While we are not necessarily in the mood for celebration, given the recent events in Japan, we wanted to do something to mark our one year anniversary here at Tokyo Telephone and we thought rather than a bacchanalian party we would let it spur us on for the future. Having been in Tokyo for the aftermath of the quake the oft-repeated cliche of resilience and determination were proved a very real reality, and as a site that aims to promote Japanese fashion to the world at large we would hate to betray the huge efforts made by the Japanese fashion industry to overcome this calamity by not pushing this site on to bigger and better things this coming year.
To mark the occasion we thought we would put together a conversation of sorts about the site, the Tokyo fashion scene and our own personal style with a mix of recent street snaps. Continue reading for a look back over a formative year for this site and a look forward to where we see it taking us in the future.
Samuel – I guess we should start with a look back at how this site came about in the first place. As I recall it it was actually Rebecca’s initial idea to create a site, so what was your original idea?
Rebecca – Like many of my best ideas (not that there’s been too many!), it just sort of happened. We were on a train out of London on a rainy afternoon in March 2010, and I was pulling ideas out of the ether when you thought that the concept of a cool Japanese tourist information site made more sense than anything else I’d come up with thus far. Of course, we’ve come a long way since then! What do you think brought about the shift in the focus of the site from travel to fashion?
S – I think that happened quite organically because while we were saying we wanted to do a travel site, we were actually wanting to spread the message that beyond the either otaku-tinged or traditional view of Japan there was a fantastically edgy modern Japan that lay either misunderstood or unreported. As it turns out the evidence for that largely was to be found in the fashion world and when we started writing more about that we would see a substantial increase in visitors and a very positive response. Needless to say the fact that I worked in fashion in Tokyo made the transition very easy, but I think it was ultimately an inevitability – it is after all what we live and breathe.
Samuel as always trying to strike a balance between the industrially futuristic and tribal.
S – So what are you most excited about for the future of the site? I know that previously we have been very Japan Fashion Week focused, but where do you see us going beyond that?
R – Ooh, that’s a tough one! I don’t hold with psychics and all that claptrap, but if I had to hazard a guess… Of course I’d like to see us getting bigger and better – that’s one of the advantages of working together as a couple; we can and do inspire and drive each other constantly forwards all the time. I’d love to start covering the work of Japanese designers around the world (hello, Paris!) and keep helping to promote the new generation of up-and-coming young fashion creators too. One of the many things that I love about the site and the cross-over between social media such as twitter is the we can interact with our readers, peers and the designers that we adore – what better ego boost than to know that someone half-way across the world thinks your latest collection is fabulous? I’d also love to see us branching out into different forms of media – is there anything new you’d like to have to a go at?
Rebecca wearing her NOMI jacket.
S – I think I would like to talk a little bit more sociologically about what it means to be interested in Japanese fashion as a foreigner. Globally it carries a lot of negative connotations, but I want people to see that it can be really cool and credible beyond “wacky fashion” stereotypes from out of date sources. I want people to think of Tune and Root when they think about Japanese fashion, not a Manba from the 90s.
A rare picture of the pair of us together.
R – Although I was so happy when we saw some real Manbas in the wild (on Center-Gai) just after the earthquake! It seems most of them have grown up… Do you think producing this site has changed your personal style in any way?
S – Definitely, before this site I didn’t have a clue. I was a mess of Gyaru-O from my university days, mixed with Host elements an obsession with perfection and a bad fake tan. I am glad that I got to have fun with hair extensions, massive hair and the whole scene that went with it at some point, but I knew I had to move on as I entered the working world. Luckily for me I was welcomed into a new fashionate world which made the detox less painful. I still find it fun to use elements of that style in my current coordinates but I have definitely landed on my feet with a more natural organic look to my hair and face that won’t be being changed anytime soon. Ironically the Shibuya street style and even Host styles are now increasingly toned down, less tanned and with less prepared hair – perhaps it is the age of austerity, or maybe credibility? How has this site changed your style?
Samuel heading into his favorite shop in the whole of Tokyo – Share Spirit Museum. We are yet to write about it here for fear of not quite doing it justice…
R – I feel much more confident taking ‘risks’ with my style. I’m quite a shy person in real life, and that doesn’t often match up to the image that I project – variously coloured hair and dashes of Vivienne Westwood punk! I think it’s also helped me realise that aligning wholly with one particular fashion subculture isn’t really for me: like many people, I’ve dabbled in a few, from VK to gyaru, and while I’ve had great fun doing so I can’t image only being interested in one style. It’s a feature of many fashion communities online, and I think it’s a downside; people become so consumed with the concept of ‘doing it right’ that they completely forget the passion and fun that caught their imagination in the first place. Over the past few years we’ve been together, I’d say we’ve definitely influenced each other’s style (we often share clothes – double the wardrobe to choose from!), and I can see this continuing indefinitely – what do you think the future holds?
At the core of our love for Tokyo is the saturation of the city.
S – I think I have found my calling in the urban cultism that brands like Julius, Share Spirit and 14th Addiction represent. I have always been interested in the imagery and iconography of cults and Tokyo is a veritable playground of off-beat groups and down right personality cults of the dangerous variety – forget the freemasons, Tokyo really knows how it is done. I think the more futurist the society the more it cares about antiquity and images of power, ultimately giving religious and cultish imagery modern meaning. I personally like the idea of combining those various forms of iconographic details on an industrial nomadic base. I think that really addresses the heart of urban fashion, that you need to balance a form of defensive practicality with culturally identifying symbolism. Basically what I am really getting at is that I like wearing lots of leather and jewelry! How about you?
Heading out of Dog Harajuku.
R – This past year I’ve become really interested in the philosophy behind designers such as Comme des Garcons’ Rei Kawakubo – she created her own personal vision of beauty and style that, while it didn’t match up with everyone else’s expectations, created a powerful aesthetic movement that still influences fashion and culture today. It’s the idea of pursuing your own way through fashion. And ripping holes in black clothes while you’re at it. I love that. One day I’d like to able to fit into your amazing Share Spirit leather trousers. It’s a dream! As much as we’ve changed and developed personally, of course the Tokyo fashion scene has too, so how do you think it’s shifted?
Tokyo may be one of the safest cities in the world, but it is certainly never “safe” culturally.
S – I think through the movement towards select shops that stock a mix of designers and vintage that the Tokyo fashion scene has come of age. It is a movement over brands to pure aestheticism. Now you have shops like Grimoire and Spank! that have created a new aesthetic out of (mostly) western clothes but selected and combined in such a way that their value is determined in relation to how they fit the new aesthetic rather than the usual equation of labour x materials x status. Running in parallel to that I love the remake boom as a means of reclaiming fashion and while I love the perfect remakes that ACV do so well, I have a really soft spot for the naive hand drawings that Tarzan Kick and Wagado utlise to make clothing truly individual. My personal barometer for checking the health of the Tokyo scene is the Kitakore building in Koenji and it was a really nice moment visiting after the quake and seeing Garter hard at work at repairing their floor and Rachael at ilil popping in studs like nothing had happened .
R – Haha, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head! It’s also safe to say that while fashion pioneers like the ones you’ve mentioned above are forging ever onwards, mainstream trends still follow the same cycle – florals in spring, you get the idea – so I think we’re seeing an increasing divide between the mainstream and the underground. I think it’ll be particularly interesting to see the aftereffects of the earthquake/tsunami/radiation scare on the Japanese fashion economy, and indeed the the tourist one too. That’s one of the reasons I try to link every shop and brand I write about to our Tokyo map – you can’t match the actual experience of walking into any of these Tokyo shops. We try our best with photographs and words, but I urge each and every reader to try to take the opportunity to visit Japan & Tokyo see it, touch it and taste it for themselves. The waffles and crepes outside La Foret, the bright lights of Shibuya’s gyaru heaven 109, and the amazing white woolen tree in vintage mecca Haight & Ashbury – there’s nowhere on earth quite like Tokyo.
S – Indeed – and that is very much what this site is all about.
So thank you so much for bearing with us this year, it has been an absolute pleasure, it really has. This site has brought us so many new friends and a new perspective on Japanese fashion – but most importantly it has been a lot of fun and we have always been excited to get behind the keyboard and write every single day for the last year. I hope you will stay with us for the coming year and I can promise you that we will continue to bring you the best in Japanese culture, not to mention a very exciting new project which we will be announcing later this year.
I wish I could thank everyone who has been involved in this site over the last year individually, but there are really too many of you. I hope you all know who you are, we are both enormously grateful. For now the best support we and you can offer is to Japan, so that this culture we prize can continue and grow ever stronger.
Looking into a (hopefully) bright future.