A PR puff piece ran in yesterday’s Washington Post with the inexplicably newsworthy headline of “Gwen Stefani designs Harajuku kids’ clothes for Target”. It seems that Stefani , the lead singer of group No Doubt, will be expanding upon her “Harajuku Lovers” brand to include “Harajuku Mini”, a collection of children’s clothing inspired by the street styles found in Tokyo’s Harajuku district…
Bit of a flashback here: Stefani first began associating herself with Japanese fashion in a big way back in 2004 with her song “Harajuku Girls” and her similarly-named troupe of backup dancers. The next step was the creation of a “Harajuku Lovers” lifestyle brand overseen by Stefani that included apparel and fragrances...
The problem was that all of these projects merely seemed to be out to exploit the buzz that surrounded Harajuku in the wake of 2001's international best selling book FRUiTS: Tokyo street style. But for all the work that Stefani and her brand did to associate themselves with Harajuku, there was never any actual connection with Japan.
According to the owners of a local store in Harajuku, hype only raises the price of the real estate and pushes out independent businesses. Over the last few years Harajuku has been invaded by international brands like H&M and Forever 21 who have opened mammoth stores hoping to ride the buzz while local stores like Erostika have closed. I think it's fine for people to be interested in this stuff, I just feel like some of the money has to go back to keeping the foundation firm.
So why should I care? After all, I’m an adult male, with zero need for Harajuku-inspired apparel in my wardrobe. I guess I care because fashion is such a major part of Japanese pop culture that it simply can’t be avoided. Even if you spend a lot of time just focusing on anime and manga, clothing and style are still bound to pop up on the radar. And when it comes to Japanese pop culture, I think we all want things that are authentic, not watered down Americanized versions thereof (just look at all the outrage over the recent AKIRA Hollywood remake…).
If you like Gwen Stefani and her Harajuku-inspired brands, that’s cool. Even Kyary Pamyu Pamyu of PONPONPON fame admits in interviews that early exposure to the Harajuku Girls was a life changing experience. But for the sake of those of you who want the real thing, I’ve rounded up a list of five cutting-edge brands that are actually from Japan. No, you won’t find any of their goods at your local Target store, but maybe that's for the best...
6%DOKIDOKI first opened its doors in Harajuku during the dawn of the contemporary street fashion scene in 1995. Since then, the brand has evolved into a wild and colorful look that owner Sebastian Masuda calls, “Sensational Kawaii” and “Happy Anarchy.” 6%DOKIDOKI’s tiered skirts and baby doll dresses been widely copied by others seeking to emulate Harajuku style (even their name has been copped, ala tokidoki), and while the extreme end of their fashion may not be suitable for all, 6% also sells a wide range of low-priced accessories much loved by celebrities and locals alike. While they aren’t doing international shipping right now, 6%DOKIDOKI travels abroad often to sell their goods, and are slated to be in LA by the end of the year. And of course, mention must now be made of 6%DOKIDOKI famed model “shop girls” Vani (above left) and Yuka (right), who are without the doubt the real “Harajuku Girls” par excellence.
Since opening their flagship store in Harajuku in 2010, SPINNS has become enormously influential in the world of Harajuku fashion. For starters, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu of PONPONPON fame often models for Spinns (that's her above) and their club-ready clothes and accessories are often featured in magazines like KERA and Zipper. There is no single SPINNS style. Shoppers are encouraged to mix and match to create their own “fashion coordinate”, but lots of pastels colors, animal prints, and zany cartoon imagery figure prominently. Spinns does not do international shipping…yet. But a visit to their “head shop” in Harajuku is a must.
3. Super Lovers
A staple of Japanese fashion since 1988, Super Lovers caters to the rock and punk crowd. Design motifs – such as skulls and crossbones, Union Jack flags, and metal studs – take their cues from the classic UK punk style, but are served up with neon colors and a sense of playfulness that’s pure Harajuku. The similarities between their name and Gwen’s “Harajuku Lovers” are just too close to be a coincidence. Either way, you can buy Super Lovers apparel from overseas via their online shop at Rakuten Global.
Spank! started off in 2004 as a store that worshipped at the altar of the 1980s with style icons that include the likes of Strawberry Shortcake, the Care Bears, and Jem and the Holograms. Now, Spank also produces their own clothing and accessories which follow a similar pastel colored path somewhere between trash culture and fancy goods. Spank! (along with US collaborator Chubby Bunny) will be opening a pop-up shop in Culver City, CA during November as part of the SWEET STREETS: art exhibition.
The galaxxxy store is located in Shibuya, just around the corner from some of Tokyo’s most popular dance clubs. Just like a DJ manning the turntables, galaxxxy remixes the past and present to create an energetic new style that, as their English promotional materials put it, “combine neon cracks and exploding of galaxxxy”. While casual looks can be mined from their apparel, this is really state-of-the art clothing for club goers and party animals. galaxxxy goods can be purchased internationally using Rakuten Global Market.
Gwen, if you are out there, please consider collaborating with some of these guys. The hype from Harajuku may be enormous, but in reality, it's a very fragile ecosystem that could use some love and care beyond just branding and lip service. You are obviously as much a fan of the crazy world of Japanese fashion as much as I am, and I think everyone could stand to benefit by bringing something real to the table.