Youth fashion has always loved a bit of irony: “It’s cool because it’s not cool.” Even if you don’t understand it, it does seem to work as an effective way the kids to tell parents that are not going to play by their rules. In generational terms, irony-laced fashion tends to spawn from two key factors: when youth want to show a middle finger to the previous generation (how else do the the kids of a Comme des Garcons aficionado rebel?) or when they are firmly priced out of the fashion market leaving only older and affluent besuited workers able to buy it.
In Japan, add to the mix the inbound tourists who throw cash at stores selling gear aimed at young millennials who can’t afford it, and you have the perfect conditions for an ironic revolution. For the cash-strapped youth, the many vintage shops of Tokyo’s Koenji, Shimokitazawa areas, despite being routinely picked over, are mercifully still on hand for the Hawaiian shirt or GI belt that kids used to mock dads for wearing.
Still, fashion being the hungry beast it is, the irony trend is ripe for harvesting — and it has led to a curious mix of people wearing clothes ironically and people wearing ironic high fashion seriously.
Don’t worry if you are out of the loop, in the era of people trying terribly hard not to look cool, you are probably cool without knowing it. But if you do want to get your ironic fashion credentials, there are plenty of places to go. The LVMH Prize 2018 winner, Japanese brand Doublet, for example, shot segments of its current lookbook in and around the anti-fashion environs of Tokyo’s old-school shopping mall Nakano Broadway, proving this trend may be around for a while.
Any discussion of the anti-brand bag trend has to start with Demna Gvasalia’s cynical and memeable label Vetements. Taking aim at luxury fashion’s key defense of its exorbitant price tags — you pay for unique design — Vetements made luxury versions of the humdrum, including Levi’s 501 and their iconic ironic DHL logo T-shirts. The designer ended up becoming the creative helm of Balenciaga, where he produced an Ikea-esque blue bag priced at more than 2,000 times that of an Ikea original.
Other brands followed suit and soon designers began taking aim at the second defense of luxury fashion — you pay for better quality materials. Runways of Paris were quickly flooded with PVC bags over quality leather.
Now throwing its hat into the ring is Yoon and Verbal’s brand Ambush with its artfully crumpled paper shopping bag. Don’t worry, it comes in at less than ¥10,000, even with tax, at ¥9,720 and the logo is a very discrete, so only those in the know will get the irony.
If high fashion “irony” requires too much mental gymnastics to justify, there are plenty of other sources of irony on offer. Take, for instance, the ongoing popularity of pop culture in fashion collaborations. These usually rely on at least one of two factors — that the source material is nerdy and thus uncool, or it is the adult version of children’s character goods that we should have all outgrown long ago.
On that score, we find French footwear brand Patrick collaborating with none other than long-running kid’s TV series “Ultraman” — a show with old-school special effects that in retrospect lean toward “so bad it’s good.” Available to preorder from Aug. 3 and priced at ¥16,200, the Patrick sneaker design is altogether tasteful — silvery-gray with red trimming like the iconic hero — and it enjoys just enough references to the seminal TV series to satisfy fans.
Taking the forces of irony in a different direction is cult streetwear label X-girl who has teamed up with Masakazu Katsura’s 1989 manga “Video Girl Ai” for a capsule collection that was released on June 20. Here, tension lies in the highly sexualized nature of the original “boy’s manga,” one that could be seen as objectifying women, but X-Girl effectively takes it away from the male gaze by offering it to women to own.
Welcome back ganguro gals!
Last but not least, July marks the first issue of the re-hatched Egg magazine. This self-proclaimed “Get Wild & Be Sexy” bible for the Shibuya counterculture crowd was popular with ganguro, the tribe of deep-tanned, heavily made-up bleached blonds who the media loved to pore over. After a four-year hiatus — it stopped printing in 2014 — Egg is finally back, as is an appreciation of ganguro.
Given how times have changed, though, there is definitely a whiff of irony in the air. A ganguro cafe has popped up in Shibuya as a glorified 2000s-themed bar and much of the extreme ganguro clothing and make up worn by patrons looks more like cosplay than a style choice. Still, like unlikely revivals before it, the ganguro rebirth may have just broken through the “so dated its cool” barrier, so don’t be surprised if you spot it back on the streets of Shibuya soon.