By Liz Ohanesian
Photo by Erin Broadley. Click image for entire slideshow.
Mention the name Lolita in the United States and people might jump to Nabokov conclusions. This isn’t that type of Lolita.
This Lolita was born in Japan and headed for the U.S. underground in the late '90s with help from J-rock band Malice Mizer and Harajuku street style magazine Fruits. Its roots are in children’s literature, Rococo and Victorian period design and the staples of little girls’ wardrobes. This Lolita is about prim party dresses with fantastic details like bunny tails, wildly patterned knee socks, Mary Jane shoes with serious platform heels and elaborate wigs in unnatural colors. It’s a look that grandmothers love, while prompting pesky, uncreative passersby to ask “Little Bo Peep, where’s your sheep?” This Lolita takes staples of a conservative past and pushes them towards an extreme future.
“I don’t know if you’d say [Lolita is] rebellious, but it’s definitely different,” said Maki Ichigo, 18, of Long Beach.
Inside Little Tokyo’s Kyoto Grand Hotel over the weekend, dozens of Lolitas gathered for Yumemiru Musical Paradise, a fashion and music extravaganza hosted by Cosplay Oneesan. The primarily female crowd, ranging in age from pre-teen to late-twenties, traveled from across the U.S. to attend. Many of the Lolitas had become friends long before this one-off event, thanks to online sources like LiveJournal’s EGL (Elegant Gothic Lolita) community (which, in addition to its social networking function, assists Lolitas in tracking down Japanese fashions that are largely unavailable in U.S. retail outlets) and local or regional meet-ups where girls can get gussied up for a movie or spot of tea.
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At Yumemiru, guests represented a wide variety of Lolita styles. There were gothic Lolitas, whose take on the macabre is more playful and girlish than Western goths; deco Lolitas, who highlight their outfits with gobs of accessories, including plush toys clipped to hairbands and dangling from handbags; princes with a boyish, Dickensian style suited for girls who prefer pants, and the immensely popular sweet Lolitas, who frequently wear ruffled frocks with matching bows in whimsical prints that oftentimes feature dessert or cuddly animal motifs.
“Lolita is about a specific look, but the whole process is different,” explained Irene Yuen, 24, an Orange County resident who sported a sailor Lolita outfit. “As long as you keep the base, you can tweak the accessories and it gives you a new look.”
Angelic Pretty, purveyor of the sweet Lolita look, anchored the event with a fashion show, meet-and-greet sessions with its designers, and a temporary store featuring the brand’s latest wares. Angelic Pretty is one of the best known, and best loved, Japanese labels specializing in this style and designers Maki and Asuka, who attend events in full Lolita garb, have earned rock star status in the U.S. community, prompting the girls to cheer wildly (they seemed too polite for screaming) when they took to the stage. Utilizing fabrics inspired by French macaroon cookies and a batch of cupcakes purchased at a Beverly Hills bakery, Maki and Asuka take sweet Lolita seriously.
The sweet tooth went far past baked good-themed outfits, cotton candy-colored wigs and sugary perfume, though. Guests snacked on pink marshmallows, cookies and assorted candies as musical duo Kokosyoku Sumire made its U.S. debut with a mix of European opera pieces translated into Japanese and original work inspired by fairy tales like The Little Mermaid. Later on in the day, the Lolitas attended a tea party where individual plates featured cupcakes emblazoned with Angelic Pretty’s logo, fruit tarts, chocolate dipped strawberries and more cookies as Japanese electro pop and a bit of drum ‘n’ bass played in the background. It was like a candy-colored Hansel and Gretel without the witch, a futuristic fairy tale whose only grim conclusion was finding a line in front of the Angelic Pretty shop after the sugar rush ended.