Even though the lion’s share of Japanese fashion’s cultural currency is firmly banked in its subcultures, I think many international observers of Japan’s established media would be very surprised to find out how underground certain subcultures are in relation to the mainstream, though they might also erroneously expect to find a champion of decora lurking on every Tokyo street. It was in an attempt to bring subcultural fashion to the fashion establishment’s attention that Alice Auaa joined the official Tokyo Fashion Week schedule 5 seasons ago, and even though there was a group wince when one very respected journalist referred to the brand as a “gothic lolita” one, it has managed to find its place in a predominantly high fashion focused week with its couture quality showpieces and easy to understand themes. However, I for one I have always felt like Alice Auaa had gentrified its output for the official week, but having seen designer Yasutaka Funakoshi having to explain what “AB play” was and how it figured into his SS 2013 Alice in Wonderland themed collection, maybe he made the right call.
Having said that, this season when I caught a glimpse of the designer strutting around wearing a very self-aggrandizing cod-piece prior to his AW 2014-15 show I just knew that this season would be different, and different it was.
Subcultures are defined by their separation from the mainstream, and even as BDSM culture trickles into normality online and in media culture in Europe and America, it is a lifestyle still not particularly well understood in Japan in general, especially once one leaves Tokyo. Indeed, it is very telling that the majority of fetish fashion in Japan comes from abroad (with some notable exceptions) and even Atsuko Kudo had to leave Japan before her fashion got the attention it deserved. That is not to say that there is not a kink culture in Japan, it is just visually distinct from the predominant latex-led BDSM fashion in Europe and America, so when viewing this collection it is important to note that the visual signifiers of the show were largely new to the audience, and that is exactly what Funakoshi wanted. Beyond the masks, collars and whips, the models walked with power, striding to the photographers before towering above the front row as if daring them to raise their smartphones, the lighting too was the dimly lit fug of a dingy club, apparently inspired by the designer’s days in the scene in London and in the midst of swishing leather and clattering heels you knew that this was a collection rendered in absolute honesty above all else.
There is a tendency to think of subcultural fashion as being synonymous with street fashion, but I have never been quite so sure. So many of Tokyo’s current subcultures don’t exist in the street snap courting scene of the late 90s/2000s, but rather behind closed doors, not unlike Alice Auaa’s members only shops. In addition the other main problem of thinking that “subculture = street” is that you miss out on the kind of quality encapsulated in shows like this.
The show was titled “The Grave of a Beast”, “grave” in this sense being a bed and the “beast” the dehumanizing effect of lust. Indeed, the masks did a good job of separating the audience from the models, and once you add in the metal tails Alice Auaa’s beast was complete.
More bestial details here, but even so the collection felt wearable enough once you took away some of the styling – don’t worry the brand faithful will replicate the looks verbatim.
Themes of dominance emerged as epaulettes on corseted military coat-dresses.
Hoods provided a great styling opportunity, and were worn attached to holster constructions looped under the arm.
As the show progressed the whole became more and more feminine, adding in ruching and broad frills to the aggressive whole.
The tails were actually made from aluminum, and deliberately alluded to the tools of the SM trade without embarrassing the audience.
The showpieces as ever show Alice Auaa at the top of their game, and I am only grateful that Japan continues to buy them – even if they are only worn to the shows themselves.
Towards the end of the show the proportions of the dominatrix archetype was takes to its logical conclusion with a corseted waist contrasted against ludicrously exaggerated armored hips.
For more on the world of Alice Auaa there is a great interview on Japanese Streets here, and you can join me in looking forward to their next collection at Tokyo Fashion Week which will actually be the brand’s 40th!