Kitty, as in Hello Kitty and the Bulldog, as in the British Bulldog, representing the juxtaposition of Japanese and British fashions. The exhibition examines how British fashion influenced the Japanese street-style know as Lolita fashion. On thing to be clear is that Japanese Lolita has nothing to do with the novel of the same name. In fact the two are at opposing ends of the spectrum, as Lolita fashion is every thing to do with cuteness (kawaii) and innocence. The clothing is modest, skirts below the knee and prim blouses buttoned to the neck. In a way it is a rebellion against the overtly sexualised way women are represented, killing it with cuteness. Taking pretty and feminine to the extreme.
Lolita fashion arose in Japan sometime during the 1980′s, the aim to dress in such a modest and elegant way, living a pure, untainted life. Original inspiration comes from Victorian and Rococo eras, the most iconic of Lolita outfits somewhat resembling a Victorian doll. As Lolita became more popular different sub-cultures grew, many incorporating elements of Western fashion.
“A striking feature of Lolita fashion is the extent to which it is influenced by British culture: Alice in Wonderland, Glam Rock, the New Romantics, Gothic, Punk and Vivienne Westwood. Although the attitude and aggression of Punk and Gothic have no place in the world of the Lolita, the movement represents a similarly powerful rebellion against the conventions of contemporary society.”
An interesting aspect of Lolita fashion is how the sub-cultures arise. It is a very much brand lead market, with each sub-culture having one or more main brands who produce the clothing. Though wearing a brand doesn’t immediately put the wearer into a specific sub-culture it is still very much dependent on the full co-ordinate (outfit), some brands can be interpreted into many sub-cultures and others more static. It turn this mainstreamed the fashion and made it assessable outside Japan. The V&A exhibition focuses on the brands and the sub-cultures which they promote.
Classic Lolita is represented by an Innocent Word outfit, the focal point is the Rococo influenced dress which has a red putti (cherub) and rabbit print. The simple colour pallet and softening aspects such as the lace wristlets, shawl and parasol mark out the style. Adding to the look are the sweet little knitted bunnies carried in the basket, reenforcing the innocence being portrayed. Innocent World was founded by Yumi Fujiwara and produces both Classic and Sweet Lolita styles.
Sweet Lolita (left) and Alice and the Pirates (right)
Sweet Lolita is the oldest of the Lolita styles, originating in the 1980s with brands such as Shirley Temple and Pink House. It is also one of the most popular styles outside Japan. Easily recognisable, the look is all about pastel colours such as pink, blue, purple and green. The pastels are further sweetened with the addition of candy themed prints such as sweets, cupcakes, macarons and ice cream however there are many other prints, anything goes so long as it is cute. Huge hair bows and pastel coloured wigs are also popular. The Sweet Lolita outfit show here is by the mega brand Baby, the Stars Shine Bright (BTSSB or Baby for short). The Tokyo brand was established in 1988 by Akinori and Fumiyo Isobe, however it was in 2004 when the company was launched to fame by the film Shimotsuma Monogatari ‘Shimtosuma story‘ (re-released in 2006 as Kamikaze Girls with English subtitles). In the film the main character Momoko is a Lolita who wears BTSSB exclusively through out the film. The film, based on the 2002 novella by Novala Takemoto, tell the story of a young girl and her trials and tribulations to have her dream wardrobe, but is essentially a story about friendship something at the heart of the Lolita community.
The second outfit shown above is from Alice and the Pirates a sub-brand of BTSSB, created to meet the needs of the growing popularity for more Gothic styles. Whilst still sweet it has slightly darker undertones, influenced by Alice in Wonderland and Pirates (as in the Vivienne Westwood 1981 ‘Pirate’ collection, more romantic than pillaging the high seas). In this ensemble the striped tights and clock handbag hit at aspects from Alice in Wonderland, along with the black ribbons marking it out from it’s Sweet counterpart.
Elegant Gothic Lolita
Gothic Lolita is another popular branch of Lolita fashion, most recognisable by the use of black and white. The Lolita Gothic style relates back to Victorian Gothic and though uses dark colours it is still very much related to sweetness and innocence. One of the main Gothic Lolita brands is Moi-même-Moitié created by Mana of the band Malice Mizer in 1999 to define his own style. This sub-brance of Gothic Lolita is know as Elegant Gothic Lolita (EGL). for girls and Elegant Gothic Aristocrat (EGA) for guys. The vivid blue in the above outfit is often used by the brand.
The above outfit is also Gothic Lolita, this design is by Alice Auaa who established the brand in 1995. This brand is somewhat set apart from other Lolita styles due to the interest in S&M, bondage and Gothic horror. The couture-like designs are now show in runway fashion shows and at price points beyond reach of many, yet the workmanship is exquisite.
Punk Lolita is perhaps the most surprising evolution of the Lolita sub-styles. As a Brit the anarchic ways of British Punk are well know, yet Punk Lolita takes bad-ass and makes it cuddly! Zippers, safty pins, tartan, studs and chains are all combined with the pretty, girly Lolita silhouette. The above outfit is by Putumayo, who opened their first store in Harajuku in 1990. They stock punk items including things suitable or Punk Lolita but are not an exclusively Lolita brand.
This Punk Lolita outfit is quite detached from the frilly, full skirts of the Lolita styles we have already looked at. The outfit is actually unisex and is a real hybrid of cultural styles. The clothing here is from the brands Sixh. and MINT Neko both belonging to the umbrella company KINCS clothing group. It is a much more casual style and something which is very similar to what is seen worn in the UK if you replaced the sandals with Converse.
Japanese Lolita is a strikingly different look to the Sweet and Classic styles, the most obvious features are that the clothes have traditional Japanese influence rather than European. The first outfit is by Takuya Angel, established in 1995 by self taught designer Takuya Sawada, who hand-makes all of his designs. He recycles old kimono material which is a trademark of his brand. Along with taking influence from Japanese culture the brand has elements of Cyber-Goth.
The most traditional of Japanese clothing is this outfit by Mamechiyo Modern. The designer who had been a vintage kimono dealer for many years set out to make kimono more wearable for everyday use with her own label. The designer experiments by introducing none traditional elements such as the headdress and lace collar, bringing appeal to the younger market.
The exhibition was placed amongst historical Japanese displays, giving a wide perspective of the country past and present. I found it particularly intriguing to see in contrast to the Samurai armor and traditional kimono.
The exhibition is on until 24th Feb 2013, more information can be found on the V&A website.
UK lolita’s visiting the exhibition, image (c) V&A