Since the late ’90s, Japanese street style has been noted for its whimsical and unique style. It has become a source of inspiration for new trends. In such a formal and reserved society, fashion was one of the few outlets through which people could let loose, go wild and wear crazy, funky styles. There are Lolita, Decora and Gyaru, each with their own subculture.
All of these looks are explored and celebrated in “Tokyo Adorned,” a glossy, oversized 12.5 by 15-inch book by New York-based fashion photographer Thomas Card. The book presents 75 Japanese girls, handpicked by Card, showcasing their personal style. The book also includes an index in the back where each girl has included a statement summing up their fashion and how their identity is expressed through their style.
WSN sat down with Card to discuss his inspiration and fascination with Japanese culture.
Q: In creating a book about Japanese street style, why did you make the choice to shoot in a studio instead of photographing on the streets of Tokyo?
A: The thing about shooting on the street is there are two issues. One is the impact of the street on the person themselves, that you’re photographing. The second issue is the way we relate to an image with an environment around it. So for this work I wanted to remove them from the impact of the street in the highly formalistic Japanese society, and bring them into the studio where they were isolated and in position to really present themselves the way they see themselves. And my goal was to get beyond the facade of this — of purely the fashion — of the humanity of the person.
Q: Why the focus on Japan?
A: The focus on Japan for me comes from the fact that this is a very uniquely Japanese tradition. In Western cultures, we have this more Walt Whitman approach to identity where you see yourself for who you are, stripped down. And we are our stripped down versions of ourselves. For these girls, they really embody the antithesis of that. For them, you can’t see them for who they are. They’ve shown you who they are through this use of fashion. And I think that what really is fascinating about Japanese culture is that you have this strict formalism — and then within that framework of strict formalism you have what seems like such a bizarre outcropping of street fashion looks coming out. That duality, I find fascinating.
Q: In the book, you mention that there has been an upsurge in national pride since the tsunami and that it has contributed to the number of participants in street fashion. How has that evidenced itself?
A: In the early ’90s, there was the economic depression, with people being disgruntled in being told what their identity was within traditional Japanese society. And they started to reject that, saying “this isn’t who I am, let me show you who I am.” From that point on, they really have come to realize that [street style] is a Japanese tradition. And they were proud of that, especially with the rise of nationalism post-earthquake and tsunami. It is pro-Japanese people and pro-Japanese tradition and culture, but not pro-Japanese government and not pro-Japanese business. They really felt that the bureaucracy and business in government structurally let them down in this time of crisis.
Q: So it is a celebration of the people?
A: Yes, and they see themselves as promoting Japanese tradition. When I started to explore this series, I very much viewed these fashion tribes and groups of girls that were following various rules defining how they were dressing — that’s what I was finding on the streets of Japan. One of the things that astonished me during this scouting run was that the girls don’t really see themselves that way. They see this as an expression of their own individual identity. They have friends and they meet together to exchange ideas, but they’re not defining themselves according to their group behavior — they’re defining their looks depending on their own sense of self and their own realizations of who they are at any given moment in time. I hadn’t actually been to Japan before this series and I was just blown away by the diversity, the thoughtfulness and incredible amount of creativity that you find in Tokyo. It’s just amazing.
“Tokyo Adorned” will be in stores next week. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to Second Harvest Japan, the only nationwide food bank in Japan. Card will be present at Books Kinokuniya, on Sixth Avenue between 40th and 41st streets, on March 11 from 6 to 7:30 p.m. for a question-and-answer session, as well as a book signing.
A version of this article appeared in the Wednesday, March 5 print edition. Christina Cacouris is a contributing writer. Email her at [email protected]