Design Festa has come and gone for another season, reinforcing in the process its reputation as the best place to keep your finger on the proverbial pulse of the underground art scene, the subcultures set to turn up in fashion, as well as a whole lot more that should quite rightly remain behind closed doors. I am torn as ever about which angle to cover the vast (over 3400) booths from, and while I could tell you about Steampunk gathering said steam or indulgently go on about my picks from the silver jewelry scene, I thought I would go for something more abstract and try and attach a name to the post-kawaii culture I am going to attempt to dub “Mahou Shoujo”, but crucially without a “kei” or “zoku“. That latter point is very important and probably the reason why no-one has tried to give a name to this current and very obvious generation of youth fashion, in that it simply doesn’t abide by the same rules as the “zoku” or tribes, or even the diluted “kei” or style. I don’t want to get bogged down in terminology too much, but the latter term implied a dilution or a sub-set of the defined fashion tribes associated with Japanese youth fashion up to the very early 00s, but it can’t have escaped anyone’s notice that the most recent attempts to use those words around current fashion have been defined by the media (in the case of akamoji-kei etc), or used to define social trends (herbivore men etc), rather than to directly refer to fashion. However, this is not necessarily in the best interests of Japanese fashion or art, particularly internationally where a name for a style has always sold – kawaii being the best recent example.
So why then is it so difficult to attach a name to the current wave of styles? The answer is that they are quite simply too diffuse, with too many sub-genres, defying even the 00s when it was sufficient to coin a style around a single shop (cult-kei – named after Cult Party in Koenji etc), while at the same time relying paradoxically on a shared group of a very small number of visual signifiers. With that in mind when trying to coin a name I thought it best to look for the shared qualities, which in this case are the sailor uniform, religious imagery, and of course the spread of pop-culture into fashion – hence the visual allusion to magical girls. There is also a nice sociological parallel as well, with the quantifiable soft-power of kawaii culture being without a doubt the predominant one Japan deploys international, not to mention an agency that some might dispute, but one that has been subtly undermining Japanese demographics. Anyway, I am not going to try too hard to convince anyone, even if it is a term only I may use to keep track of the post-kawaii movements, I think it fits the bill very nicely.
As an accessible example, and one that shows Design Festa’s increasing ability to attract established brands we find the team from Neb Aaran Do (see what they did there), finding a 2.5 riff on school uniforms – the colours are saturated and shapes expanded to their logical conclusion to give an other-worldly atmosphere that is palpable but never feels like a costume.
Here is a perfect example of the randomly remixed visual signifiers which have made this generation tough to pin down to a single style – the brand is Cosmic Magicals and is even stocked in 18 IPPA in Koenji.
Subcultures are always on the hunt for controversial ground, and there is perhaps none more relevant at the moment than youth nationalism in fashion (perhaps a topic for another time). This is the team from Akai Hyouhon showing off their Showa themed accessories and grizzly artwork.
I thought the outfit on the left here sums up the Mahou Shoujo vibe perfectly, walking the line between fashion, counter-culture and 2.5d culture perfectly.
Likewise these girls could be ambassadors for their generation in fashion, and note how the star behind them is made out of skipping ropes in an almost literal manifestation of “magical” and “girl”
They were selling these very sweet rosettes among other accessories.
On to embroidery artist Paranormal Mellow Mellow, and I though this ribboned fish needed to be seen.
Likewise Hitomiya were riffing on magical girls with these creepy eyed sailor collars below looking particularly good.
Elsewhere at Design Festa one was really spoiled for choice in the ways people were expressing their work – anything expressed through the medium of sweets as above gets my vote.
Artist Mizuiro choosing to work through band-aids,
while others chose lunch boxes.
Ones to watch Zigg, who I think deserve an article of their own in the future – love their work.
One of my other favorite picks of the day was Pei-chan and her inspired baby sling bag (The bear zips open). It walked a rather uncomfortable line, but as a metaphor for youth opting out and not participating in the roles prescribed for them by society was rather perfect.
Elsewhere on more mainstream (all things are relative) ground we have Amanojaku from Bunka students Sayumi and Akari showing their wares.
As well as more conventional kawaii culture from the beautifully attired above, to the candy covered traditional masks below.
At this booth you could be rendered unreal – quite the transformation.
And it was a pleasure too to see more mature artists working with surprisingly similar themes.
Kawaii culture is clearly evolving within Japan, but I am always fascinated to see how it evolves when tempered with other cultures and thankfully Design Festa is becoming steadily more international with each passing year. Indonesian artist Enji was inspired by kawaii culture in general and it was interesting to read her perspective on the culture through her work.
LIEF are a Seoul based Korean Lolita brand, and likewise it was a pleasure to see them bring their own identity to an increasingly global subculture in the context of Japan.
And finally we have Cute Can Kill from designer Lila (right) who brings her distinctive Italian eye to pastel infused kawaii.
Hopefully I have convinced you that Design Festa is worth a visit (the next one is in November), but do remember that I have only scratched the surface here – I have only covered 20 booths so there are still a good 3380 left to explore!