LONDON—The close links between Japan’s “Lolita” fashions and British design are the subject of a new show at London’s famous Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A).
Beside the samurai swords and exquisite examples of 17th century Arita-ware porcelain for which the museum’s Japanese gallery is best known, nine new mannequins are showing off the outrageous frills and ostentatious fancies of the contemporary Japanese street.
The “Kitty and the Bulldog: Lolita fashion and the influence of Britain” exhibition focuses on “Lolita” styles, which can be traced back to the 1980s and established themselves among Japanese young women in the 1990s.
The V&A defines the movement as “a radical form of street style born out of the Japanese taste for Hello Kitty cuteness” and distinguishes between different genres within it: a “sweet Lolita” look stressing sugary frills; ghoulish and flashy “gothic Lolita” styles; and “punk Lolita” fashions featuring chains and safety pins.
The exhibit traces the influence of British design on all three styles, arguing that the “sweet Lolita” look is deeply rooted in Victorian children’s literature, including the classic “Alice in Wonderland,” while the “Gothic Lolita” was inspired by androgyny typified by 1970s British Glam Rock star David Bowie. “Punk Lolita” reflects 1970s British street punk fashion and the work of designers like Vivienne Westwood, according to the exhibit.
The museum also presents a distinctive “Japanese Lolita” style, showcasing a “modern kimono” combining lace and ribbon with Japanese traditional dress.
The man behind “Kitty and the Bulldog” is Rupert Faulkner, senior curator of the Far Eastern Department at Victoria and Albert Museum. He planned the Japanese street style display in conjunction with the V&A's “British Design 1948–2012: Innovation in the Modern Age” exhibition now showing through Aug. 12, which celebrates the best of British postwar art and design.
As a curator specializing in the study of Japanese contemporary arts and crafts, Faulkner was aware of the way in which British Victoriana had influenced “Sweet Lolita” but says he was surprised to discover during his research that “Punk Lolita” and “Gothic Lolita” fashion also had strong ties to Britain.
In May, some 100 members of a group of Lolita fashion enthusiasts called the “Tea Party Club" toured the exhibition together, and social networking sites such as Twitter been spreading the word among the burgeoning “Lolita” culture in Britain. Faulkner says the style arrived in Europe in the 2000s in the wake of anime and manga culture, with the 2004 Japanese film “Kamikaze Girls,” in which actress Kyoko Fukada played a young die-hard Lolita girl stuck in a rural Japanese town, providing a particular impetus for “sweet Lolita” looks.
Faulkner describes “Lolita” as a “silent rebellion,” quite different from the dramatic confrontationalism of British punk rock. He says the styles draw attention to the wearer’s individuality but absorb traditional elements and expectations without fundamentally challenging the status quo.
Akiko Fukai, chief curator of the Kyoto Costume Institute (KCI) said: “(Lolita fashion) is an amazing mutation that emerged from our own culture. I think that’s what intrigues people.” She added: “These days, it’s the young and ordinary that carry and define fashion. They probably see Lolita as opposed to high fashion.”
The “Kitty and the Bulldog” exhibition runs through Jan 27.
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