Reading some of the comments that cropped up on my interview with Kyary Pamyu Pamyu (here if you missed it), it occurred to me just how difficult a concept “kawaii” is to communicate abroad. Particularly from a western perspective when you bring your own baggage of associating cuteness with weakness, especially in the case of fashion it becomes something of a barrier you need to get past before you can start to see why the work of Keisuke Kanda and Mikio Sakabe is empowering, and more importantly, empowering for both men and women. It may not be the answer to larger issues in work and society, but as a cultural phenomenon kawaii fashion should be considered a statement of strength, a middle finger to growing up to be a shakaijin and a public embrace of the very dame that society is afraid to admit to.
Personally there are few designers who articulate the inherent tension of kawaii as explicitly as Rurumu, who regular readers of this site will be familiar with through her high-profile collaborations with Dempagumi.inc, Bodysong and the father of otaku fashion – Mikio Sakabe. Rurumu’s designer Higashi Kanae started out as more of an artist, making one-off pieces that cropped up at LaForet’s Wall and in the Virgin Mary, Harajuku, but now the pendulum has swinging further towards the fashion end of the spectrum to the point where she is becoming a designer in her own right.
Make no mistake this is the kind of street level authentic kawaii that gives birth to the likes of KPP and more commercial fashion in turn.
Her work takes the worn disheveled look of Cult-kei that grew out of Cult Party (before it moved and became The Virgin Mary) to its logical conclusion, the discolored fabrics a serious affront to mainstream Japanese sensibilities that you might not be aware of until you have lived in Japan some time.
In this photo shoot the optimism that proceeded the current lost generation is worn and washed out, the mainstream obsession with youth too depicted as crumbling before your very eyes.
In this photo, Alice, the image of youth and escapism is boarded up on the right – a reference to the lack of direction of Japan’s youth.
We too a closer look at the current collection at a recent exhibition held in Parco, Shibuya where all the clothes were laid bare on display, and it was a great chance to really dissect the ideas and references running through the work:
Japanese fashion post Meiji era always comes down to issues concerning that of the uniform. Fashion theorists have long argued that the adoption of western clothing has led to designers thinking of items of clothing as a fixed event that is then customized as much as is humanely possible, but the core always left intact (paging Jun Takahashi). Likewise you can’t ignore that the core of kawaii and related constructs such as moe are bound to uniforms, the subversion of all norms begins here, a lesson Mikio Sakabe showed us in his breakthrough collection here.
Rurumu tends to use these items over clothes, the idea being that these heavy knitted items are almost a shell outside the body challenging the male dominated sexualization of the garments by society.
Beyond the sociology the clothes are beautiful and really very well made, take your time and enjoy:
Moving on to the details:
And finally you can just see me framed in the heart of kawaii, appropriately wearing some antique bows on my jacket.
I hope you have enjoyed that look in the world of Rurumu, and maybe got you thinking about the core of kawaii as well. Regardless of how well it is capitalized on by large companies desperate to sell a whole lot of plastic, you have to remember that at its heart it is a culture created by women for women, the sexualized images are holding up a mirror to society and in turn reclaiming them. It might not seem like a show of strength to the western eye, but rest assured that when the revolution comes, it will be kawaii.