See more photos in Shannon Cottrell's gallery “Gal Crazy at Holiday Hot Mess.”
Tuesday night, the gals took over Royal/T, the Culver City maid cafe/art gallery, for Holiday Hot Mess. Hosted by Diamond Gal Circle and Tune in Tokyo, the event focused on the Japanese subculture known as gyaru, or gal.
The members of Diamond Gal Circle– we met with Cici, Mishi, Dolly, Mie, Tricia, Bambi, Valentine and Hiromi– are raising the profile of gal style in L.A. through events such as Holiday Hot Mess. Like their counterparts in Japan, they've formed a “gal circle” or club based around their love of sexy and sweet fashion.
Diamond Gal formed in 2008, after several of the members, as Valentine says, “graduated” from another gal circle to do something “more serious.” They started promoting events earlier this year– their first was a party at purikura arcade Kira Kira called “Glamorous”– to help spread the word about gal in a city where Japanese pop culture aficionados are more familiar with street fashion styles like Lolita, decora, visual kei and gothic.
Gal isn't a new style. The members of Diamond Gal mentioned that many credit J-pop star Namie Amuro, whose career first peaked back in the mid-'90s, with popularizing the style. If you want a magazine reference, Egg is a good start, particularly since it's a staple of Japanese newsstands.
The style is ever-evolving and can involve many subgenres. Perhaps the best known of these gal offshoots is ganguro, girls with bleached blonde hair, dark tans and bright white eye makeup and lipstick that were gaining a lot of attention in Japan in around 2000. That sort of extreme style isn't very common in the country anymore, the Diamond Gals noted.
They mentioned the style can be further divided with terms like “hostess” or “rocker.” Still, there are a few themes that connect the varied gal looks.
“Everything is big, glittery, girly,” said Dolly.
There are a few style essentials that seem to carry over as the gal looks change, for example big hair (frequently blonde or golden brown), short skirts and heels. Current trends, the Diamond Gals told us, include foxtails, thigh-high boots and fur (fake or real).
Like many other youth-oriented Japanese subcultures, gal does make an appearance in manga and anime. In Nana, Nana Komatsu's sister Nami dresses in a gal style. The Diamond Gals also mentioned Peach Girl and Super Gal! as titles that give a bit of a glimpse into the world.
Anime and manga doesn't appear to be the catalyst for getting into gal, though. Some of the members of Diamond Gal mention being J-rock fans first. Others, simply stumbled upon it.
Mishi mentioned that she came across gal by going to Japanese markets with her mom when she was young. She said that she was “really flashy” and the style appealed to her.
Mie, on the other hand, found gal online.
“It kind of scared me,” she added. Despite that, she quickly “fell in love” with the looks.
Bambi said that she first saw gal in Egg. She gravitated towards it because she liked “the cuteness of Lolita” but “wanted something more sexy.”
In some ways, gal is the antithesis of Lolita, the girlish Japanese fashion style that seems to have taken over L.A. in recent years. Where Lolita is almost over-the-top in its modesty, gal is super sexy. The bigger difference, though, might be in accessibility. There are only a handful of labels that make items that coincide with the often strict guidelines of Lolita fashion and the major “brands” are all based in Japan. Needless to say, Lolita fashion can be a very expensive interest.
As Mie pointed out during our chat, there are gal-oriented brands, like Liz Lisa, and while some people are fans of such lines, this isn't their only option. Part of the reason might be the changing face of Japanese shopping. The girls all mentioned that global shops like Forever 21, H&M and Topshop are in Japan now and those stores all carry gal-friendly clothing (a controversial issue itself, read more in “6% Dokidoki: Influenced by '90s Raves, Sebastian Masuda Launched a Company That Infuses Fashion with Symbolism”). For L.A. gals, Star Couture, the San Gabriel Valley boutique that hosted the fashion show at Diamond Gals' Royal/T event, is a shopping destination. They also mentioned that gal items can be scored at Japanese markets, like Mitsuwa in Torrance.
There's a bit of irony in that gal appears to be inspired by Southern California with its focus on sun-kissed beauty and figure-revealing fashion (whether or not that's the original influence is up for debate), yet it's now popping up in L.A. as a Japanese-influenced style. But, the members of Diamond Gal pull off the style with a cute-meets-hot flair and a sense of flamboyance and fun that you wouldn't normally see at the local nightclubs.
“Everyone thinks it's too much,” said Valentine, “but it's just right.”