According to the official website “It is a brand
that projects a lifestyle fashion of ‘Aymmy’ a 17 year old girl from
California”…who apparently lives the American Dream and is “working in a diner.”
Based on the image illustration, Aymmy looks
like a long lost background character from an Archie comic book, and appears to
have been raised in some kind of hermetically shielded fallout shelter where
the 21st century never happened.
Aymmy’s fictitious bio (which overlaps with
Ayumi Seto’s own catalog of interests) claims her favorite foods are hamburgers
and Cherry Cokes. Her favorite movies are Ghostbusters, E.T., and Return of the
Living Dead. Her favorite groups are the Ramones, the Damned, the Sex Pistols,
and the Dead Boys.
Built on these foundations, the brand is promising clothing and goods in the following genres: Kidz, SK8 (skate), School, and Rock. Coordinates like this have long been the stuff of countless
fashion spreads in Harajuku-kei magazines like KERA and Zipper, where the
tomboyish 20-year old Seto has been regularly featured. Even more, the caps and
sports jerseys “kids” look that batty girls will be rolling out has been a cornerstone for Harajuku and Shibuya style
since the "cutie" 1990s.
I’m not sure exactly how long the batty girls
brand has been in the planning stages, but the official promo pictures look
like they were taken when Seto (along with ASOBI SYSTEM agency pal Kyary Pamyu
Pamyu) passed through California for the J-pop Summit in July 2013. Consider
now what the vanguard of “Cool Japan” found in the wild and opted to bring back
with them: the ruins and ghosts of American pop culture.
The lookbook for ‘Aymmy in the batty girls’
shows Seto stalking the streets of LA with soda pop in hand, paying homage to
Dr. Pepper in a Melrose antique store, posing in front of a juke box, and
contemplating an “old fashioned” milk shake. Some of the photos and
clothes do make overtures to punk and surfer looks, but it’s clear that the
real target of this sentimental journey is a nostalgic nonspecific past: the
post-Elvis fifties or the pre-Beatles sixties. Pure American Graffiti
Of course…it’s nothing new. Retro junk culture
has long since become inseparable from girl’s fashion in Japan. For decades
now, magazines from egg to ageha and all points in-between have continually
shown us models in both cheap and expensive garb gorging themselves on greasy
foods surrounded by trash pop iconography: Hot dogs, super markets, soda pop, ‘50s
diners, superheroes; all of it echoes and symbols of the hyper consumerism that
America hotwired into the DNA of post-war Japan.
But the models in the spreads are usually just
the stand-ins for the real work of stylists and designers: human mannequins. However,
Ayumi Seto appears to be the real deal. Way before Aymmy in the batty girls
was announced late in September, Seto’s Instagram had dedicated itself
to cataloging pop art, old movies, and comic book covers. Even now, copious plates of hamburgers tend to outnumber the selfies.
Indeed, Seto is practically a character from Phil
Dick’s “The Man in the High Castle”, an emissary from an alternate Japan that
won the war and now collects symbols of vanishing Americana. Already invisible in the batty girls fantasy is any evidence at all of the digital world we now inhabit. While
writing this post, I took a break for walked down a city block for a coffee.
Literally everyone was looking at their phone or interfacing with some kind of
device, be it phone or MP3 player. But by gosh, here is Seto's alluring old fashioned world of colorful physical objects and, you have to admit, it looks like fun. And I don't care what you're selling. Fun is the ultimate commodity.
"Ayumi Kidz" book on sale 10/7
You gots ta wonder: Will there ever be a “new” nostalgia? Will strip
malls and Starbucks ever inspire Japanese girls the way junk food and antique
shops do? Will the Westward-gazing batty
girls find an audience overseas, let alone in their own “Harajuku kawaii!!”
backyard? Will girls who look like Aymmy ever work at diners again? Did they ever in the first place? Can a 20 year old Japanese girl get away with pretending to be a teenager from California, and is that any crazier than 30-somethings playing teenagers in "Grease"?
I can't say for sure, except that stranger things have happened and hamburgers never seem to go out of style...
The Cherry Bomb burger, curated by Ayumi Seto, on sale at Village Vanguard. Probably fucking delicious...
Reiko was a shop girl at 6%DOKIDOKI who left the field right
before the colorful hallucinogenic Harajuku brand began going global. Not much
is known what happened to Reiko since then ...but not much was known about her
to begin with. She was taller than Yuka and left the scene soon after this pic
was taken to take care of her mom who had fallen ill.
Sebastian said she Reiko was “a wild girl”, and she seemed
to look like a day-glo Barbie doll that had been set on fire and left out in
the rain. Her style was considerably more frayed and distressed than the direction that Japanese pop fashion would
wind up going (consider Kyary or just look at Vani, her 6% shop girl
replacement). I resurrect this picture from my vaults in the hopes that time
does not forget her roughhewn texture: that of raver meets Shuji Terayama show girl.
Now, Yun*chi is set to release her second mini-LP, which like her debut, feature songs written and produced by kz of Vocaloid supergroup livetune. The first single, “Shake You*”, along with the psychedelic, dazzling, sometimes disturbing PV below, makes a stronger impression than Yun*chi’s debut "Reverb" did...at least to these eyes and ears...
The Shake You* mini-LP goes on sale on 4/17 in Japan and the clip bodes well for a mind-altering future ahead for Yun*chi and friends.
I believe in sex, death, monsters, violence,
mayhem, nostalgia, daydreams, excess, and anything out of control.
And so I also believe in Bangkillporn: Japan’s next gen bonkura pop artists and purveyors of
bad taste and fine apparel.
Bangkillporn are three people – a power trio,
really – made up of illustrators + graphic designers Superlog and Utomaru, along with
cosplayer Omi K Gibson (below) providing planning and erotic vibes.
Each member has their own superpower:
Superlog’s work (above) depicts demonic women with automatic weapons, dangerous curves
and dynamite bodies. Utomaru’s designs nail the “pop ‘n cute” look of the
eighties with dazzling line work and a frankly astonishing color palate. Omi K
Gibson is the half-naked female shaman who bridges the gap and brings the
collective vision to life by acting as the group’s model and muse.
Typically in bonkura (slang
for B-movie and junk culture freak) anti-fashion, the black T-shirt is king,
but Bangkillporn’s stickers and shirts dare to run riot across the color
spectrum and break through to a new dimension of eye popping visual appeal.
Also, 2/3ds of Bangkillporn is female, and while I don’t think their work has
any underlying pretention or agenda, the results have more variety and range
than just raw objectification.
But how much of this is by design? How much by
accident? The gang was nice enough to answer a few
Around 2004, Superlog lost everything he had
from gambling and was about to throw himself into Tokyo Bay. Luckily, Utomaru
passed by and prevented Superlog from dying. Afterwards, they realized that
they liked the same kinds of movies and manga and they started working together
on illustrations and designs. A while later in 2011, the pair came across OMI
in the middle of Tokyo where she was buck naked and scavenging through trash.
They managed to tame OMI’s savage animal-like nature and together, they become
what they are now.
The name is a sequence of our three favorite
words: “bang”, “kill”, and “porn”. It’s also inspired by the atmosphere of
Spaghetti Westerns, like “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”.
How would you describe your brand’s image?
We take the influence of American movies from
the ‘70s to the ‘80s, and tokusatsu and anime from the Showa era up to 1989,
and we mix them together to create new art. We don’t see any other brands doing
this, so we’d like to be the ones who do it.
How can foreigners get your shirts and goods?
Please e-mail us at [email protected] . We
will be sure to write back. Since we have gotten some good feedback from people
outside of Japan, we are planning to make a shopping web-site for them
Since we just started, our first goal is to let
as many people as possible to know about us. For starters, we will be living in
the mountains and fighting bears with our bare hands (not a joke, it is out of
respect to Mas Oyama). Also, we would like to participate in the San Diego
Comic Con in the near future.
Do you have a message for whoever is reading this interview?
All three of us love old Japanese pop culture,
especially from the Showa-era, so we hope to show and tell everyone about it
using our eyes as filters. T-shirts are part of that, but in the future, we
hope to make toys and create other kinds of designs. I’m sure there are many
other people who feel the same way we do, so we hope those people will wear our
shirts and us photos. That would make us very happy!
Kyary Pamyu Pamyu and her 2011 megahit PONPONPON video sort of raised the bar for models-turned singers in Japan. Nowadays if you want your song to get any attention, you have to make the most visually appealing promotion video you can, one that can target both web addicted otaku and magazine-flipping fashion kids alike or else risk getting lost in the deluge of PVs uploaded daily to YouTube.
Thus, 17 year old Popteen magazine model Shiina Hikari (nickaname: Pikarin) along with record label avex – have really hedged their bets by hitting all the buttons video for her debut single “Shinryaku Pikarin Densetsu☆” . This is less a simple music video and more like a shopping list containing multiple crazy costume changes, kawaii-guro styling (Look! She’s holding a human skull!), frantic visuals and editing, all capped off by a nose-bleed techno song by Vocaloid producer HachioujiP.
The cynic in me finds this all a bit too calculated to exploit the growing links between the fields of kawaii fashion and idol culture. Ditto the press release for the song, which makes a big deal out of how much of an anime fan Pikarin herself supposedly is (cue: fake geek girl debate).
No doubt there is a lot of crossover taking place between the realms of Shibuya, Harajuku, and Akihabara – which used to be totally separated until pretty recently, but my big question is: is this shift in Tokyo youth culture happening organically, or are a collusion of magazine editors, clothing brands, and record label pulling the strings? The correct answer is probably, “a bit of both”, but Pikarin’s clip bears big smudgy fingerprints of the latter camp.
Yun*chi is the latest model-turned singer act from a Japanese talent agency-promotion agency ASOBISYSTEM. And while these pair of names might not immediately set off alarm bells, it helps to know that ASOBISYSTEM helped to launch Kyary Pamyu Pamyu last year and, in the ensuing PONPONPON craze that followed, their clout in the fast-moving Tokyo fashion-music-collaboration game has grown steadily.
Now, like her pal Kyary before her Yun*chi, is being groomed for success. A model, who worked with Julie Watai’s Hardware Girl photo project (which saw cute girls paired with otaku goods and vintage tech gear), Yun*chi’s debut e.p. is scheduled for release on 11/14.
The video for Yun*chi’s much-hyped debut “Reverb” was released the other day. And while it’s not quite the crazy eye candy slam dunk that PONPONPON was, it is an agreeable slice of electropop with some cool visuals. The featured Lip Dancers (who I expect to see cosplay of ASAP) were choreographed by Kyary’s peeps and song itself was produced by Kz of Vocaloid supergroup livetune. Enjoy below.
Chatter on the web tapped out in six letters plus
asterisk, a phrase tapped out over social networks like a song hook or
a sequence of Morse code, repeated repeating, the message saying….
In a time of strife when Chinese patrol ships are
entering Japanese waters, and (more importantly) Aya Ueto went and married some
gorilla from EXILE, “Yun*chi” has become a top search on yahoo.jp.
It’s on the radar now, a developing cloud of stardust on the edge of the galaxy
that begs a question here in Earth Defense Headquarters, “Just who or what is Yun*chi?”
The short version: Yun*chi is a model turned
singer, signed to ASOBISYSTEM, the same agency that Kyary Pamyu Pamyu calls
home. Still in her teens, Yun*chi’s first mini-album is due to arrive this November 14th,
and the hype machine is now spinning in earnest well before any of the music itself has seen official release. So file under "almost famous".
In the last few days alone, Yun*chi has been
profiled by numerous outlets in Japan, including the Hochi Shimbun and musicman-net,
the latter piece including a ringing endorsement from agency mate Kyary who
took the time out of her busy schedule furthering the illuminati agenda to say,
“Yun*chi has a wonderfully odd view of the world, and I'm rooting for her with
all my might."
Who else is rooting for Yun*chi? Well, here’s
where it gets interesting… A preliminary analysis of her DNA shows a genealogy
that is all over the place – from otaku cheesecake, to “Shibuhara” club kid, to
potential idol of millions – and the machinations of plans within plans.
I first became aware of Yun*chi about a year ago
when she appeared as a model in a series of photographs by Julie Watai, who
once did time in Akihabara as a gravure
idol named “Amano Ai”. After hanging up her pink bikini top, Julie became
instrumental in helping to forge a new kind of post-Akiba nerd culture based
not only in referencing 8-bit videogames like holy texts, but also
participating in events that played up the “cute + tech” angle (I will
now shamelessly name drop and tell you that I hung out with Julie long enough
to insist that she buy a copy of Gibson’s “Neruomancer” right after lunch).
Posed or not, Julie’s fetishistic vision of female otakudom was an act that could work in both AKB and in
more rarified parts of town and the gang became the Hardware Girls: a loose knit group of artists,
DJs, VJs, and singers – Yun*chi among them – that Julie could brand for “Hardware
Girls Night” at talk shows and club gigs. Yun*chi’s roots in otaku culture are forever preserved in Julie’s pictures, baring skin and steaming up the showcases at Nakano Broadway....
next thing you know, Yun*chi is backed by up-and-coming jimsho ASOBISYSTEM, who
are mostly a model agency with a lot of Zipper and KERA magazine faces on their
roster. They also have increasing pull in the Shibuya club scene for putting on
regular nosebleed electro events like Yasutaka Nakata’s FLASH!!! and
TAKENOKO!!! parties (he of Perfume infamy). ASOBISYSTEM’s collusion of magazine-ready fashion plus club
music reaches its apex when Kyary Pamyu Pamyu strikes global YouTube gold with
PONPONPON and her subsequent Nakata-penned songs and videos. Finally, here was a single act that could put a
human face on the all “TOKYO KAWAII HARAJUKU GIRLS POP” marketing buzzwords
being tossed around. Others had certainly tried before.
Consider how long a heavy hitter like model-turned-singer Tsubasa tried to
make good with her Milky Bunny persona and yet has failed to
get much traction…
More shameless name dropping: I worked with
ASOBISYSTEM briefly in getting Kyary to appear on my Otaku-Verse Zero web show
in that split second just before she went supernova. Whereas most show biz
agencies you’re likely to encounter tend to be old, demanding, and inhibiting,
ASOBISYSTEM came off as young, accommodating, and permissive, although who knows how much
has changed in the wake of Kyary’s subsequent ubiquity…It should now be noted
that Yun*chi is only the second female act on the ASOBISYSTEM roster of musical
acts, so there’s got to be some kind of play book now. And even though I don’t
really want to see Yun*chi holding a giant KFC cup anytime soon, the joy of tie-up has already begun…
Whereas Kyary’s initial style and image came
from colorful, eyepopping Harajuku shops like 6%DOKIDOKI and SPINNS, Yun*chi’s
first fashion collaboration is with the monochromatic bad boys of VANQUISH: a brand that
started off as a hilariously oversexed oniikei and host clothier from the MEN’S
EGG school before settling down in recent years into something far more ordinary and kinda yankii. While Kyary music now functions as jingles for g.u. TV commercials
(which is where people shop when UNIQLO is too expensive)
Yun*chi’s mini-lp debut will be rolled out in tandem with a new line of VANQUISH VENUS
items for the ladies and, lookie, there’s already a promo video for the line starring the new IT girl herself...
While it would be too early to say that Yun*chi will be angled like a sword point at Shibuya the same way that Kyary was to Harajuku, I’m willing to bet that she’s is likely to be plastered all over the 109-2 building as soon as her mini-lp drops. There's something about the amount of skin Yun*chi tends to show that fits the profile.
But oh yeah, music…I almost forgot about that. Up until about
a week ago, Yun*chi was hosting what sounded like demos on her blog, which were
taken down as the PR storm broke. It sounded like serviceable J-pop, and she
has a nice voice for this sort of thing (she picked up singing from her mom), but yeah… I hope her upcoming disc remembers to contain some of the electro madness as found here in Yun*chi's old 2011 cover of a song from the Kare Kano anime...
Oh, and a great music video -- you know, something more than just a cover photo of Hardware Girl Ushijima Iiniku rotating in the background -- would be essential too to make this thing click with a few people beyond those prone to loitering around on Basketball Street. Or maybe, that's not even the point anymore.
In tossing around notes for this piece with W.
David Marx, he said of spokesmodels and singers in a tone I would associate
with the architect of the Matrix, “The way I see it, there is no actual
audience for it, but there are advertisers/brands (that) need it.” Indeed,
it’s practically a matter of principal and honor that any jimsho will pursue
business opportunities over furthering a musical phenomenon, but so far
practically everything ASOBISYSTEM has carried (Kyary'd?) a strong dose of the authentic about it.
At the edge of the center now stands
Yun*chi herself, a cool beauty, unsmiling and still something of a cipher. It's
like she's keeping a secret; about how her her bid for stardom is now a map of a fragmented, yet connected, youth culture in Japan…and also
how easy it is for partners to make alliances now in points along the
Yun*chi wound up taking over the VANQUISH store at the Ikebukuro PARCO, a bit further up the Yamanote line than I initially predicted...
Also, I did not / do not want people to compare Yun*chi to Kyary. It's more like a new superhero has arrived in town from the pages of the same comics company. So if Kyary is a bright red and blue Superman, then Yun*chi can be...Batman?
Also, the promo video for "Reverb", the first of the new mini-lp songs, was released last week. You can read my impressions on it here and watch it below...
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.
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.
Why here and now? Well, my research for my weekly column at Tokyo Fashion – my favorite freelance gig EVER – has dramatically increased my exposure to images from hellfire and brimstone of Japanese retail. As for what I’ll be covering, "the best of the worst" is the general idea, but the description for JFI at Tumblr gives more exact detail:
Japan, Tokyo, Shibuya, Gyaru, Oniikei, Host, Hostess, Yankii, Bad Taste, Etc"
I know I post this kind of crap all the time here at this blog and elsewhere, but placing them all together (and linking it up to Google AdSense…) seems like a good way to create a special kind of panic and confusion.
So check it out, follow, and feel free to leave pithy comments and angusihed cries of "ohmygosh, where can I buy that?" (answer: 地獄).
Daddy needs a brand new set of shirts from Rotten Cotton! And maybe I can finally place an order considering I just landed a new gig writing for the Tokyo Fashion web$ite. Look for updates from yours truly there every week. Expect a mix of interviews and this-blog-like spotlights on oniikei, host, dandy, hostess, and kyaba craziness. In the meantime, things kick off with a report on the fun, but also confusing "Oshare Macross" event at Marui One (hey, I used to work for them...).