Every now and then, Japanese fashion feels like it is on the verge of firing out a new trend, tribe or culture, more often than not these just don’t quite seem to capture the feel of the moment and disappear back into the neon. But sometimes… Yes, sometimes they get momentum, events fall into place, the right magazine writes about it at the right time and suddenly thing start moving – and in Tokyo they move fast. Now comes news that at long last the group of Japanese creators that includes Balmung, runurunu, Bodysong, Hatora, Veveropparuuu, Chloma, Jenny Fax and her husband Mikio Sakabe, as well as a couple of occasional contributors like 5toy are now under one roof, in one shop and most interestingly of all, in Akihabara. The recent Akihabara Fashion War Week (coverage here) was a huge success and has been picked up by many a magazine, all leading people do talk about the possibility of a new type of Akihabara fashion.
Now, there has been a long history of trying to mix Otaku / Akiba culture with fashion, most notably the Neo Cos movement. But by and large they haven’t worked out because they have depended on the Geek Chic conceit, where someone wears nerdy clothes, or more frequently, nerdy imagery in an ironic way. In a simular way as wearing a band t-shirt has little to do with the creation of music, so too does wearing a t-shirt with a geeky print on it fail to create fashion. The true magic happens when someone takes the very core of aesthetics, in this case Otaku culture, and creates fashion from scratch. Here in the output of the aforementioned designers you can see the shapes and silhouettes of anime characters, proportions that mimic robots or robotic armor, and shiny fabrics that mimic the sheen of a plastic figure. In short, these are clothes made by people raised by this culture, who in turn contribute to it, in a way that no-one has attempted so sincerely.
Personally I have a long relationship with the area having gone to University just a 10 minute walk from the area over at Meiji and I used to regularly trot on over to this area after class, and I have fond memories of the dynamism of the area, the DIY, the apartments converted into shops and the street performance (now regrettably prohibited). Obviously a lot has changed in the past decade, and while I feel more than a little ostracized by modern tastes, it is still an area where people live their dreams, for better or for worse.
5okai is located a short walk from the station near the Denpa-Gumi building, in such a location as that it forces you to walk past all the key Akihabara shops and maid cafes on your way to it. It is a sensation that forces you to be aware of the location, the culture and the influences, and in a way, primes you for the fashion inside. Needless to say, it is up on the fifth floor of the optimistically entitled Hope building and today, I shall be your guide:
A monstrous coat that you might remember from this post here.
A very sweet structure skirt from Balmung.
runurunu looking excellent in a muted colour palette instead of the usual psychedelic.
For fans of these brands, this is an amazing place as you can actually buy their older work (and often at very fair prices). There are racks packed with the stuff, so dig in and have a rummage!
The shops creative director has a perchant for a couple of idols, something that will become clear from the music and video presentations. For the record this is an hour long stare without any cuts from an idol who will watch you coldly as you shop.
The shop is packed with hints to the respective designers influences.
Futuristic school uniforms.
This is also one of the few stockists of Jenny Fax and it was a pleasure to see her S/S 2012 catwalk collection again.
A great piece from Balmung and a complete reversal from his monotone and somber S/S.
The designer of Veveropparuuu often uses Dakimakura fabric in his work, in this case using additional stitching to make it seem vaguely three dimensional.
It is also the home of the Barunemungu collaboration brand between Balmung and the idol – Yumeminemu. Apparently large amounts of this are already sold out and there was a queue to get into the shop on release!
The shop really does have a great atmosphere, like you are an intruder in an Otaku room.
And finally here is the cheery owner and director of 5okai and Veveropparuuu, a fascinating guy who will tell you tales of trying to dress idols in Jeremy Scott, and is always up for a bit of nerdy banter.
So there you have it, a new and unlikely addition to the Tokyo fashion map. What do you think? There seems to be momentum behind this wave of Otaku culture inspired fashion and certainly the people wearing it have the same aspiration to be outside society that so many great fashion movements have had. Either way this particular shop is heartily recommended as the best place to buy these brands, as well as being a great experience all round.