It's Saturday evening and Fickle Wish is dripping with pink. Inside the Little Tokyo boutique, which specializes in street fashion and indie art from Japan, the color radiates from the walls in a variety of shades and fabrics, from shocking pink backpacks to sunset-hued skirts. It burns bright off of freshly dyed hair and fades softly on the edges of sweatshirts and glasses frames worn by the friends and customers who are crammed between racks of clothing. At Fickle Wish, you can find everything from gothic, black casual wear to cat-print party dresses, but it's that one head-turning hue that beckons to passersby, drawing them into what might be the one of the coolest stores in Los Angeles on the occasion of its first anniversary.
On its surface, Fickle Wish is a store that sells the kind of fashion documented in the recently defunct Japanese street-style magazine Fruits and the style of art you might find from up-and-coming anime artists inside comic book convention halls. But Fickle Wish is more than that. It's a shop with a mission of creating a space and making connections between people whose differences go beyond their clothes.
Inside the store, a diverse group — in ethnicity, gender and age — of shoppers snap photos and join the sales team in rounds of truth or dare and trivia. Fickle Wish's employees, who use the phrases “shop girl” and “shop boy” and mostly go just by their first names, are the store's ambassadors. They pop up on Instagram modeling their outfits of the day. They host live streams on Facebook and Instagram. “We're as much a part of the store as the products we sell are,” says shop girl Ona.
Fickle Wish came into being when the folks at Little Tokyo hobby emporium Anime Jungle decided that they wanted to open a shop for the crowd that was more into Japanese fashion and kawaii, or cute, items. “I'm not really into this culture,” confesses Yoichi Kakuma, general manager for Anime Jungle and Fickle Wish, but he found a group of enthusiastic and knowledgeable Japanese fashion fanatics to handle that. He also did his research by going to events in Japan that feature independent artists and by visiting Harajuku, the Tokyo neighborhood famous for attracting young people in wild outfits, but which he says has toned down. It's been reported elsewhere that perhaps the heyday of Harajuku fashion has ended, but that doesn't really matter at Fickle Wish. Besides fashions, the store specializes in selling the work of Japan-based independent artists whose work might not otherwise be available in the United States. When customers buy pieces, Fickle Wish takes photos to share with the artists on social media.
Japan may be the source of the bulk of the fashion and art here, but Fickle Wish also bears a lot in common with the stores that lined Melrose Avenue in the late 20th century. It's a place where young people with alternative tastes from across the region can shop for clothes that they'll never be able to find in their own neighborhoods and meet like-minded individuals. That they merge this IRL interaction with smart social media has made it a destination.
Jordy, a 26-year-old employee, got into Japanese fashion about a decade ago, after becoming a fan of the rock band Malice Mizer, whose androgynous guitarist Mana was tightly associated with the fashion style known as gothic Lolita. “I fell in love with Mana particularly because he totally didn't give a crap about gender roles, and that was so mind-blowing for me, growing up in Ohio,” says Jordy. He has long loved Lolita fashion — “It's a big part of what helped me cope with my gender fluidity,” Jordy adds — but in recent years began incorporating styles like punk and goth into his wardrobe, too.
Today, he's wearing a black shirt with an occult-ish design made by Japanese brand Sex Pot Revenge. His wide-legged black pants with slits up the sides are from a brand called Drug Honey that he describes as “up-and-coming.” Both items came from the shop. “The store has a little piece of everybody who works here,” Jordy says. “It's a whole collaborative effort and I think that's great for a store.”
Fickle Wish's stylish staff commutes to Little Tokyo from spots like Inglewood, Santa Fe Springs and Alhambra. Similarly, its customers come from all over the Los Angeles area. Customer Hayden Hoerner travels from Palmdale to visit Fickle Wish. “I love the shop girls here,” says the 19-year-old, who also hosts a Japanese fashion podcast called O-Kei. “They're super sweet. And just the entire vibe here is nice and welcoming.”
At first, Fickle Wish filled the void left when another Japanese fashion retailer, Fairytale Boutique, left the building. While their initial customers were often people who were already quite knowledgable about Japanese fashion, it didn't stay that way. Ona is also a drag performer and was able to bring in clientele from the drag scene. “We get people who are passionate about J-fashion and are familiar with all of the brands in the store, and the people who just walk in because something catches their attention and that's when they become a fan,” says Mabel, 27, who along with Ona is one of the chiefs of the store.
Diversity has been important to building the Fickle Wish brand. “We really stress diversity at the store,” Ona says. “We want [customers] to feel comfortable and we want them to feel that they're represented.”
Recently, Fickle Wish collaborated on a T-shirt with Japanese illustrator Hattori Kanna. During the process, the staff decided that they wanted to make sure that the girl in the image had dark skin. Ona says this is because black girls are often excluded from the images associated with Japanese pop culture. “They're excluded a lot from anime,” Ona says. “They're excluded a lot from kawaii fashion.”
Beyond its commitment to indie art and fashion, Fickle Wish is building itself as a gathering spot where people of any ethnicity, gender or sexual identity can feel comfortable.
Back in the heyday of Melrose Avenue, when goths, ravers and punks roamed the the street, the shopping district was more than a place to pick up import records, Doc Martens and party flyers. It was an escape from places where dressing different — being different, actually — could make your teenage life a living hell. In the case of Fickle Wish, the staff seems keenly aware of the responsibility that comes with catering to non-mainstream clientele. “I really want people to have a place where they can feel happy and safe and represented,” Ona says. “I want people to feel like they can be a part of this and not feel ashamed.”