Yet again The Dowse proves that it has its finger on the pulse with its current exhibition FRUiTS. Japan is so hot right now as Shoichi Aoki’s exhibition of unorthodox fashion photography will prove. Aoki has documented the hottest and craziest outfits that he has seen the young people wearing out on the streets of Tokyo. Fashion is usually considered low art as it serves such a practical function, however this exhibition demonstrates that the way these kids dress is an art form. Instead of being functional the clothes worn by the kids in FRUiTS are not at all chosen for their practicality but purely for aesthetic reasons. The result is clothing combinations that you never thought possible, eye-catching makeup and extreme experimentation with colour and shape.
Harajuku is a district in Tokyo and it became the centre of this mad dress-sense in the mid nineties. Every Sunday Harjuku’s main road was blocked to cars creating what the Japanese call Hokoten or ‘pedestrian paradise’. Because of this pedestrianisation Harajuku became a local hangout and a Mecca for young people who wanted to get themselves noticed. Shoichi Aoki believes that fashion is an important form of communication and therefore these kids would use their outfits to show their personal expression. The bizarre fashion that developed intrigued photographer Shoichi Aoki. In 1996 he started a monthly magazine called FRUiTS, which was dedicated to documenting these kids and their clothes. The subjects of his works are not professional models but everyday teenagers and twenty-somethings. Aoki’s works are far from the artfully arranged and surreal images that are normally associated with fashion photography. The unposed, rather awkward-looking, front-on shots remind us that fashion is not all about celebrity and stylists. These kids take fashion back to the street; the place that can either make or break a trend.
Although it all looks fantastically tacky and weird there are apparently three main looks that these people are striving for. Firstly there is ‘wa-mono’ a look based on the mixing of traditional Japanese costume with modern western dressing. The second is ‘futuristic’ which is mainly head-achingly bright colours and plastics. The third is ‘decora’ which incorporates toys and plastic jewellery into the outfit; sometimes the kids use inflatable guitars if they are going for that rock star image. Another prominent trend of the moment is ‘elegant gothic Lolita’ or ‘Loligoth’ which, as the name suggests, is mostly girls dressed up as little dolls. This theme could be best described as ‘creepy’. However Aoki says he photographs those that stand out, make a statement or have their own original take on these main themes, rather than those that just copy what everyone else is doing. Underneath each picture is a brief description of the person in the photo and their outfit. Each subject is identified by their name, age, what they are wearing, their ‘point of fashion’ and their current obsession. This is arguably the best aspect about the presentation of FRUiTS, as it gives you a brief insight into the world of the people in the photos. Mostly these kids are obsessed with Manga or Lolita or eating dumplings, however there are some obsessions that are not so normal. The most interesting character I found was a startled looking girl called ‘Snowflake’ who is dressed top to toe in white. Her point of fashion is ‘first snow’ and her current obsession is ‘looking at the sky and crying’. An obsession that I’m sure many of us share.
Along side Aoki’s photographs is a small collection of outfits made by Massey Bachelor of Design students. The Dowse successfully continues to exhibit local and international talent side by side. The students had been assigned to make outfits with their take on the forecast trend of ‘Urban Dandies and Eco Pop’. It is interesting to see their initial ideas and workings as well as the final garment that they made. The Massey students’ work captures the spirit and frivolity of the exhibition and reminds us of the long process and skill that goes into good fashion design. Despite the fact that Hokoten was stopped in 1998 Japan continues to develop further in the world of fashion. Forget about Lord of the Rings and Wellington—it’s all about Lost in Translation and Japan. FRUiTS gives a brief but fascinating insight into Japanese youth culture and why the world is obsessed with Japan right now.