Coming to America, The American Perspective on Harajuku Fashion
By Alexis Jenkins ’11
In the past year, it seems as if a weird word has sporadically invaded our music and fashion scene in America. Harajuku. Say it slow, say it fast, yet it’s hard to grasp exactly what it is. This is probably because it falls into so many categories. Harajuku itself is the name of a place on the local, Japanese train route, something similar to our Gallery Place stop on the Metro. However, Harajuku fashion consists of anything eye catching, colorful, youthful, costumed, and cartoon inspired in Japanese fashion. In recent years, it has come from the island of Japan and began showing its face in our pop culture.
Sophomore Brittany Lynch recalls first hearing about Harajuku saying, “It’s not that new, Gwen Stefani def. brought it in the music world in like ’04 on the Love.Angel.Music.Baby album.” Indeed she did. In 2004, Gwen Stefani became the impromptu American ambassador to this new world of fashion, when she featured “Harajuku Girls” on her album cover. The “Harajuku Girls” are known as her backup dancers and became models of the extravent clothing style often times seen with the pop star herself. On her clothing line’s website, Gwen Stefani said, “The first time I went to Tokyo in 96 it was if I had landed on another planet…I saw kids in Harajuku that were all about self expression and had this unique individual style, and everybody was making their own clothing and mixing and matching.” Since her visit in 1996, Gwen Stefani has created an American clothing line inspired by the sights and shopping of the Harajuku district. Every tag on her clothing holds the phrase “A fatal attraction to cuteness” which many Japanese teens would simply say is super kawaii meaning really cute.
Today, this fascination holds true as the term resurfaces through the lips of another artist. This time it is Nikki Minaj, the current heiress to Young Money’s musical throne, and only female rapper on today’s charts, has coined the term “Harajuku Barbie” for herself. But word around school is Nikki is using it totally wrong. Senior Janel McCray ’10 responds by saying, “Nikki Minaj representation of the Harajuku fashion makes younger girls look towards that certain type of fashion as if it is okay to show unnecessary parts of their body that shouldn’t be seen out in public to the world. Yeah, she dresses differently than most of all of the other female rappers, but she is also deteriorating the actual art behind the Harajuku fashion. Bright colors and tutus don’t mean you’re a Harajuku Barbie.” It seems that as the style emerges in America, it has been bent and molded into something too often seen in here, another sex symbol. This, unlike Ms. Stefani’s interpretation, could not be further from the true spirit of Harajuku.
The concept of Harajuku arose after World War II. After the fighting finished, instead of returning to the States; many U.S. troops stayed in Japan bringing over their families to live in an artsy area called Harajuku, Japan. The artsy aspect came from the curious Japanese youth that moved to the area to live among Americans in hopes of experiencing a different culture. Living among each other in apartments were young fashion designers, models, and photographers feeding off the soldiers Western fashion dispositions. Thus, Harajuku fashion was born around the early 1950s. A little over a decade later, the 1964 Tokyo Olympics helped solidify the style making it more than a trend but a movement.
Now Harajuku, Japan is the world capital for unique street fashion. Since the 1950’s, it has grown from not only a street clothing district but to a venue for luxury international designers such as Chanel, D&G, and Prada among others. However, it still shows its origins with a vast number of native designers, and affordable stores for the youth. Jasmine Johnson ’12 sums it up quite nicely, “I like it. It’s different, and the girls who wear it stand out not necessarily in a bad way either.”