See more photos in "Japanese Street Fashion Hits L.A. with 6% Dokidoki Fan Event" and "Sweet Streets II @ Gallery Nucleus".
Sebastian Masuda, the man behind the cool Japanese clothing and accessories line 6% Dokidoki, was twenty-two when he first opened shop in Harajuku. It was 1995 and Masuda had been going to raves and nightclubs.
"I really wanted to stand out," he said through an interpreter to the crowd of fashion-forward young people who had gathered at Alhambra's Gallery Nucleus to hear him speak.
Masuda's shop wasn't about fashion, though. He was selling odds-and-ends that the young people frequenting this Tokyo neighborhood went on to add to their wardrobes. Toys and ribbons became accessories. Even curtains, he said in the lecture, were re-imagined as fashion.
Masuda cited this as being the beginning of decora, the Japanese fashion style that relies on lots of color (pink being a favorite), lots of patterns and lots of accessories. He said in his lecture that decora is different from other Japanese styles that have gained popularity globally in that it's not influenced by Western fashion (as, he said, is the case with Lolita) and was "purely born on the streets." It was fitting then that Masuda chose the opening weekend of Sweet Streets, the group show at Gallery Nucleus dedicated to work inspired by Japanese street fashion, for his Los Angeles stop on the 6% Dokidoki world tour.
Of the many Japanese street fashion styles that exist, decora might be one of the more difficult ones to explain. Unlike Lolita, you can't point to certain books (Alice's Adventures in Wonderland) or movies (Kamikaze Girls) for reference. Unlike gothic, there's no real U.S. equivalent. While decora may have come to exist during the 1990s rave heyday, it's not rave fashion as we would know it in the U.S. Decora is more about layers-- flouncy skirts, knee socks, t-shirts and hoodies-- and mountains of accessories ranging from barrettes and ribbons to plush toys hanging like necklace charms.
When we spoke with Masuda after the lecture, he said that he began designing accessories about two or three years after he opened the store, initially making products in Los Angeles with the people who became Mighty Fine. Amongst his earliest hits were oversized ribbons that girls could wear for a doll-like look. Over the years, 6% Dokidoki evolved as customers began making suggestions.
"Using their opinions, we created items that would suit the girls who came to the store," he said through an interpreter.
These days, 6% Dokidoki is a brand that can be incorporated into many different styles, it's not a decora-specific label, and Masuda does more than supply cool items to young women. Joined by two members of the 6% Dokidoki shop staff, Vani and Yuka, Masuda has been traveling the world to give presentations similar to the one at Gallery Nucleus.
Vani and Yuka, also known as the "shop girls," appeared as the embodiment of the brand. The young women are known outside of the store through their blog and MySpace pages, as well as public appearances like this one. At the event, they led the crowd in a game of rock-paper-scissors for 6% Dokidoki prizes. They also posed for photographs and signed autographs.
Through his presentations, Masuda is using fashion to spread a message. He explained the history of Harajuku using film footage from his own collection and talked about the current state of the neighborhood, where "fast fashion" outposts like Forever 21 have altered the landscape of a place world renowned for its street style. He puts fashion in a cultural context, explaining its importance in terms of youthful expression.
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Throughout his talk, Masuda made numerous references to people finding a "voice" through fashion. It's a universal sentiment, if you think about it. Young people don't have much of a say over what happens in the world, but they can make a statement about it through clothing. Over the course of the late 20th century, one could see this in the style of hippies, punks, ravers and Riot Grrrls. Masuda explained decora and the use of kawaii, or cute, images in Harajuku fashion. He mentioned the use of bright colors as a statement against war and described kawaii as a way for people to "create your own happiness."
Masuda discussed the symbolism of fashion as something he incorporates into 6% Dokidoki's designs. The pin he wore clipped to his tie was Japanese for "revolution." Meanwhile, many of the girls in the audience were sporting a single, dangling earring that read "arigato" or "thank you" in neon. Masuda conceived of this earring as a conversation-starter piece, particularly for people who live in countries where Japanese is not the primary language. Someone is bound to ask, "What does that earring say?" The person wearing it will answer either "Arigato" or "Thank you," and a discussion should ensue from there. It ties into his thoughts of "fashion being a form of communication."
It's incredibly easy to look at photos of young people dressed up in Harajuku and only see the image. Masuda, though, added layers of cultural context that we would undoubtedly miss by simply flipping through the pages of magazines like Fruits. Fashion is fun, but it can also say something significant.