LONDON – Britain has played a major role in influencing Japan’s Lolita fashion style, according to a new exhibition that just opened in London.
The Victoria and Albert Museum’s (V&A) display shows how much of the inspiration for the Lolita fashion style, though born in Japan, has been driven by British cultural phenomena such as Victorian and Gothic design, Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” glam rock and punk.
The show is one of several exhibitions the museum is staging in the leadup to this summer’s Olympics, to highlight the importance of British design since London last hosted the games in 1948.
The Lolita style emerged in Japan during the 1990s and its roots lie in the country’s “kawaii,” or “cuteness,” craze. Lolitas don frilly skirts, fanciful headgear, ribbons and lace, and apply dollish makeup.
The display, featuring nine outfits, starts with “Sweet Lolita” dresses — frilly Victorian outfits that attempt to conjure up an air of innocence, replete with teddy bear accessories and references to the Alice books.
Next up are two black “Gothic Lolita” dresses that were clearly influenced by the glam rock and New Romantic pop waves from the 1970s and 1980s, as well as a “Punk Lolita” costume that blends chains, spikes and tartan with softer elements from Japan, including a cuddly toy and a cute T-shirt.
The display also features two Lolita outfits inspired by kimono and samurai culture.
“There are other styles which have influenced Lolita, rococo (also known as the 18th-century late Baroque movement) for example, but in this exhibition we have particularly referenced British culture. It has been key to its development,” said the exhibition’s curator, Rupert Faulkner, who traveled to Japan to purchase the dresses.
“If you read the websites of some of these Lolita brands, it’s London in the 19th century that they seem most attracted to,” Faulkner said.
“And some of the leading designers spent time in London when they were younger.”
But though influenced by British style, Japanese Lolitas have incorporated their own unique twist.
“Gothic in Europe is pretty fearsome and dirty and has aggression, but in Japanese Lolita it has been ‘sweetified.’ And Punk in Lolita doesn’t have that antisociety feel that it has in Britain,” Faulkner explained.
The V&A’s manager, Charlene Betteridge, said Lolita is popular because it “goes against the norm and High Street fashions,” adding that Sweet Lolita is currently more popular than the punk and Gothic derivatives.
Lolita fashions have been growing in popularity over the last few years and the V&A plans to host a gathering of 100 British aficionados next month.
Many British Lolitas adopt the demure and polite demeanor of their Japanese counterparts, Betteridge said.
But they tend to be more flexible with their outfits and often mix and match styles, as opposed to the greater conformity seen in Japan, she added.
Most of the outfits are still imported from Japan and China, but a few Britons have started designing and making their own dresses, according to Betteridge.
But London still has to play second fiddle to Paris, which is considered the current center of Europe’s Lolita industry and where the continent’s leading designers are based.