How Japanese Avant-garde Designers changed Fashion [1]


Comme des Garçons, photographed by Steven Klein for V Magazine, 2015 –

Hello and welcome back to Nippaku! After taking some time off from blogging, I am ready to explore a new aspect of Japanese life through reading and writing. Today we will be discussing fashion, one of my favorite topics since it illustrates very well how the social, cultural and political context literally shape trends in dressing throughout history. This is a two-part post, stay tuned for the next part!

The twenty-first century fashion scene is unimaginable without the influence of Japanese avant-garde designers. Three names that come immediately to my mind are Issey Miyake, Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto. Their aesthetic resonates with minimalism, simplicity, non-conventionalism and deconstructivism, and each designer will be introduced below. The reason why this is truly a Nippaku article, is because Belgian designers such as Martin Margiela, Ann Demeulemeester and Dries van Noten were highly influenced by these Japanese avant-gardists. But first, let’s have a look at what avant-garde fashion means.

Avant-garde Fashion

The term avant-garde is most often used to describe the artistic genres of music, literature, film and dance, and can easily be extended to fashion as well. Avant-garde challenges established notions of art and society as a whole. In fashion, avant-garde translates to a rejection of mainstream beauty conventions such as displayed in haute couture while taking an innovative approach in design and material use. Hence, the avant-garde approach is often seen as “anti-fashion”, an artistic movement or a philosophy (or all of these). Recurring but not exclusive themes are clean and simple (to the eye) designs, sober colors such as black, white or earthy tones, biomimicry, minimalism, deconstructivism, challenging beauty standards, technology-driven… It resonates a shift in modernity when art was no longer required to be “beautiful” but rather interesting  and thought-provoking. Below are two designs of contemporary avant-garde designers to give you an idea.

Why Japan became a frontrunner in avant-gardist fashion is unknown, but here are some explanations I could think of:

  • rei kawakubo 1982 sweaterFrom the 15th century on, sober and sophisticated, even impoverished aesthetics characterized the cultural life of the nobility as well as the samurai class. Compared to Europe, Japan adopted a “less is more” attitude early on, except that their “less” was still extremely sophisticated in itself (perhaps comparable to Marie Antoinette’s Chemise à la Reine). Fast-forward to Comme des Garçons’ deconstructed sweaters which only the rich can afford: I think you get the picture.

The aesthetics of wabi similarly presupposes a ready access to beautiful and expensive objects; it is an aesthetics born out of wealth and privilege. Powerful and wealthy, the advocates of wabi aesthetics, ranging from shoguns to tea masters, could afford to emulate the impoverished appearance of peasant life by creating rustic tea huts with stark interiors and ordinary, sometimes defective, tea bowls. (…) The japanese penchant for simplicity and insufficiency was thus cultivated as part of an elite aesthetics, first by the aristocracy, then by the warrior class. (Saito in Nguyen, 2017: xxxviii)

  •  In times of economic growth, luxury is expressed in a contradictory way (in times of scarcity, more fabric and accessories are preferred, for example). From post-oil shock 1973 until the beginning of the 1990s, the Japanese economy boomed. This resulted in an increase in personal consumption, making designer clothing available to all. To differentiate from all of the “mainstream” and frivolous luxury, designers felt the urge to innovate in the opposite direction.
  • At the same time, the designers here discussed were born in the 30s and 40s, and had grown up in a destroyed post-war Japan. Deconstructivism is a recurring theme in avant-garde fashion.
  • From the moment Japan was forced to open up its borders (mid-19th century), two fashion scenes existed: the Japanese style (和服 wafuku) and the Western style (洋服 yōfuku). The woodblock prints below portray Japanese women wearing Western fashion. If you think the styling is a little off, you’re correct: Western clothes were interpreted in a Japanese way, with flower patterns (similar to mon, Japanese emblems), colorful layering (purple and green for example, was a classic combination for formal kimono attire), bustles that resemble an obi 帯, a kimono sash… Avant-garde was a more succesful attempt to marry western techniques with Japanese elements and philosophy.

The Japanese avant-garde fashion movement was initiated by Kenzo Takada and Issey Miyake in the seventies and picked up a few years later by Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo. Special mention goes to Hanae Mori, who was the first Japanese designer to be acknowledged worldwide in the 1960s. Although her conservative ready-to-wear collections did not really scream avant-garde, she paved the way for other Japanese designers to gain fame on the international fashion scene, previously dominated by Western designers. The work of Kansai Yamamoto, whose extravagant creations David Bowie loved to wear, also led to a growing interest in the Far East. The fashion world was ready for something new, and Japanese designers could live up to the expectations.

Issey Miyake

issey miyake portraitMiyake Issey [Issei] 三宅 一生 was born in 1938 in Hiroshima. His interest in fashion was triggered when he visited the World Design conference in Tokyo, and noticed that clothing design was not part of it. After graduation, he went to Paris to work for luxury brand Givenchy, among others. But after witnessing the students march in the May revolution of 1968, he realised that they were the kind of people he wanted to make clothes for. After working for Geoffrey Beene in Manhattan, he returned to his home country.

In 1970, Miyake opened his own design studio, already selling pieces in New York’s Bloomingdale the year after that. He entered the Parisian couture world in 1973. Initially, he worked with raw materials such as cotton and wool, and constructed oversized pieces. From the start of his career, he incorporated Japanese elements such as draping and layering into his designs. He drew inspiration from traditional clothing by creating silhouettes and shapes that adapted to the wearer and allowed for movement, in contrast to the form-fitting pieces which required a certain body type and were (and still are) a common sight on the runway.

pleats please

Pleats Please Fall/Winter 2013 – photo: Julia Noni

As he gained interest in innovative techniques, he started using technologies – new and old – to create clothing no one had ever seen before. Miyake has always had an eye for Japanese craftsmanship, in particular weaving and dyeing. Miyake is credited with revolutionizing the permanent pleating of synthetic fabrics through heat treatment. He developed a line PLEATS PLEASE ISSEY MIYAKE that has been running since 1993.

Another Miyake innovation is A-POC (abbreviation for A Piece Of Cloth) in collaboration with Dai Fujiwara in 1999. The idea behind A-POC is that a monochromatic ensemble is made from a single thread. By means of computer technology, an industrial weaving machine produces a tube of fabric, as seen below. The wearer can cut up the tube’s fabric along the seams woven into it, and in true DIY-style, create their own designer pieces. This allowed for adaptability to the body, creativity and individuality of the consumer, despite it being a product for mass consumption. Moreover, since the tube of textile is an ingenious puzzle of separate garments, there is no fabric wasted in the process.

Miyake retired in 1999, leaving the brand in the hands of young, promising designers. Recent designs that are quite ingenious combine origami techniques with 2D vs 3D garments. For example, check out the models wearing the pleated pieces they pull from their flat handbags. Or the origami jackets that are created on the runway (okay, I forgive them for the stapler). And isn’t this just mesmerizing?

issey miyake bao bao bag

Bao Bao Bag –

Lately, the Miyake brand has gained popularity through the perfumes, Pleats Please collection and Bao bao Bag; the latter you have probably already seen around, but did not know until now that it was designed and launched by Issey Miyake in 2000. The Bao Bao bag is another expression of Miyake’s philosophy: innovative fabric and design given life by technology, with the purpose of creating unique shapes and movements. The latest innovation was introduced in this year’s spring summer collection. “Dough dough” is a sturdy yet malleable fabric you can shape to your own preference. How very Miyake!

Fun Fact: Steve Jobs’ black turtlenecks were designed by Miyake. The two were friends.

In the next part, we’ll take a look at the work and life of designers Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto.


Dramatic Fashion

I confess: I love to write academic stuff, but sometimes I just want to share something personal with you such as what I enjoy doing in my free time, except for writing this blog of course (spoiler: watching series and dressing up). In the past, I have written about Japanese drama a few times, here and here. I am still watching it although not very consistently (I have those binge-watching moments, especially during exam periods and in the weekends) but I can enjoy an episode now and then. It’s also a good exercise for brushing up my Japanese now that I am studying something completely different.


Legal High: so funny

It should be said, however, that I am very picky; I prefer detective and crime drama (the Japanese are Mystery Masters) and slice-of-life drama with a strong sense of humor (I can even tolerate some romance). On the other hand, I am more than fed up with (mostly Korean) dramas that are complete misrepresentations of society, reinforce gender roles like it were the 19th century and feature the same storyline over and over again. Please stop showing me another handsome but arrogant chaebol son, a poor but oh so kind orphaned girl with the latest phone or a so-called “ugly” woman who becomes pretty the moment she takes off her glasses and puts on some make-up. I stopped watching stuff dramas like that, although I am sure that there are still some not so mainstream series out there worth watching.

But this is not what I wanted to write about. So, here we go: I have noticed that, personally, my fashion style corresponds with a specific style in Japanese fashion as recently featured on Japanese television. During my one-year stay in Japan, I often  received the comment that I dress “oshare” (おしゃれ, stylish) as opposed to “kawaii” (可愛い, cute), that other, more typical way of dressing Japanese are famous for. It is true that I like certain elements of Japanese clothes and styling: layering, covering shoulders and cleavage, wearing almost always feminine skirts, flower patterns, putting on accessories, high but comfy heels AND always wearing matching socks, especially in sandals (socks are everything – I have them in around 50 different colors and patterns). Besides, I also adore traditional kimono. It really is a egg-or-chicken question: do I like Japanese fashion because I dress similarly or am I being influenced by it? Yet, some of the things about my appearance are not Japanese at all, such as my make-up, and – let’s be honest – the shape of my body. Below are some outfits I approve of from two dramas I like(d) to watch (there are probably more but I can’t remember. So feel free to recommend a drama with some great fashion in it!).

  1.  Jimi ni Sugoi! Kōetsu Garu Kōno Etsuko 地味にスゴイ! 校閲ガール・河野悦子 (Simpleness is Great! Proofreading Girl Kono Etsuko). I recently finished watching this drama and I really liked it. The ambitious and fashionable Etsuko finally gets in the publishing company of her dreams, albeit in the gloomy proofreading section. I identify with Etsuko’s outgoing personality as well as with her wardrobe: I enjoy wearing scarfs (around the neck and in my hair), midi high-waisted skirts, lots of colors, flowers and socks, and I like to try out a new hairstyle now and then. There is also a vintage feeling about these outfits. As a keen vintage collector (I only buy secondhand clothing) I especially appreciate the 70s Bohemian vibe and the 50s silhouette Etsuko incorporates in her fashion style.

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  2. A few years back, I watched Okitegami Kyoko no Biboroku 掟上今日子の備忘録 (The Memorandum of Kyoko Okitegami). I’m not a huge fan of this quirky detective’s silver bob, but I admire the way she effortlessly mixes and matches colors and patterns. Her clothes are not tight-fitted yet timelessly elegant. I especially like the color-blocking. Plus, adding a beret is always a good idea. It also makes me realize I should wear tartan more often. By the way, it’s obvious that glasses make you more stylish (don’t believe Kdrama makeovers, kids). That’s it for today! I will be back soon with a new post (you can expect something academic).

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Modernizing the Kimono

Kimono photographed at the trendy shop Tokyo 135°

Kimono displayed at the trendy shop Tokyo 135°

Traditional Japanese clothing is known for its specific color scheme, patterns, cut and use of fabric. Kimono 着物, literally meaning “wear thing”, is the umbrella term for all types of Japanese style clothing (also called wafuku 和服). Unlike tailored western clothing, kimono are constructed out of long strips of fabric and are wrapped around the body. In this way, they fit all sizes (full-length kimono are often too long; excessive fabric is tucked under the obi 帯, or belt). The only (rather small) distinction is between men and women clothing.

Like any Japanophile would do, I bought some vintage kimono during my stay in Japan. New kimono’s are very expensive (they are often family heirloom, or they are hired for special occasions), but you can find many second-hand shops in Japan where they sell a whole array of these beautiful garments and accessories at very low prices. I prefer second-hand not only because it is cheaper, but also because the idea that someone else has already worn and cared for this piece makes it more valuable.

yukata blog

Pictures of women in yukata (summer wear)

My collection of kimono started out of interest in all things Japanese, but instead of regarding my purchases as curiosities that should be safely put away in the closet at home, I actually like to wear them on a daily basis in combination with “normal” clothing and non-traditional elements. The three different pieces you see below are two haori 羽織 and one full-length grass-green robe, which I had adjusted as a mid-length jacket. Haori are hip-length jackets traditionally worn over a robe with small sleeves. I believe the ones I have in my possession are for men (at least I was told so because of the cut of the sleeves). The green kimono is a woman’s model.

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A few years ago, “kimono” became a trend in street fashion, although it is a pity that most of these garments do not resemble the original very much (more something like a flimsy nightdress with exotic motifs that is open in the front). In Japan, kimono is still worn by many people, mostly on festive occasions. As everyday wear, however, it is rare. Some elder people still wear Japanese clothing everyday, but in general, kimono as seen on the streets is rather exceptional. Nevertheless, kimono have never disappeared from the Japanese fashion scene. To fit a more modern image, some brands have re-invented the kimono by selecting different and surprising materials, and styling the look with modern clothes or elements.


Modern wool haori from the brand Trove using modern materials: the left one has ventile lining, the right one cupra rayon lining.

tokyo135 denimkimono

Denim UK-inspired kimono from Tokyo 135°

From the late 19th century on, kimono influenced the western fashion world tremendously. Japanese clothing is so different from how Westerners were dressing at that time, it caused a revolutionary change in the traditional silhouette for women (small waist, hourglass shape). Silk kimono dominated the fashion scene during the artistic movement called Japonism (although slightly delayed in comparison to the arts). Exotic objects such as “Japanese gowns ” were popular as peignoirs, home wear or costumes. The wardrobe of Phryne Fisher, a feisty lady detective in the Australian 1920s drama series Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries  contains some beautiful examples of the kimono style that was in vogue then.

Two weeks ago, I visited “Game changers – reinventing the 20th century silhouette” at the Fashion Museum in Antwerp (MoMu). This exhibition centers around the work of Balenciaga, but shows the Japanese influences on 20th century haute couture designers as well. The kimono became model for a new, freer silhouette, shaping the body of modern working women. In the pictures below (excuses for the bad quality), you can see Japanese elements, such as broad shoulders, a round neckline, the detail in the back of the pink dress, resembling an obi, straight lines, no emphasis on the curves of the body, broad sleeves, two-dimensionality, dropped waistline etc. There is also the work of Kubota Ichiku, who experiments with new textiles and designs. His series showcase several kimono linked to each other in a continuing landscape. Personally, I believe that the act of modernizing traditions, such as the kimono, is proof that this tradition is still alive and keeps abreast of times. How will the kimono be represented in the fashion of the future, I wonder?

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Special thanks to my sister Elise, for being my photographer and my biggest supporter!

The Inspiration for Lolita Fashion

the inspiration for lolita fashion - nippakuA one piece dress with a bell-shaped skirt or a jumper skirt with a neatly buttoned-up frilly blouse over a petticoat or bloomers. Knee-length socks in polished Mary Jane shoes. On top of naturally colored luxuriant curls an Alice bow. Light make-up in pastel tints. That is what it takes to dress like a lolita girl.

lolita-pink nippaku

)wo “sweet lolita’s”.  –

The word “lolita”, as you can remark, has connotations with a novel of the same name, written by Vladimir Nabokov (a wonderfully well-written work, in my opinion). “Lolita” was introduced in Japan to describe the child-like, innocent image of this fashion style. Funny is that the girl Dolores, for who Lolita is a nickname, is not an innocent creature at all. Could it be that the person who introduced “lolita” to describe a fashion style didn’t read the book? You have to admit, it sounds cute. But maybe there is another reason. Although lolita girls look fragile and cute, they are down to earth. What is hidden behind their sugar-coated image can look as little Victorian as Kim Kardashian at the beach. Or in the words of Tiffany Godoy and Ivan Vartanian:

 For some reason, it resists classification. Certainly, there are some very general commonalities with the look of Rococo royalty, such as expansive skirts or the abundant use of frill. But Gothic Lolita has many other defining qualities beyond these. Furthermore, the individuals that practice Gothic Lolita have lost their bearings with the music, paintings, and literature they love. While they may like cute kids’ things and old-style classical music, they love grotesque, misshapen monsters, are devoted to Georges Bataille’s academicism, and are mad about violent rock. So, along with our bizarre sense of style and an apparent conflict in taste, we are always thought of as freaks by society.

Mana is

Mana is a famous musician, mostly dressed up in lolita fashion. He has his own brand Moi-même-Moitié. He designs two styles of lolita fashion: Elegant Gothic Lolita and Elegant Gothic Aristocrat.

Lolita girls do not blindly mimicry the fashion of the 19th Century, nor do they have an old-fashioned lifestyle. Some of them are tired of contemporary fashion, exposing too much skin. Others feel elegant and pretty in a lolita outfit. The short documentary the secret life of the lolita tells us that “though they may appear cute, they are not to be underestimated”.

Lolita fashion was born in Japan. Why? Despite the fact that these clothes are largely inspired by Victorian and Rococo fashion, there are certain similarities with Japanese fashion culture and social thinking.

In the first place, the concept of being wrapped up in many layers. (Later more about that in the second part of my posts about Japan’s wrapping culture.) From head to toe, Japanese Harajuku youngsters tend to dress up in a certain way, they present ‘the whole package’. Lolita fashion is a mix of Western Goth subculture and 19th century European dress style. So it appears to be non-Japanese. This style however, differs greatly from how Victorian women dressed in reality. Lolita fashion looks old-fashioned, but would have been unthinkable at that time. Lolita fashion is an example of cultural hybridisation (a concept I have discussed many times before on this blog). While forms of culture (e.g. fashion) spread around the globe, not necessarily the process of globalisation with homogenisation as a result is working, local cultural interaction plays the most important role. Antropologist Robertson introduced the term “glocalisation” for this process.

from Gothic & Lolita Bible, thé fashion magazine for lolita fans.

One of the more gothic inspired pages in Gothic & Lolita Bible, thé fashion magazine for lolita fans.

In the second place, and related to glocalisation, the image of cuteness. Whereas Western women and men believe being sexy is attractive, Japanese people prefer cute girls.

One of the most prominent aspects of GothLoli as a culturally hybridised form is the interaction between Western gothic/classic fashion and the Japanese aesthetical concept of kawaii (cute). (….) In general, kawaii refers to something childish/ girlish and sweet. According to sociologist Merry White, the concept of cuteness is not ‘restricted to children in Japan, though it means childlike and sweet, happy and upbeat—and vulnerable’ and Japanese cute style is defined as ‘bright for boys, lacy for girls’. – Masafumi Monden

Lolita girls often adopt a cute manner of speech and behavior. They prefer their presentation as much sugar-coated as the many cookies and cupcakes they order for their weekly tea parties.

Sweet girls in Gothic & Lolita Bible.

Sweet girls in Gothic & Lolita Bible.

Let’s have a look at the inspiration for Lolita fashion: rococo and victorian age fashion. Rococo, also called late baroque, is an 19th century artistic movement and style which developed a new dress silhouette for women. The contrast of a tight corseted bodice and a wide skirt was born. This silhouette continued to be in vogue during the victorian age and revived in lolita fashion. Panniers and petticoats often extended sideways with the help of an enormous hoop construction underneath. This extreme width, however, is not very fancied today. Neither are the tight corsets and over-the-top wigs.

Kirsten Dunst demonstrates the wide pannier under a evening gown worn by Marie Antoinette.

Kirsten Dunst demonstrates the wide pannier under a evening gown worn by Marie Antoinette.

As Rococo fashion flourished in France, Great Britain experimented with fashion during the Victorian Age (1830-900). I received a box full of precious magazines (La mode illustrée/”Illustrated Fashion”) from my grandmother some time ago. It was possession of her grandmother. The magazines date back to 1873 and were printed in Paris. My great-great-grandmother had them sent to her Belgian home every month. They illustrate the fashion worn at home and during soirées by ladies of the higher social class. Another source I keep at home are the porcelain dolls I collect.

20140803_16460620140803_163426Similarities with contemporary lolita fashion are the many frills, detailed adornments like bow ties, curly hair, a tight fit top and bell-shaped skirt. There is, however, an important difference: these victorian ladies do not look cute or innocent, they look gracious and refined. They have kids, a household to manage and guests to entertain with eloquent talk. Next to that, typical elements of victorian fashion are absent in lolita’s dress rooms. For example, the enormous hats with feathers, wide puffed sleeves, sexy low necklines or hair pieces to wear as elaborate curls.


It is likely that (cute) victorian children and adolescent’s fashion was more inspiring. The girls wear shorter skirts so that their (often) white-colored socks are visible. They have cute boots with low heels and their dresses are kept simple and Alice in Wonderland-like.

lolita kids Victorian girls wore jumper skirts over frilly chemises or one piece dresses. Their hair was not completely put up in loose curls. How lolita girls dress nowadays, is very similar to victorian children’s fashion. A difference is the length of the skirt:

Drawing out of Harper's Bazar (1868) about the appropriate length of skirts.

Drawing out of Harper’s Bazar (1868) about the appropriate length of skirts.

lolita - innocent world

A jumper skirt over a white blouse, Innocent World collection.












Sweet/Gothic/Classic lolita prefer their skirts to be knee-length. Of course there are many substyles in lolita, Elegant Gothic lolita for example. EGA’s tend to dress more mature. Men as well can enjoy this style without having to wear petticoats, and women in pants do not break the dress code.


Elegant Gothic Lolita.


– Godoy, Tiffany, and Ivan Vartanian, eds. Japanese Goth. New York, NY : [Enfield: Universe ; Publishers Group UK, distributor], 2009.

– Masafumi Monden. Transcultural Flow of Demure Aesthetics: Examining Cultural
Globalisation through Gothic & Lolita Fashion. University of Technology, Sydney.

– blog History of European Fashion

Japanese Nail Art


“Nail art is the new lipstick” – CNN

According to CNN, in 2011 the demand of decorative nail accessories has surpassed lipstick. It’s easy to understand why nail art has grown popular. It’s accessible for everyone regardless size and age, it’s affordable, easy to try out and change it if not to your liking, you can add a personal touch to it and it shows the creativity of the nail artist. Nail art has finally made his way into the fashion scene.


nail art-egypt

Surprisingly, manicure dates back to Ancient Babylonia 7,000 years ago. At that time, male warriors spent several hours doing their hair, make-up and nails. Black kohl was used to color the nails of the higher class, green for the lower class. The vogue was then passed on to the women of Ancient Egypt (5,000 B.C. – 3,000 B.C.). They colored their fingernails and toenails according to their social status. Only queens, positioned highest on the social scale, were allowed to paint their nails in deep and brilliant colors. The mummified Nefertiti had red-painted nails. The red color was associated with sacredness, and would keep evil spirits away. Cleopatra’s nails are said to be painted rusty shaded with a golden undertone. Lower classes were permitted pastel colors only. (source)

Since the Zhou dynasty in China (1100 B.C. – 300 B.C.), royals used shiny golden and silver nail polish made of egg whites, wax, gelatin, flower petals and Arabic gum. Later during the Ming dynasty (1368 – 1644) metal nail-shaped finger tip extensions came into vogue. Unlike the lower classes who had short and unpainted fingers to work with, lengthy nails were a symbol of status among the upper class. Besides, lower class people caught wearing nail polish could be sentenced to death. Later, the colors for aristocratic women shifted towards red and black. (source)

The story of "the

One of the anachronisms as seen in the movie “The curse of the golden flower”: the story is set in the Tang Dynasty, but golden nail extensions were not yet worn then.

Since the beginning of the 19th century, nail polish started to play an important role for women in the western part of the world and turned out becoming a part of fashion. Up until now, nail polish has been a highly feminine product (I’m turning a blind eye to the visual kei scene in Japan and more recently to Kpop en Cpop). It’s not too extravagant (most men don’t even notice), it adds an extra touch to your outfit and, as seen throughout history, it’s associated with power and self-confidence.


So what is the difference with Japanese nail art nowadays? Japanese nails are excessively decorated and extremely kawaii (cute). Just like their cell phones. Not only painted in bright colors, but multiple layers and 3D objects as well are glued on (fake) finger nails. The nails are quite long. Two explanations I can think of are: 1) it is a remainder of the extended nail decorations of the Ming dynasty, indicating high-class and refined style 2) you can put more cute stuff on it.

nailart and

3D nail art started in Japan, but spread quickly around the world. Ready-to-wear 3D objects are made out of plastic or fimo, and have to be glued onto the nail, after having added a basic coating. More experienced DIY-ers use different layers of acrylic to create various 3D objects. A third option is the use of 3D nail gel. The artwork is often finished off with a glitter top-coat of nail polish.

There is a big nail art scene in Japan, with many magazines, shops full of accessories and even expos.

nailartmag111(Extreme) nail art has become popular among gyaru, a type of Japanese street fashion. Gyaru is a Japanese transliteration of “gal”. The term originated in the seventies but reached its peak of popularity in 2000. Apart from bleached hair, trendy clothing and extreme make-up, long decorated nails are among the characteristics of gyaru. As there are many types of gyaru, nail art varies greatly.

nail art gyaru

Nowadays, gyaru fashion has long since passed its peak, but nail art has taken the interest of women of all layers of the Japanese population. Since the Heian period (794-1185) women painted their nail to beautify themselves. This was called tsumakurenai 爪紅(literally “crimson nails”) and symbolized nobility. During the Meiji period (1868 – 1912), Western make-up was imported, and manicure became available for everyone. It was a part of being a gentleman or a neat lady. Today as well, having pretty nails indicates, like dressing properly, your sense of etiquette and respect for the other people who have to look at you.(source)

nailartmagazine3 nailvenus

Manga Make-up

I recently was in need of new mascara and at the shop I came across “Mega Volume Miss Manga Mascara” from L’Oréal. Remembering the ad on YouTube that got on my nerves so many times, I decided to give it a try. Why were “Manga Eyes” suddenly introduced as a new esthetics in the West, I wondered?

manga make-up-miss-manga-loreal-mascara-2I guess it has something to do with the popularity of manga and anime. These cartoon characters are most of the time depicted with large eyes. Especially in manga for young girls (少女漫画 shōjo manga), the eyes make up for almost half of the face. Notice that girls’ eyes are considerably larger than boys’ eyes. The bad guy always has small, almost closed black eyes, and a cold stare. The hero’s eyes are wide-open, full of kindness and love, sparkling in vivid colors.

manga makeupkey_art_fruits_basketThe first manga artist who started drawing characters with big eyes, is well-known mangaka Osamu Tezuka. He got inspired by American cartoons such as Betty Boop, Mickey Mouse and other Disney characters. But his biggest admiration was reserved for Scrooge McDuck (you know, that grumpy penny-pinching uncle of Donald Duck). Tezuka confirmed Scrooge trademarks (big head, large eyes) were the basis for his works, and consequently for the manga industry in total.

Astro Boy, Tezuka's most famous creation.

Astro Boy, Tezuka’s most famous creation.

A second theory is that Japanese people believe that eyes are “the window of the soul”. A study at Hokkaido University proved that the Japanese tend to look to the eyes in search for emotions, while Westerners  tend to look at the mouth. Japanese people are rather good at hiding emotions (“the Asian mask”), and therefore trust looking at one’s eyes more. Eyes are difficult to control and show one’s true intentions, thoughts and feelings. Take emoticons for example. Because the focus is on the eyes instead of the mouth, the emoticons are not to be rotated, and the symbol for the mouth can be left out or doesn’t add any information.

manga make-up- komoji

The last decades, Asian girls (Japan, South-Korea, China) yearn for big eyes. From elaborate make-up to false lashes over double eyelid tape, everything is possible to obtain this “pretty” effect. In every photo booth (プリクラ purikura), you can choose the option to make your eyes bigger. Circle contact lenses make the eye’s iris appear larger. And for the diehards, double eyelid surgery provides a permanent solution.


purikura –

advertisement for circle lenses -

advertisement for circle lenses –

Apparently, big eyes are in vogue because the fortunate owner looks doll-like, youthful, cute, innocent and … foreign.  It seems that big eyes are naturally attractive for people. When the pupil dilates, it signals that you find the other person attractive. Because Asian people tend to have smaller eyes, they are more attracted to big eyes because of their rarity. And of course the popularity of manga plays a role.

It’s funny that a product generating big eyes, something – according to the Japanese – foreigners naturally possess, is now sold to those same foreigners. If it’s a trend to make the eyes bigger and bigger every time, I think I should disagree. It looks unnatural and even scary perhaps. But the main reason is that I really like the specific form and smallness of Japanese eyes. Probably because this time it’s a rarity for me, but don’t you think it’s part of the Japanese attractiveness?

Matsuda Ryuhei in "Taboo"

Matsuda Ryuhei in “Taboo”

manga make-up yamaguchi sayoko

model Yamaguchi Sayoko


Cracked about Tezuka en Donald Duck

Livescience on the Japanese psychology behind big eyes

– Why big eyes in anime and manga on my.opera

Kaomoji on the difference between emoticons

-Thank you Steven for the inspiration and explanation of both theories!

Japanese Patterns in Western Fashion

I recently bought a silk, short kimono-styled top from Zara. This item was from the summer collection, though. (I’m the type of sale hunter who waits till all the mainstream stuff is gone so she can lay her hand on all the edgy, quirky, cheap left overs.)

japanese-prints-zara-kimono-jacketIt seems that during the past season, Japanese patterns were in vogue. I saw it at Zara, H&M, Mango and other chain stores. With “Japanese patterns” the brands mean embroidered images of birds, cranes, flowers and so on in vivid colors. The silk kimono jacket moved from the collector’s room straight into the ladies’ wardrobe.



H&M, Mango

H&M, Mango



On the catwalk, items inspired by Japanese style garments could be seen in the Spring/Summer collections of fashion houses.

Vivienne Westwood -

Vivienne Westwood –

Tokyo Street Fashion and Belgian Designers

Tokyo is famous for it’s fashion subcultures. Especially in the Harajuku 原宿 district, you can find Japanese youth sporting styles like gothic lolita (gosuroriゴスロリ), decora デコラ, cosplay コスプレ, visual kei, gyaru ギャル, punk and hiphop (although I heard the Harajuku heydays are over by now). But if we talk about street fashion, we must not forget the individual stylish ones, whose creativity lies in combining fashion items or sewing clothes themselves. A lot of fashion street snaps can be found on the internet (see under references).

I check Style Arena weekly, and was surprised that Belgian designers were sometimes worn or mentioned as “favorite brand/designer”. (By the way, the fact that people actually wear expensive brands as “street wear” was surprising too.) I have to admit that I’m quite proud of our Belgian fashion industry. Take for example “the Antwerp Six“, a group of influential avant-garde fashion designers who graduated in the ’80 from the Antwerp’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts.

So, I gathered some pictures from Style Arena to compare. Most of the time, one or more items worn are from Belgian designers.

fashion1fashion2fashion3fashion4fashion5What does these styles have in common? 1. Almost all are worn by men. 2. The colors black, white and grey are popular. 3. Often combined with Japanese fashion items like Comme des Garçons. 4. Loose clothes, except for the tailored jackets. 5. plain fabrics, not patterned. The most popular Belgian designers are Martin Margiela, Ann Demeulemeester, Dries Van Noten and Raf Simons. Following photos are from their summer collections (in the same order as mentioned).

maison martin margiela

ann demeulemeester womenann demeulemeester mendries van notenraf simonsI think you can sense a resemblance with “the Japanese spirit”. No frills, pure looks with solid fabrics and simple colors. I would like to call it “minimalism”. According to my basic guide to fashion, “deconstructivism” is a term that covers most of Belgian fashion, while  Hanae MoriIssey Miyake, Kenzo Takada, Rei Kawakubo, Yōji Yamamoto and the like are known as “Japanese avant-garde”. Fashion and power-blogsite says:

Issey Miyake (considered the founding father of avant-garde fashion), Rei Kawakubo, and Yohji Yamamoto, known as “The Big Three,” brought in a new style that Europe hadn’t seen before. The style was characterized by monochromatic, asymmetrical, and baggy looks that set the stage for the beginning of postmodern interpretation of “clothes that break the boundary between the West and the East, fashion and anti-fashion, and modern and anti-modern.”

Both movements were a reaction against the tasteless, lewd glitter and glamour of the ’80. However, if I take a look at the current collections of Japanese designers, they feature extremely bright looks. In my opinion, Belgian and Japanese influenced and were influenced by each other since the eighties. Japanese people today who sport an avant-garde style, naturally tend to take a liking to Belgian fashion, because there are so much similarities. To go back to the street fashion pictures: I think this style looks classy, timeless and sophisticated. Both men and women dress cool, because of the androgynous look. So, mixing up Japanese and Belgian brands seems to be a good idea. If I only got the money…


– Street Fashion Blogs Japan: Japanese streets, Style Arena, Tokyo Faces, Japanese Street Report, Tokyo Fashion, Drop Tokyo.

– Street fashion pictures are taken from Style Arena and edited.

– Other photos are taken from the official designer’s sites.