The Virtualisation of Harajuku and Japan’s New Breed of Cool
Coco Pink Princess is a seven-year-old Instafamous trendsetter from Fukushima. Her effortless construction of outfits, sassy attitude and undeniable kawaii (cute) factor means that she is loved by over 420,000 followers. Having attracted attention from Vogue, VICE and NYLON magazine, she represents the new-school of Harajuku fashion.
Before the rise of social media introduced budding style icons like Coco to the rest of the world, people had to travel to the physical destination of Harajuku in Tokyo to catch a glimpse of this revolutionary fashion. In the late nineties and the early noughties, tourists could get off the train at Harajuku station in Tokyo, and emerge into what felt like an alternate universe.
Reminiscent of adolescent cliques, the brightly-accessorised decora girls, gothic lolitas and the glamorous gyaru teens all stood in great contrast to each other. Harajuku was bursting at the seams with creative energy, and young people everywhere were looking to these trendsetters for inspiration.
Being fashionable used to mean religiously following the guidelines set out by designers, but the fearless kids of Harajuku changed that. They took fashion to the streets, defying the societal norms and rebelling against the collective.
Shoichi Aoki created FRUiTS magazine in order to document this burgeoning fashion scene. Earlier this year, he announced that the magazine would stop publishing monthly issues, claiming “there are no cool kids left to photograph.”
The kids that were photographed for FRUiTS magazine were admired by people all over the world. This magazine, founded in 1997, presented a new wave of style. It revealed people who were unafraid to be effortlessly themselves. That’s what made the kids of Harajuku so appealing – they wore rainbow tutus and bright pink wigs at a time when conservative fashion made them more desirable and approachable within their society.
However, after dictating the fashion scene of Japan since 1997 and over 233 issues, Aoki has declared that the creativity in Japan’s youth is dead.
What Aoki doesn’t realise is that perhaps there are “no cool kids left” because these young creatives have decided to take matters into their own hands. Trend-setters no longer need to roam the streets for hours waiting to be scouted by a FRUiTS photographer, but instead can spend those hours trying to perfect their selfie. Sharing these photos through apps such as Instagram allows them to reach people globally at the click of a button.
While it’s heartbreaking that Harajuku may have hit its peak 20 years ago, this digitisation of Harajuku fashion has led to a necessary power shift. People can now be in control of their own personal brand. Gone are the days where a higher authority such as FRUiTS gets to decide what constitutes being “cool” and who fits the exclusive guidelines.
This allows fashion not to be ruled by the select few who were chosen to be photographed for FRUiTS magazine, but for those who are bold enough to be wholeheartedly themselves. Their followers can watch the modern trendsetter’s style adapt with the seasons – no longer will they be haunted by a questionable “fashion” trend that is forever stuck in the pages of a magazine.
There is no denying that Aoki had an eye for choosing the people to photograph, but the people who poured their hearts and souls into constructing the outfits themselves never got enough credit.
Through Instagram, these young creatives are able to properly introduce themselves, spreading their style rapidly and globally. They gain loyal followers, encouraging comments and promising business opportunities that are offered directly to the name that has been given to the face. No longer does someone have to mould themselves to fit the narrow guidelines of “cool” that a single editor chose for them.
These bloggers still have the option to round up their friends and venture down to Harajuku for a make-shift photoshoot. But they can also stand in front of a white-wall in the comfort of their home, with their well-trained parent taking the photo that may end up in Vogue. These influencers are thousands of miles away from the place that started this fashion revolution, and 20 years ago, they would not have been noticed unless they were in the right place at the right time.
This world is no longer locked away from those who are outside the boundaries of Harajuku station. Flourishing creatives like seven-year-old Coco embody the newfound inclusiveness of Harajuku fashion. One person’s opinion, fate and proximity to Tokyo no longer determine another’s ability to make a name for themselves.
Love it or hate it, the fashion of Harajuku can no longer be viewed in a physical setting. It has migrated to a virtual reality – and its borders are now open to anyone who dares to reveal their unique fashion identity to the world.
Photos by the author