FRUiTS Magazine and the Wonderful World of Harajuku Fashion.
Updated: Sep 17
A brief summary of Tokyo's Harajuku subculture and FRUiTS Magazine.
Harajuku fashion was unlike anything I had ever seen before.
I was twelve when I found out about this magical world. (Thanks to the internet of course!) An awkward, shy girl who had just started secondary school and was looking for a way to express herself.
These crazy and colourful kids on the streets of Tokyo was just what I needed to see.
For a long time, I hoarded Hello Kitty T-shirts, tons of jewellery from Claires, and adorable stationery that I'd proudly use in class.
I already felt more confident without having to say a word. (That didn’t stop a few people around me from finding it weird.) But, hey ho! This was what I loved.
I cannot believe I've not written about this topic yet.
So, here is an article dedicated to the wonderful world of Harajuku fashion.
In 1997, FRUiTS magazine was born. A publication featuring the best youth fashion straight from the streets of Tokyo.
But this was not fashion in the conventional sense.
A new movement was on the horizon.
Style tribes, filled with teens and young adults from the city’s most stylish districts, were pushing the boundaries of what fashion could be.
You could say this was a rebellion. A backlash against the uniformity of Japanese culture. Who needs dress codes when you can have colourful hair, crazy makeup, and wear kooky textures.
The founder of FRUiTS Magazine - Shoichi Aoki.
The street photographer Shoichi Aoki was mesmerised by these creatives and their style experiments. It was clear to him. This was a movement that needed to be captured. Aoki filled FRUiTS Magazine with full-page, photographic spreads of the various characters he met on the streets - Fluorescent cyberpunks, alabaster-skinned gothic lolitas, and dynamic decora girls. Over the years, the magazine crept into the international spotlight. Thanks to Phaidon Press, copies of FRUiTS became available for purchase overseas. These eclectic fashionistas could now inspire fashion addicts worldwide.
Aoki’s photography was mainly focused in Harajuku. A popular shopping and entertainment district located between Shibuya and Shinjuku. Here, youth tribes would gather on the streets. They would meet at popular destinations like the now-closed Hokosha Tengoku Pedestrian street, Yoyogi park, or the bustling Takeshita Street shopping strip.
The streets were their runway. It was the perfect setting to show off an array of outrageous looks. Think bold colours, lots of unconventional layering, dyed hair, and eccentric makeup.
However, there is no singular Harajuku look. A ton of subcultures came out of this movement; each of them having a defining set of features.
This is the perfect time to tell you about some of Tokyo’s early style tribes. And I mean the old school subcultures that originated in the late 90s and early 2000s. Here are four Harajuku subcultures you should know about:
Japanese beauty standards favour light skin. So what if there was a subculture that rejected this idea of beauty? That is where gyaru comes in. Gyaru is a style tribe for the bold. An exaggerated look inspired by Western influences like the California girl - Bleached hair in a variety of colours, skin tanned to the extreme, bright make-up, and provocative clothing showing off a lot of leg. (The shorter the skirt the better!)
These features make up the core aesthetic of the gyaru style.
On the other hand, there are different versions of this look. Kogal is an important one. It revolves around traditional, Japanese school uniforms with a twist. These girls modify their uniforms to fit with the exaggerated gyaru look.
If you want to see just how far the gyaru style can go, take a look at the ganguro. These fashionistas will have the longest fake nails, wild hair, and sun-drenched skin:
Lolita fashion is the complete opposite of gyaru. This subculture appreciates femininity and modesty that is inspired by the Victorian and Rococo era, European fairy tales, and romantic literature. It is an extravagant style. One that is usually expensive to buy due to the sheer craftsmanship behind the clothing. The basic lolita silhouette is defined by a few key features. Undergarments like bloomers and petticoats; modest blouses, long-a-line skirts or jumper dresses, knee-high socks or tights, and accessories like bonnets, hair bows, or dangly hair clips. This has to be the best style for those who are romantic at heart. Like Gyaru, there are different versions of lolita fashion. The three main styles being gothic lolita, sweet lolita, and classic lolita.
Left to right: Gothic, sweet, and classic.
Now, there is one misunderstanding that I must address. Lolita fashion has no relation to the book of the same name by Nabokov. It is a genuine style that many women enjoy wearing. Not a fetish. (The name may have been the result of a ‘lost in translation’ error).
Although the Visual Kei subculture is primarily a musical movement, you cannot have the music without the fashion. This movement goes back to the late 1980s. It originated with popular bands like X Japan, Aion, and Dead End.
These bands wore what you could call a mash-up of different western styles. You had the androgyny of glam rock bands like the New York Dolls and Sweet, mixed with the DIY look of punk musicians. All these influences were tied up with a traditional Japanese twist.
X Japan is a great example of the visual kei style. This popular band had towering hair accompanied with theatrical makeup and a ton of leather clothing. It’s so important to know about this group as they were huge! They left a deep musical imprint on Japanese pop culture after they disbanded in 1997.
Fans of Visual Kei express their love for the music by dressing up like their idols. Playing around with texture is essential to this look. Plaid, lace, stripes, and PVC are all welcome. Piercings are common. The colour scheme is dramatic and edgy - think bright reds and brooding blacks.
There is also a brighter version of visual-kei named Oshare-kei. In this substyle, neons, cheerful motifs, and loud prints are preferred.
Decora has to be one of the most colourful Harajuku styles. This look peaked in the mid 2000s, but there is still a small community of decoras that want to keep it alive today. Just look at this Refinery 29 video and you’ll know what I mean:
The name Decora comes from the word decoration. It is a style characterised by an overload of vibrant layers and accessories. Expect to see graphic t-shirts, mini tutu-skirts, and layers upon layers of jewellery and hair accessories. Colour-wise, the palette is typically pastel or neon. Decoras are influenced by cartoons from the 80s and 90s. These childlike motifs are a huge part of the style. This means animations like Strawberry Shortcake, the Care Bears, Pokemon, Rainbow Brite, and Hello Kitty are inspirations for these colourful fashionistas. All in all, Decora is the perfect style for young adults who haven't lost their inner child yet!
Is Harajuku Fashion Dead?
In 2017, FRUiTS magazine stopped producing regular print issues. It had been 20 years. This made the loyal followers of FRUiTS feel anxious. Did this mean that the subculture was dead?
Egg and Kera Magazine are two other Harajuku fashion publications that no longer create new issues.
I believe that the spirit of Harajuku lives on.
There are still smaller style tribes in the district. And there are still fashion lovers worldwide that dress that way too!
The only difference is how we share Harajuku fashion across the globe. Because of the rise of social media, alternative fashion lovers have moved online to showcase their creative looks. At the click of a button, hundreds of users can view these amazing outfits.
The scene isn’t dead. It is evolving. New styles are always emerging.
As long as there are creative young people, there will always be a Harajuku movement. Just look at genderless kei. A newer subculture where men and women dress outside of the gender binary:
And what about Yami Kawaii? A spooky style that mixes the cute with the grotesque:
With all these new developments, I cannot wait to see how Harajuku street style will progress in the next decade. I feel like we have a lot to look forward to. Thank you Harajuku; For making a twelve year old girl feel happy in her own skin, and for continuing to inspire myself and many others to this day.
What a fun topic this was to write about.
I hope you are know just as inspired as I was when I first found out about the wonderful world of Harajuku fashion.
Keep being creative guys,
I will see you all next week.