Little Tokyo gets busy on Saturday afternoons. Even when the crowd was as thick as it was on this unusually warm January weekend, people couldn't help but notice the group parading along 1st Street. There were a few dozen of them. Some were dressed bright colors and bold patterns. Others wore beautiful dresses that resemble those seen on old fashioned dolls. Some chose a darker, gothic-influenced, color palette. There were layers of tulle, hair the color of sweet tarts and shoes with major platforms. Onlookers tried to grab photos. Two guys on bicycles stopped to watch as the group convened near a crosswalk.
In Harajuku, the Tokyo neighborhood where these fashions originates, fashion walks are more common. Saturday's event is the first similar walk for fans of Japanese fashion in Los Angeles. The Harajuku to Los Angeles Fashion Walk started deep within Little Tokyo's main plaza, at Fairytale Boutique. Inside the store, participants scrawled their names on a sign-up sheet and grabbed wristbands. A few browsed the racks of clothing from Japanese brands like Angelic Pretty, Baby the Stars Shine Bright and Hangry & Angry. In the background, a video from a concert of Japanese pop star Kyary Pamyu Pamyu played on a television screen. The singer's wild outfits and whimsical performances match the spirit of the store's customers.
Miki, who doesn't use her last name professionally, is the owner of Fairytale Boutique. Ask Miki how she got into Japanese fashion and she'll answer, "I have no clue." It's been a part of her life for a long time. Years ago, when Japanese brands were gaining fans in the U.S., but didn't sell their clothing here, she helped a friend organize events. For a long time, she didn't see the need in explaining her interests to people. That changed. "A lot of people started to look at me differently," she says. "They started looking at me like I was some type of alien." Miki read up on how others in her scene explained their style of dress to others. That helped.
Still, as a store owner, she noticed how many of her customers were shy about wearing the clothing they bought in public. "When I run events, people show up for a couple hours and go home," she says. "A lot of people come in, change into this and then the moment they walk out of my store, they change back into their normal t-shirt and jeans because they don't want people to look at them differently. "
The Harajuku to Los Angeles Fashion Walk was born out of a need to help others feel more comfortable in their own clothes. "The walk is mainly to let the world know, we are no different than you and you and you," she says. "You don't have to look at us differently just because we dress different."
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Inside Fairytale's back office, Miki gives a rundown of Harajuku street fashion. Some, like punk and goth, will ring familiar to U.S. readers. Even then, there are slight variations. She notes that punks in Japan rely more on accessories - lots of belts and hats - then their Stateside counterparts. Others, like Lolita and Gothic Lolita, have become more recognizable in the past few years. Maybe you've seen or read about the style that incorporates bell-shaped skirts, large bows and accessories that appear refined, even when they are overtly cute.
Still, there are many other styles of dress that aren't as well known. Fairy-kei, which is popular with Fairytale customers, is a pastel-heavy style that incorporates items like tutus and some retro 1980s details. "Fairy-kei encourages people to make their own stuff, DIY," she says. "They make their own dress or their own bow or bag." There's a variation of the style called mahou-kei that's influenced by girl-friendly anime and manga, like Sailor Moon and Creamy Mami. Fairytale carries items that reference both series in the shop. Mori, or "forest" fashion, is an elegant hippie look that's gaining popularity. Some styles are extreme. Take shironuri for example. That's a look that incorporates stark white face make-up and has been popularized globally by an artist and model named Minori. It's not a common look in Los Angeles, but Miki has seen shironuri customers at theshop.
Today, Miki is wearing a salopette, a casual dress that resembles a jumper, from Angelic Pretty. That's a Japanese brand focusing on Lolita styles and it's incredibly popular with those who follow the fashion. Angelic Pretty is widely known for beautifully illustrated prints, which are released in limited quantities. "People will camp and refresh their website all day to get one," says Miki, "or, they pay obscene amounts of money for a shopping service to obtain them." The dresses are expensive too. Miki says that hers, which was from their Wonder Queen series of prints, cost about $250. If she wanted to sell it, she figures that she could probably get $400 for it. The most popular dresses can fetch more than the original price on the secondary market.