Eico Hanamura, a couple different researchers with the Kyoto International Manga Museum, Macoto Takahashi, and Yumiko Igarashi. 

The second section was entitled "Cute Design Overload" and focused on kind of "iconic" Japanese kawaii, from cute merchandise characters like Hello Kitty and Gloomy Bear, to cute shops like Swimmer, to cute public works, to even Itasha which is an otaku fad of tricking their cars out with anime character decals.

This section was one of the largest in the books and very photo oriented, but still had a fair number of interviews with the Gloomy Bear creator Mori Chack, Swimmer designer Hiroko Sakizume, and Nameneko creator Satoru Tsuda.

The third section in the book, "Adorable Eats", was very brief and all about cute foods! This section was mostly devoted to pictures, but it did have an interview with Miki Ikezawa, a rep for MaiDreamin.

The fourth section was called "How to Dress Kawaii" and was tied with the chapter on kawaii designs for largest in the book! There were tons of interviews and street snaps in this section, pretty much all of which I found very interesting (which is fantastic, because it was the reason I bought the book in the first place!). While most of this section is devoted to street fashion and designers, there is, of course, a few pages devoted to cosplay and Comiket. Books like this almost always inevitably will talk about cosplay, and I'm thankful that this book kept it very short and kept the focus on fashion designers and lifestyle wear rather than costume and otaku culture.

Interviews in this section included Shoichi Aoki of FRUiTS, Kumamiki of Party Baby, Takuya Sawada of Takuya Angel, Yuka and Vani of 6%DOKIDOKI, Toyoko Yokoyama from Conomi, Lolita models Rin Rin and Chikage, and Gashicon of h.NAOTO's Hangry & Angry line.

The fifth section was "Cute Crafts" which is pretty self explanatory! It featured a number of different Japanese crafters, of both modern cute things as well as traditional Japanese cute things like kokeshi. This section was brief but packed full of pictures and interviews with various crafters.

The final section is called "Kawaii Visual Art" and is a bit different from the design section because it featured artists who create art for themselves rather than as part of a larger merchandising business. This section was also brief but packed full of pictures and interviews. A lot of the art in this chapter was trendier and edgier than the design section and was a refreshing end to a book about all things kawaii.

Interviews featured in this chapter include Chikuwaemil, Junko Mizuno, Osamu Watanabe, and a handful of others.

Overall, while the actual Lolita related content in this book is minimal, I really enjoyed this book. I particularly loved the different takes on the kawaii culture, and even the different creators very definitions of the word!

I actually recently put together a list on Amazon of all the English language books about Japanese street fashion that I could find! I have a handful of them but I'm hoping to work my way through the list and eventually get them all. Especially while I'm anticipating the possible English translation of Shades of Wonderland!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Lolitas vs. The Living Dolls

Anyone in the Lolita fashion right now can tell you that one of the biggest hot topics at the moment is the media's recent portrayals of Lolitas as "Living Dolls" and lumping them in with a variety of different people who choose to use Barbie as their fashion icons. It's not unusual to associate Lolitas with dolls, we've been doing it ourselves for years, but this recent trend of lumping them with Barbie dolls is a new and unusual stereotype. For some reason it's easier for people to understand the fashion in terms of Barbie dolls. To an extent it's understandable: many Lolitas are known for wearing pink and having elaborately large hair, just like Barbie! But when compared to the other self proclaimed "Human Barbies" Lolitas seem really out of place, at least to those of us who are very familiar with the fashion. Personally I find it really strange that Lolitas are being featured in the same shows as people who go through extensive plastic surgery and extreme breast implants. I really have no problem with people who generally want to look unreal and plan on having very real medical procedures to do so, I just fail to see what these people have to do with the Lolita fashion, because the two are almost always mentioned together.

I've heard a lot of mixed reactions to the term "Living Doll" being used to describe Lolitas. It's mostly groans and head-desking, but a number of people like the term because they like looking like dolls (not necessarily Barbie dolls though) and feel like they shouldn't have to change because of some reality shows. Alternatively I've heard some people say why shouldn't we use the term "Living Doll" to describe Lolita and show people how Lolita is really done and provide some much needed normalcy, compared to the often over dramatic, suspiciously edited, pseudo-Lolita shown in these shows.

A number of Lolitas have expressed concern about people simply getting the wrong idea about what Lolita is based on these shows, and it's a very real concern, as the people featured on these programs, if relatively normal outside of the show, are edited in ways that are intended to make your average viewer think "what a weirdo!". In these "Living Doll" shows and articles Lolitas are often painted as juvenile fame obsessed losers who have little interests beyond wigs, fake eyelashes, and the color pink, and it's this idea that most people are fighting against, not necessarily Lolita's association with dolls.

How do I personally feel about this term being applied to Lolitas? Honestly, as someone who has been a Lolita for a very long time, I find it very difficult to muster up the effort to really care what outsiders to the fashion think about it. I've been around long enough for strangers to have thought we were all self-harming emos, Harajuku obsessed Gwen Stefani fans, or Lady Gaga clones, and then promptly forget they ever thought these things about us in the first place. This new "Living Doll" stereotype is just another on a long list of annoyances. In general I feel kind of apathetic about being called a "Living Doll" by outsiders, it's annoying because it's not true, but there's pretty much a guarantee that if someone thought I was some sort of Human Barbie Doll just because I wear Lolita and they saw a reality show that featured the fashion, they probably would have thought something equally silly if they hadn't seen the show.

What do you think about using the term "Living Doll" for Lolitas? Do you find it to be a less controversial term than "Lolita" and an easy way to explain the fashion to outsiders? Or do you try to distance yourself as much as possible from the hightly-edited antics of "weirdo watching" reality TV?

Monday, April 14, 2014

Wearing Sugary Sweet Pastels With Classic Lolita

It's pretty obvious that Classic Lolita is this year's big thing. Take a look at almost any large-scale Lolita gathering where everyone dons their most impressive outfit and it's a sea of Classic Lolita as far as the eye can see!

But what is the Lolita to do who isn't ready to give up her pastels, but wants to get in on this opulent decadence that everyone is excited about and aren't exactly ready to go full Marie Antoinette or in a Sweet-Classic hybrid? Luckily nowadays Lolitas are much more open about what sort of colors different styles can wear! No longer are Classic Lolitas confined to jewel tones and mute colors, but they can dabble in sugary sweet pastels just as much as the Sweet Lolita can.

Finding Classic Lolita styled dresses in Sweet Lolita true pastels is probably the hardest part! But there are a few pieces out there, especially now with Classic Lolita on the rise and brand's spring releases already in stores. Look for traditional Classic designs, cuts, and materials, only in soft and sugary pastels.

The easiest way to make this style work is to make sure that your accessories are all unquestionably Classic Lolita inspired. Nix the tea parties for a pair of Victorian styled boots or a more grownup style of heels in white or pink. Ditch the headbow for a Victorianesque hat or a corsage of pastel roses. Loose the twin tail wig and choose either a romantic flowing hair style or an elaborate updo!
 Two fantastic Classically inspired Lolita outfits using soft and sugary pastels! Taken by Crazy Kitch at Enchanted.

Adding in a second (or even a third and fourth!) pastel color to the mix, à la the Sweet Lolita trends, is a fantastic way to make the outfit even more decadent. A pastel blue jumperskirt paired with a pink bolero, a mint green OP with a pink ribbon tied around the waist and a pink underskirt peeking out, lavender jumper skirt with a yellow blouse: these are all common Sweet Lolita pairings that can easily be translated into Classic Lolita!

Sugary sweet pastels don't have to be just for Sweet Lolitas! For those that want to get into this new trend of over-the-top Classic Lolita looks, but aren't ready to give up their pastels, this is the way to do it!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Old School Musings: How Being A Lolita Has Changed Since 2001

I've been thinking a lot about old school Lolita lately (not that that is anything out of the usual for me!) and in particular how much Lolita, and being a Lolita has changed in years since I first discovered the fashion. Lolita has changed so much since I first learned of the fashion sometime in the early 2000's! It's been so long that I honestly don't even know exactly when it was I heard about it. I am almost positive it was sometime in 2001 or 2002, because I remember asking a friend who had a non-dialup internet connection to download some music from the very shortly broken up Malice Mizer for me, and I know that I learned about Malice Mizer and Lolita at the same time (how could you not back then!). Back then Lolita, outside of Japan, was so heavily wrapped up in Goth and Jrock and Japan that it was pretty impossible to like just one of them it seemed. To be a good Goth I should be interested in Lolita and to be a good Lolita I had to like Jrock and to like Jrock I had better be interested in Japan! Or at least, these were the things I told my teenaged self.

This was all shortly before Hot Topic released their first wave of “Loli Goth” products that were so iconic of  doing it wrong. I remember how completely appalled everyone was to find out that Hot Topic was dipping in on our totally secret trend and I feel like a lot of people from back then lost interest in Lolita for fear that it was going to “go mainstream”, but that was pretty indicative of a lot of the people (but certainly not all of them!) who seemed to be into Lolita at the time in the English-speaking online communities, for many people it was just another way of expressing how different and alternative they were. You can actually read a post from this era about the horrors of Hot Topic that is so charmingly angry here in an ancient Livejournal post.

I also remember the complete rarity it was to own brand, and how if you had a brand dress, that's pretty much all it took for you to be the best Lolita you could be! But on the other hand, due to brand rarity, there was a huge interest in thrifting loliable clothes and learning to sew for yourself. I can't tell you how many people had Lolita wardrobes made up of simple handmade gathered skirts, modified grandma blouses, and the least extreme square dancing dress they could dig up on eBay! I think this is all very embarrassing to us now, to think that we used to share sissy sites as sources for cutesy shoes in non-child sizes and tips on which sorts of square dance related keywords you can search for on Ebay to get some almost Lolita clothes, but it was sort of endearing. As difficult as it was to wear Lolita back then, we were determined and willing to work with what little we had to be Lolitas.

Lolitas now have it so much easier, it's still sort of surprising to me to see people's first Lolita outfits be perfectly put together and so accurately Lolita! I'm actually very envious of these girls who are just now learning about the fashion and who can with so little ease assemble a very cute outfit for themselves if they so choose, when I had to wait literally years before I could get my first real Lolita outfit! As nostalgic as I am for old school Lolita, I definitely do not miss the hassle and near-imposibility of being a Lolita back then!

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Lolita Week NYC: Videos & An Interview With Misako

A few weeks ago I had the chance to head to New York and speak with Misako Aoki at the Japan Society, and the week quickly became known as Misako week as Lolitas were invited along on various adventures with Misako while she was in the city. If you missed any of them, luckily youtube has you covered!

The above video is the lecture and Baby the Stars Shine Bright fashion show at the Japan Society, it's about an hour long and was incredibly fun to be a part of! If you don't know, I'm the one on the end in the Innocent World piano dress!

FCI NY also has a quick Japanese language run down of a bunch of the different events that happened that week, such as the tour bus ride and the tea party. If you want to see 100+ Lolitas crowded together, this is the video to watch!
While she was in New York, Misako was interviewed by Harajuju. Misako doesn't really give a ton of interviews, and when she does, the topic is often kept light and fluffy. I feel like an interview like this, where a Lolita icon talks about a variety of topics is really an important piece of Lolita media that helps bridge the gap between Lolita in the West and Lolita within Japan.

This was really an amazing week, and I'm so glad I had the chance to be a part of it! It was incredible seeing rooms packed full of Lolitas, and it was a rare chance to get to meet someone like Misako, who's enthusiasm for Lolita is really infectious. She just genuinely loves the fashion and wants to share that love with the world. I think we're lucky to have someone like Misako to be the current face of Lolita fashion!

Friday, February 21, 2014

Lolita Trends: Opulent Is The New Kawaii

Kawaii is dead, long live the opulent! Okay, so that might be a little extreme, but I have definitely noticed a change in Lolita trends lately. A few years ago, to be the best Lolita you could possibly be, it was encouraged to just pile on the kawaii, quite literally sometimes, as Lolitas carefully would pin actual stuffed animals to their piles of pink curls. Nowadays, stuffed animals and pastels have been, for the most part, cast aside for more elegant trends. But that doesn't mean it's not as over the top as ever! We Lolitas are not exactly known for our restrained fashion tastes, so now that Classic is more in the lime light, of course Lolitas are going to go all out with it.

Ages ago I wrote a bit about this emerging trend here, but now that the trend is in full swing I would like to revisit this topic. When I first wrote that post back in 2011, I actually got a fair amount of flak from that article (although I lost most of the comments in a comment system move!) from people who thought that Classic Lolita shouldn't be elaborate, that it was supposed to be a more toned down style. Two and a half years later it would be appalling to make such a suggestion! Now there's no doubt that Classic Lolita can be just as elaborate and over the top as Sweet Lolita was known for being, it's everywhere! Without a doubt I feel that the previous trends of kawaii are being replaced more and more with opulent trends.

What exactly does this mean? I feel like there has been a definite aesthetic trend emerging. For the past few years keywords like princess, childlike, cute, and baby doll could easily be used to describe popular Lolita trends, and popular Lolita outfits typically featured soft baby colored pastels, shorter hemlines, and quirky prints and accessories that tugged on our sense of childish nostalgia (the 80's inspired Fairy-Kei was a very big overlapping trend with Lolita for a very long time!). Currently I am noticing these type of aesthetic keywords being replaced with similar, but strikingly different, keywords such as regal, refined, elegant, and porcelain doll. Let's take a look at some of the individual trends happening within this current trend of opulence!

Headwear and Hair

Bonnets have always been around in Lolita, and go in and out of style, but they've come back in a big way with the new trends, often worn with waves or curls. In addition to bonnets, headwear has gone less from just slapping a headbow on to wearing elaborately styled hairdos and decorating them with various corsages and clips. This new opulent trend has no room for the twin tail wigs of the past, or at the very least, there is simply no room for them under our bonnets!

Classic Prints

In terms of popularity, Classic inspired prints have replaced the more saccharine prints. Even Angelic Pretty, who spearheaded the ultra-kawaii trend, has been releasing more and more classically inspired prints, and often in bolder colors than the soft muted pastels of the past few years. The opulent trend has even upped the print ante a bit and has grown quite fond of mixing multiple prints in the same outfit, à la Dolly Kei.

 Hemlines in Lolita appeared to be rising fast in Lolita, and petticoats were just never poofy enough for the kawaii trends. But in contrast, the more opulent trends favor longer skirts, often with underskirts to lengthen hemlines even more, as well as a much less extreme poof. We're also seeing a lot more empire and trapezoid dresses getting more positive attention than they did during the reign of the kawaii. There are still a lot of poofy dresses out there, but I think what we're definitely seeing with the opulent trend is a much greater variety of silhouettes getting attention.


Back when kawaii was king, most every popular dress was inevitably going to be a cotton dress and the focal point was intended to be the print on it, the rest of the pieces in the outfit (blouse, socks, bolero, etc) were generally chosen based on how well it's color complimented the print color, and were for the most part still opaque cotton. Now we're finding brands releasing more popular pieces that experiment with a variety of different fabrics, from sheer chiffons to shimmery satins. Even legwear is no longer limited to a cotton knit sock, but a variety of different textured sheer stockings and silky printed tights have been released by brands lately!

Personally, I find this change in trends very exciting! Super Sweet Lolita was never really my cup of tea, and I found the style of the individual pieces to go stagnant after only a short time, with the only real changes in the fashion during the reign of kawaii to be superficial, limited mostly to the realm of accessorization than to the actual dresses: hair, jewelry, and print trends changed while the individual Lolita pieces being released were more or less unchanged. I felt that the kawaii trends came with a "coloring book" style of experimentation, as Lolitas we were given a very basic dress cut and a rainbow of pastel crayons, and while we could do what we pleased with them, there was little we could do to change the basic dress with them. With the rising popularity of more opulent trends I am seeing much more experimentation among brands in terms of materials and silhouette. Of course, this trend is still relatively fresh, and it could easily revert to the "coloring book" style of releases that we saw for much of the kawaii trend, just with calf-length brocade dresses rather than above-the-knee cotton dresses!

Brands are still releasing cute and bubbly kawaii inspired pieces, and Lolitas are continuing to wear them, just as they were releasing more elegant pieces during the kawaii years, it's simply that the focus has shifted from one to another! What do you think about this shift from kawaii to opulent? Are you excited for the change in trends? Or does your heart still beat doki doki for the kawaii? 

Friday, January 31, 2014

Misako Aoki in New York City

This first week of February 2014 is a pretty exciting week for Lolitas in the New York area! We're lucky enough to get a visit from Misako and a few very exciting Misako events.

Over the years, Misako has done a lot of cool things to bring Lolita to the limelight, from being one of Japan's first official Kawaii Ambassadors, to her new project the Japan Lolita Association, so it's really exciting for her to come to New York City!

Misako's first event in New York, on Wednesday the 5th, is to be part of a panel at the Japan Society, "Lolita Fashion: Costume or Culture?". Myself and Christina of Ramble Rori will actually also be speaking at that event! The panel will end with a Baby the Stars Shine Bright fashion collection showing and a meet and greet wine reception with Misako! You can buy tickets for the event here.

While in NYC, Misako will be filming with Jiji Press and is hoping to put together a group of Lolitas to ride The Ride around Midtown with her on Friday the 7th. This event is still tentative and dependent upon a few things, but if you happen to be free early Friday afternoon in NYC, you can check out how that's developing here (The latest news I've heard is that the tickets will be discounted to $20, but they need at least 15 Lolitas! The bottom of the post should have the newest info).

That Friday, on February 8th, we over at RuffleCon are lucky enough to have gotten the chance to sponsor an event with Misako! From 2-7PM Misako will be the guest of honor at a tea party in New York at The Dove parlor! There are a few activities planned for the evening, including a few raffles. There are only a very small number of spots left, so if this is something you're interested in, you can see details and prices here.

These are all really amazing events, and I'll personally be at the Japan Society event, as well as the tea party on Saturday. I think it's a really cool chance to get to see a big-name Lolita guest outside of an anime con environment, which is usually the only chance some of us get to meet Lolitas like Misako, especially out here on the east coast, where we have an unfortunate lack of physical Lolita shops.

Is anyone else planning on going to any of these events? If you're on the east coast, particularly the north east, what sort of Lolita events do you hope we one day get around here?
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