Kawaii is not the fixed feast that many people imagine it to be, it is an evolving concept, one bound by the simple fact that the word “kawaii” itself defies static definitions referring to a sense or feeling that, as you can imagine, is given to change with the time. In honor of Sebastian Masuda’s HQ of Harajuku kawaii 6% Dokidoki relaunching with a new flavor of kawaii, we thought we would take a look at the current face of kawaii culture, and what better way to do that than via Design Festa, even in the internet age quite possibly the best place to take the temperature of Japan’s creative class.
The first thing that needs to be said is that there is a massive generational gap between those who grew up before kawaii become the dominant cultural force in the Japanese mainstream, and those who became culturally aware with kawaii as the norm. It strikes me that kawaii is increasingly the assumed base to work from rather than a potential addition. You only have to look at how kawaii what was once considered male culture is now in Japan, even the age of peacocking metrosexual gyaru-o has been given its marching orders now that Men’s Egg has closed its doors, replaced with a male-led drive towards kawaii. It is something summed up in the picture below in this the mecha meets bishoujo combo, but note that the traditionally sexualised areas of the body have been covered with practical armor and its dress derived from credible gothic lolita fashion. The shift towards kawaii has also opened up a lot of previously male dominated genres to women (but that is something we are seeing worldwide), and it is through those new doors that we are probably seeing the biggest shifts on a sub-culture level.
But how does that effect us in fashion, well for a start it has given us a whole new defined palate to work with:
It may be soft pastels right now, but the next step will be to uncomfortably saturated pastels that border on the neon. Mix in some dirty tones and you have the “too kawaii” palate that we are starting to see the early adopters wearing right now in Harajuku.
The next defining feature of the post-kawaii generation is their adoption of now iconic features of kawaii culture and using them as the basis of their work. This is especially noticeable in fashion thanks to the prevalence of the sailor uniform as the definitive symbol of kawaii, femininity and sexuality.
It should be stated at this point that the vast majority of artists and designers in this post are all women producing with a female audience in mind. This is by women for women and there is definitely a sense that they are reclaiming an identity taken from them by the previous generation.
I lost track of how many detachable sailor collars I found, it really does have the potential to be a new uniform for the post-kawaii generation.
This group “Blackboard and Black Hair” obviously reference the classroom, but also the requirement to have un-dyed hair that most schools require. The idea of even black hair being symbolic is rather powerful, the idea that once you are an adult you must dye your hair at least one shade away from black is quite a potent one in Japan and I had never really considered it until now.
Obviously sub-culture led ideas are the most noticeable, like the doll-inspired ball jointed wrists here, but don’t miss the bow garters and sailor collar pouches below:
Here the pony tail is isolated, again a powerful kawaii symbol.
And finally we reach the peak of the post-kawaii generation, a heady mix of youthful images, manga references and strong pastels. You would never say this is cute, that word just doesn’t sum up the journey that has led to this point one bit.
Elsewhere you find people exploring the possibilities of emphasizing the sock with those garters designed for various sock lengths.
A “Girls Study Group” whose work focuses on different parts of women’s bodies – currently they are producing work that focuses on the leg.
Needless to say kawaii offers new possibilities for the kimono, and it was interesting to see how kawaii the form of the kimono is already, as with the seifuku in hangs away from the body.
into pop kawaii.
Kyun Kun is a robotic fashion creator, who as you can gather finds the kawaii in robotics.
But it is probably in the more down to earth designers that you can really see where we are heading once the mainstream catches up with the forerunners mentioned here – the shapes, the colors and the conception of femininity are what we will see diffused once the sub-cultural elements are left behind.
Finally what I would like to stress more than anything is how thoughtful and drives this generation are, people (especially in the West) have a tendency to reduce kawaii to a mindless culture as personified by the most popular kitty-based exports. However look a bit closer and you will find a generation speaking for themselves in their own way, the topics of adulthood, femininity, and what it means to be Japanese may all be topics that have been aired before, but rarely so articulately by the generation they directly effect – I advise you listen.