There's a new documentary about Lolita, the fashion subculture that started out in Japan, but found a home in Los Angeles, and it's great. Sugar Coated is a brief look into the lives of Southern California Lolita aficionados. They wear beautiful, modestly cut outfits that frequently involve a puffy skirt that hits right below the knees. They accessorize with a mix of pieces that evoke vintage charm and 21st century whimsy. Their outfits are attention-grabbers, so different from typical L.A. street fashion that you can't help but do a double-take.
That, however, is not the focus of the story. The point here is the lives lives of four people with very different lives who have found a sense of identity and community through their fascination with fashion.
Beyond the documentary itself, "Sugar Coated" is interesting for its origins. The short film was actually a project for a group of advertising students working with 72andSunny, an agency with outposts in Los Angeles and Amsterdam that has helmed campaigns for Call of Duty, Carl's Jr. and a ton of other brands with instant recognizability. The up-and-comers are part of a program called 72U. It's a small program that lasts 12 weeks and, according to 72U head Maria Scileppi, is "designed to cultivate the next generation of creative leaders for the industry, and for [72andSunny] in particular." Their intent is to work with "non-traditional talent," people who have media skills, but not necessarily agency experience.
Despite its origins, Sugar Coated has nothing to do with advertising. It's not connected to a brand, nor is it related to anything currently in-the-works at the agency. Scileppi estimates that 70% of the 72U projects are like that. They've done a couple interactive art installations and worked on a "live, collaborative art experience." They also made this documentary.
Chris Parsons, who studied production design in New Zealand has has film and performing arts experience in his background, is part of the 72U program and helped flesh-out Sugar Coated. The initial assignment was to make a short film, any kind of film, but the documentary came to shape when a fellow 72U participant mentioned going to a Lolita meet-up with his partner. That sort of introduction into the scene helped shape what would become the documentary.
"We had a unique perspective given that one of the participants had some involvement with the culture," says Parsons. "We were going into it with a real respect for what Lolita was and a great initial insight into the community."
The team spent time at Anime Expo and San Diego Comic-Con looking for people whose stories would be included in the documentary. Ultimately, they settled on four -- Julie, Jordan, Dina and Lor -- and also interviewed Miki from Fairytale Boutique, a Lolita specialty shop in Little Tokyo.
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They filmed for more than three weeks and captured over 100 hours of footage, which was distilled into one succinct short. In a little under 11 minutes, the documentarians captured a subculture that is much more diverse than people might assume. Part of that stems from the filmmakers' experience. "The more we got to know the Lolitas, working with them, the less you see the style of the dress and the more you see them as individuals," says Parsons.
It's that look beyond the fashion that makes Sugar Coated so interesting. Dina talks about Lolita fashion and how it has become, in part, an expression of her Muslim faith. Jordan, a young man, discusses the trials that come from being a guy with an interest in fashion that is perceived as feminine. Julie speaks emotionally about how people should simply be able to wear what they want. Overall, Sugar Coated is about individuality, about making your life as beautiful as you want it to be, despite the pressures from the outside world to be like everyone else.
Watch Sugar Coated online.