The subcultures of Japanese style, in all their myriad forms, are celebrated on the blog Tokyo Fashion & Art Factory. You’ll find plenty of info on Lolitas and Mori Girls here, but the blog’s creator, photographer and writer Valerie Fujita, is quick to point out that it’s more about Harajuku street fashion and culture in general, from Dolly kei to gothic culture. The blog also encompasses the illustrators, photographers and designers that catch Fujita’s eye. A testament to the reach of Harajuku fashion, the blog also introduces Lolita followers living around the globe, from Spain to Malaysia to Germany. Fujita herself hails from a Paris suburb. After meeting her Japanese husband-to-be in France three years ago, she says she settled in Tokyo about a year and half ago. “I had no choice,” she says, and with a passion like that, it makes sense.
What sparked your interest in Japanese sub-cultures, specifically Harajuku fashion?
I have always been attracted to countercultures and what is happening in the streets. In addition, I have a strange kind of fascination for freaks and misfits. One of my favorite photographers is Diane Arbus. So, of course, unconventional characters appeal to me. I find them more attractive than the glossy images in mass media. They are often what society doesn’t want to see, perhaps because people are disturbed by their independence. In terms of Harajuku fashion, I discovered it, like many people of my generation, through the first volume of “Fruits.” I found it very different from what we were seeing in Europe. That was in the early 2000s and I only got really interested in it four years ago, through Gothic Lolita first, because it appealed to my interest in alternative cultures. Harajuku fashion has remained faithful to what I discovered in Fruits — the mix of colors and styles, unstructured silhouettes, the “pajama look”, the layers of clothes and accessories. It’s like a giant overflowing closet, from which you can pick thousands of inspirations and codes for reinventing. There are so many different categories that it’s hard to keep up: “natural kei,” “Lolita,” “yurakuji kei”, “mori girl,” “Dolly fashion” . . . not to mention the Shibuya scene and other movements. Ultimately, these trends offer very rich material for the imagination and photographers like me.
You describe yourself as having Japanese “maniac” interests. Can you elaborate a little more on this?
What I mean by that is that I’m a kind of a maniac when I discover something new. I don’t want to just scratch the surface. I don’t want to say something is cute or brilliant without looking into its roots. One trend can lead me to a shop, and then to another shop, or to a brand that leads to smaller brands. An artist will lead me to 10 other lesser-known artists. I think this could be my definition of being maniac or having maniac interests.
How do you think the Harajuku Lolita scene, or other Harajuku fashion scenes are represented overseas? Is there such a thing as “getting it wrong”?
It is difficult to answer this question, because despite the information we have on the Internet and my 100 Lolitas and Mori Girl testimonies, I only really know the situation in France, and even that is limited to the scene in Paris. Japanese pop culture as a whole is very well established in France, through manga first, then music. But I think it is mainly through visual kei and gothic movements that Harajuku fashion now is spreading overseas. Visual-kei bands attracted fans through extremes in make-up, stage outfits and music. Lolita fashion spread thanks to its gothic appeal. I don’t really know if fans overseas are “getting it wrong” about Japanese artists and fashion. They want to learn more about it and that’s what is important. But I must admit, I’ve heard and read some very superficial comments from people who might not really understand Japan. I’ve heard some say than in Tokyo, people can wear whatever they want not be judged. But Japanese do judge . . . in silence. I had my share of preconceptions about Japan before I lived in Japan, and I’m learning more each day. I think Japan is quite complicated to understand.
Do you think the Lolita scene is diminishing, either in Japan or overseas?
I don’t like to admit it but the Lolita scene is probably declining in Japan. Although the origins of the fashion are quite difficult to date, I think the Lolita trend was really booming in Japan in the early ’00s. During this time there was a strange mix of visual-kei fashion (and we can certainly quote Malice Mizer’s fashion, guitarist Mana, who remains a famous figure, for Gothic Lolita and other subcategories, such as Elegant Aristocrats); an older fashion from the ’70s called otome fashion (“otome” meaning maiden); and rather pop takes on Victorian and Rococo periods inspired by manga. Although the movie “Kamikaze Girl” (2004) and the manga “Kuroshitsuji” (Black Butler) more recently (2006) helped the fashion to maintain a certain status, I’m not sure that there were so many Lolitas out on the streets. However, as the trend is emerging overseas, a breath of fresh air may inspire Japanese designers and reignite interest in Lolita fashion. I think Lolita arrived at a time in Western societies when girls often forgot how to be “girly.” And that’s the strength of Lolita fashion, that’s what will sustain it.
How would you define the prime difference between a Goth Lolita and a Mori Girl?
Actually, I see a lot in common. I was surprised to see in the Mori Girl rules [first posted on Mixi] a sentence something like “Not a Lolita” or “Different from Lolita.” But why claim this when in reality they have a lot in common? They are both trends that show it is possible to be feminine, “girly” or cute, without showing off one’s whole body (unlike gyaru). They’d rather wear something a bit long, blouses buttoned to the neck. The severe Victorian figure seems to attract them. While a Lolita may accentuate her waist with a corset, she’ll wear a bell-shaped skirt to the knees. A Mori Girl hides her figure in loose forms. They also both have elements of childhood in their repertoire, accessories made in the shape of candies, animals, etc. They play on the innocent and pure look with a quiet and shy charm. Essentially, they are the two sides of a same coin.
Do you have any general impressions of street fashion in Tokyo and how it might differ from that in other cities?
Are Japanese less conservative than people think? I was chatting with my best friend and collaborator, Alexandre Martinazzo, for our article about the Baby, the Stars Shine Bright party at the famous Paris Tea Salon Angelina. And he pointed out that even when compared to France, and in spite of the image of a formalized and standardized society, Japan is where you can be free to wear whatever you want. In addition, you must consider the fact that the Japanese youth have a very narrow window of time in which to express their individuality, because afterwards, when they enter a company, they will have to “fit in.” It’s like cramming every moment of exuberance into a quite short interval (four or five years). And perhaps because conformity comes later, when they become adults, youths are allowed to be as inventive and exuberant as they like. But in my opinion, freedom should have one simple rule: to express your individuality, you must find your own way.
How do you see the media’s role in influencing fashion here?
I check out a lot of magazines, especially Fudge, Spoon, So-En, Spur, Gothic & Lolita Bible and Deco Alice. What I noticed is that this “kawaii” trend is everywhere — — on television, in magazines, on the streets. The only goal seems to be someone saying “Kawaii!” (“You’re cute”). What I noticed with magazines is the precision with which everything is orchestrated, recorded and detailed, right up to the price and address readers can find this beautiful tutu skirt of their dreams. This precision can also be seen in the hair style and make-up pages. Japanese magazines are almost fashion textbooks rather than simple fashion magazines introducing new trends. The practical side certainly helps inform consumers, but it also influences their purchases. When I first saw these magazines, in 2006, on my first trip to Japan, I was very surprised at the level of detail. But now, I use magazines like Japanese girls do: to find that fabulous tutu skirt. Indeed, they are powerful tools for the market.
You allow other bloggers to use your photos/text as long as they quote the source. What convinced you to let your work be used so freely?
I am aware that by writing on the Internet, inevitably, I’ll be copied. Therefore, I prefer to let people understand that they can use my blog as a reference for their own blog, as long as the person mentions me and my blog, and as long as it isn’t plagiarized. I also use pictures from magazines to illustrate what I’m writing and for my research. However, I always quote the sources and link to them. Japanese fashion, art and music scenes are suffering from a lack of actual exposure to the outside as it is a difficult country to understand, a difficult language, and we know that Japanese brands are struggling to be exported. Japanese fashion and culture lovers are trying to do their best to let the world know that Japan is much more than simply manga, game and anime. So if letting people use some of my work promotes the culture I love, I’m happy. As long as they don’t forget me!
You have this “100 testimonies” series where you interview people interested in Lolita or Mori Girl fashion. What was the most interesting testimony?
When I receive testimonies, what I like to see is sincerity. And I think that generally, these things can be felt. I don’t publish all the testimonies I receive. Overall, I’ve been rather pleased so far. I think the testimonies have their own value. I think they show the commonalties between Lolitas, and people who think that Lolita fashion is strange can see that these girls are actually very lovely! Regarding my Mori Girls testimonies, unfortunately, I have not yet been as satisfied. It has only existed in Japan about four years and the brands treasured by Mori Girls are still a too little unknown and not exported anyway. So maybe foreign girls might get this fashion a bit wrong, simply because it is too new. We might have to wait a little.
In general what is your impression of the Japan-related blogging community? Too much, too little? Are there any blogs that you follow and would recommend?
I only read a very few blogs related to Japan. I’m obviously fond of Japanese Streets, Tokyo Fashion (but I’m not sure we can call them blogs anymore) and Drop’s website because I love snapshots. I also read two French websites: Orient-Extreme, run by my friend Alexandre Martinazzo and for whom I worked in the past as a photographer; and Jame, for their rather serious music and movie content and consistent work. I discovered also thefashionatetraveller, a very powerful woman who I finally became friends with. She’s a real independent fashion blogger. I recently discovered a very cute, well-documented blog about Lolita fashion F*** Yeah Lolita that I found very intelligently written. Otherwise, I usually find my fashion content in magazines, or get an idea after seeing something on the streets (then search for pictures to illustrate). As for my research of illustrators, I find them by myself, by browsing the Japanese Internet, going to galleries, one artist leading to another. As a photographer, I do look at photography blogs. And I have about 10 that I try to look at regularly. There are technical blogs, like Strobist; fashion photographers blogs, like Fashion Photography blog; blogs about art photography, like Nymphoto, a collective of women photographers. There is also Old Photos of Japan, a beautiful and nostalgic blog that shows a more traditional Japan. While I still like to read books, magazines and newspapers, I think blogs are a good way to discover new content. They are a real alternative to information given by mass media, maybe because bloggers have usually one main subject in mind and therefore are able to do intensive research in their fields and are free to write whatever they want.