Kawaii Couture – Cherwell Fashion Outtake

One of the most prominent features I will remember from meandering through the busy streets and alleyways in Tokyo is the vibrancy of the fashion in the city. It’s impossible to miss the (somewhat stereotypical) features of Japanese style, as depicted in trending anime and manga prints over the world. There are many recognizable ‘looks’, such as the controversial Kogal or ‘schoolgirl’ style, the ‘Lolita’ (a cross between Victorian and French late-Baroque Rococo fashion), as well as countless products featuring rounded handwriting, Hello Kitty or Pikachu icons. These are all elements under an umbrella of an aesthetic coined as kawaii.


Kawaii may be translated as the element of ‘cuteness’ or ‘adorability’ in Japanese culture. The origins of this style, seen as pom-pom hairpieces or even full wigs and costumes for the committed fashionista today, dates back as far as the early 11th century. A classic piece of Japanese literature, The Tale of Genji, by Lady Murasaki, used kawaii to refer to the “sentiment of pity and empathy”, as well as people who inspired this feeling. According to John A. Lent in his ‘Themes and Issues in Asian Cartooning’, the use and context of kawaii evolved over centuries from being tied to the vulnerable aspects of human bodies and emotions to be more firmly related to the attraction of children and females who were pitiable, sensitive and compliant.

For most Japanese women, being called kawaii is a compliment. Commercially, kawaii was, and still is, a hit – merchandise labelled as kawaii can extend from stationary and styles of handwriting to toys and fashion. Alongside kawaii outfits exhibited on young girls and women walking around bustling city streets alike, is the style of burikko, the appearance and in particular, behaviour, of a helpless and cute young girl. Burikko was coined in the 1980s by Seiko Matsuda, an idol in Japanese popular culture, and emphasises the childlike behaviours associated with cuteness displayed by many Japanese girls who dress in kawaii fashion. Whilst this appearance may be controversial in its sexual implications of being attracted to submissive, innocent girls, it is nevertheless apparent in many Japanese girls’ everyday attitudes and fashion choices. Categories of ‘cute’ fashion such as Lolita and Sweet Lolita feature ribbons, bows and lace, pastel colours and ruffled petticoats in imitation of innocence and beauty. Childhood characters such as Bo Peep, fairies and baby dolls serve as inspiration and affect the mannerisms of those who subscribe to these fashions.

Tokyo street style is embedded with cute culture, displaying a bold array of fashion characters, and serves as inspiration even to high fashion brands. Designer Shigeki Morino’s A/W 2015 Collection, whose target customer is the sensitive ladies’ man, takes from 1970s Tokyo street style in colourful striped suits and delicate tailoring derived from the essence of masculinity in female clothing. But the majority of kawaii fashion remains on a more affordable level, as numerous street fashion labels have adopted Lolita-inspired lines, with many Tumblr and Pinterest accounts dedicated to these styles.

However controversial the cute, submissive kawaii female is in popular fashion and culture, it has nevertheless served as inspiration to generations of Japanese young adults. Kawaii continues to be one of the most defining features of Japanese culture in general, and a fascinating phenomenon in fashion in particular.


Fifty Shades of Pink – Cherwell Fashion Outtake

The weird, the wacky and the wonderful walked down the Gucci runway at the fashion house’s Spring/Summer 2017 Ready-To-Wear (RTW) Collection. Pink curtains, pink smoke and a pink runway created a vibrant haze through which only chunky jewelled embellishments and shiny satin structured silhouettes shone through with any clarity. This conceptual performance was the brainchild of Gucci’s Creative Director Alessandro Michele, who was appointed to his position at Gucci in 2015. Michele’s influence on Gucci cannot be understated, with the move towards eclectic arrangements of brocade flowers, metallic pleated fabrics and stiff jacquard collars, Edwardian ruffles, pussy bow details and clear silk references to the Far East. All these features were present, as well as Michele’s signature bold colour choices, playing with shades of pink and red in his ball gowns and pantsuits alike. According to his press notes, the primary vision behind this beautiful (although at times somewhat costume-y) display was not to create something ‘iconic’ or ‘unique’; he specifically chose the term phantasmagorical to accentuate the dreaminess of the headline ‘Magic Lanterns’. And a phantasmagorical display he achieved – the dreamlike state that the pink haze enshrouded the models and the audience with, could only be cut through by camera flashes that documented every step of the runway show. But why would Gucci’s mastermind choose the enveloping embrace of pink for the show?

Pink is an incredibly versatile colour, and in the setting of beaded curtains and lounge seating, it’s one that conjures up a somewhat synthetic dreamlike world – red would be too strong, yet yellow or orange would not be bold enough of a statement colour. Nevertheless, in this context, pink in no way denotes a garishly girly fashion line. The connotation of pink in modern fashion and culture as symbol of femininity is a relatively new concept, and the androgyny of so many of Michele’s looks on the models demonstrates this.

Pink has had a long and varied history in fashion. Far from being a historically universal symbol of femininity, in Biblical art the Virgin Mary herself is portrayed in blue, whereas men wore pink as it was a shade of red, the colour of blood and war and masculine passions. It wasn’t until the 1950s that the colours pink and blue became associated with binary gender identification. As late as 1920, Jay Gatsby is depicted in his iconic pink striped suit. To a context-less modern audience, it is as though Fitzgerald is picturing Gatsby as a dandy, a man in touch with his feminine touch, but Tom Buchanan’s scoff at the choice of pink wasn’t aimed at it’s unmanly connotations but at it’s association with Oxford and the working-classes.
According to Jo Paoletti, professor at the University of Maryland, it was particularly during the 90s and 00s – our generation – that gendered clothing became the norm. The children of the 70s had been brought up in the unisex clothing that was all the rage at the time, but her studies suggested that the introduction of so heavily gendered clothing for their children was largely a reaction against their own upbringing. The beginning of the century saw babies dressed in white so as to prevent the identification with gender. Franklin Roosevelt himself was dressed in white dresses as a child in the 1880s, as was the fashion at the time. But today, Barbie dolls, power puff girls and other big brand children’s toys only perpetuate and reinforce the boy/blue – girl/pink visual on future generations.

Nevertheless, high fashion is seen to be veering away from this gendered colour trend, with unisex collections coming out from Alexander Wang’s SS17 runways, more gender neutral lines appearing in high street labels as well such as American Apparel and the influence of Yeezy’s nude/beige palette on major fashion houses and cheap online stores alike. Gender and fashion are intrinsically linked, and the rise of transgender or gender neutral models is making a profound impact on this colour assumption. Pink is a powerful colour which should be used wisely, and always with passion.