Grotesque Cultural Exchange: A Study of Japanese Fashion History

Grotesque Cultural Exchange: A Study of Japanese Fashion History


Focusing first on the importance of Rei Kawakubo in developing her own essays on abjection through her business, Comme des Garcons, was how French fashion gatekeepers allowed an outsider, in. Not simply because of the mystical designs that participated in Japonisme/orientalism, but because she purposefully created a new material identity through cultural capitalism. By analyzing the work and ideologies of Rei Kawakubo and Comme des Garcons that utilized Julia Kristeva’s subject-in-process to display the abject through fashion, in addition to the construction of kawaii consumer culture, the shojo girl, and lolita identity, Japanese creatives undermined Japan’s stagnant homogenous society in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. The creatives in Harajuku, Tokyo known as Designer Character brands produced Kristeva’s jouissance through the gothic-lolita fashion scene. The goth-loli scene uses the alter ego of lolita, shojo and aristocratic female passivity to view themselves and therefore escape subjective homogeneity. This process is highly visual because of the importance of visual culture to cultural capitalism, fashion, and Japanese consumer culture. For this reason, this research paper is upheld by a Scalar digital exhibit of this cultural exchange through fashion. The digital exhibit analyses media to show the methods, ideologies, contexts, and aesthetics that are visually critical in understanding the innerworkings of this research.

Key Words: Rei Kawakubo, Japanese Fashion History, Japanese Identity, Cultural Capitalism, Lolita, Gothic-Lolita, Kawaii, Shojo, Comme des Garcons, Japanese Gender, Material Culture, Abject, Subject-in-Process, Jouissance, Cultural History, Fashion Theory, Fashion Scene, Subcultures, Gender and Fashion, Japanese Popular Culture, Japanese History

The College of Wooster

Grotesque Cultural Exchange:
A Study of Japanese Fashion History


Brimmer Doane Morrison

Presented in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements of Senior Independent Study

Supervised by Madonna Hettinger Department of History

Spring 2022

Table of Contents

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS i LIST OF FIGURES ii INTRODUCTION 1 CHAPTER ONE: Background of Japanese Postwar Cultural Revolution and Identity Politics Surrounding Avant Guard Philosophical Concepts 4 CHAPTER TWO: Rei Kawakubo, and the Philosophies she Applied to Fashion 13

CHAPTER THREE: The Japanese Revolution in Paris; Cultural Capitalism Exploited 22

CHAPTER FOUR: Becoming the Abject in Japanese culture; The Gothic Lolita Fashion Scene and “Kawaii.” 33



After doing my Junior I.S. during a global pandemic, being very closed off from the world, it was hard to find a point in doing in depth research like this. When I mentioned my intentions for my Senior I.S. to many, the ideas were exciting, but I needed help from others. I want too first say a huge thanks to my friends who have fully supported me through the highs and lows of this crazy senior year. In no order, Frank, Aspen, Mariam, Alison, Marc, Pilar, Olivia, Sarah, Harry, Catie, Karabella, Jasper, it has meant everything to me that you love what I am doing and that we have shared so many experiences together this year. I want to thank Professor Madonna Hettinger, for I have never had an advisor that I can comfortably manage my often-scattered thoughts with, and who sees the values of my research. It has been amazing working with you to develop this complex and niche history. I had massive technological help and input from Professor Catie Holt, Catie Heil and Jacob Heil. Without you all helping with my website, this project would not be nearly as fun or creatively interesting to me. I want to thank my family for supporting my work and education throughout my life, and especially recently in college, so that I could have this very special opportunity in my life. It has been an absolute privilege to have the friends, family and advising that I have had. Thank you.


List of Figures:

Figure 1: University Protests 1968-1969..................................................................7



My IS examines how Rei Kawakubo used avant-garde ideologies to transform western fashion and furthermore how her ideologies then spread back to Japan through the creations of Design Character brands. Given the visual nature of fashion and visual role in gender conformity through clothing, images are a vital aspect of my IS. In studying how Rei Kawakubo and other Designer Character brands created their own fashion ideologies and subverted cultural capitalism, I must explain this history using many visual aids. All the work, whether it be graphic design, architecture, street fashion, haut couture, textile analysis or use of “good mood” advertising, it all greatly revolves around visual essays. For this reason, a significant part of my research is shown through a SCALAR website gallery that visually explores these transitions of cultural capitalism through a timeline of events and two galleries of images.

After the Second World War, “occupied” Japan was quickly democratized and westernized, and by the 1960’s Japan had one of the highest GDPs in the world, creating a massive leisure class. While this was happening, the politically left of Japan protested for years in the 1950’s and 1960’s to not have the national Diet agree to American occupation, as well as for ideologies to change out of the old patriarchal social systems in place. After no success from the left, a reassessment of what it meant to be Japanese took place through the ANPO generation (security treaty generation). Avant-garde artists from this generation collected in Harajuku, Tokyo, where their leftist thought and self-reflection was brought to life through visual essays, designs, and the work of creatives. There were many small moving parts in the development of post-World War Two Japanese national identity, as well as cultural exchange between Japan and


the west, namely France. Fashion exemplifies these transitions and exchanges and can be seen clearly by the works of the avant-garde Japanese creatives in my IS.

The largest influence in my research comes from the designer Rei Kawakubo and how she used “subject in process” to create subversive clothing that reflects the self through the carnival, grotesque and the abject. Her ideologies went with her to France where she became a powerhouse international designer as head of her company Comme des Garçons. Her ideologies then spread back to Japan through the creations of various of Designer Character brands in the 1980’s. Furthermore, through shared ideologies, creatives in Japan designed subcultural “scenes” for themselves that subverted normative fashion ideologies and material expression. In 1980’s Japan, kawaii (cute) consumer culture and the concept of the shojo (young women 12-18) were at a high point of popularity with young women. The designers that led these new designer character brands had been heavily influenced by the work of Comme des Garcons and Rei Kawakubo growing up. For the designers who had all grown up with kawaii culture and the powerful influence of Kawakubo, their next step would be to subvert the concept of what young women ‘should’ be doing with their life and how they ‘should’ act, called shojo. By reimagining the shojo, artists used trans-contextual references to create the lolita fashion scene.

These processes can best be understood visually. As a compliment to my written argument about fashion theory, cultural exchange, and orientalism versus self-orientalism, visual sources are vital to my I.S., and I want to share them through a SCALAR digital exhibition. With the digital exhibit, I will focus on analyzing how these subcultural “scenes,” designers and middle-class Japanese women used these ideologies to create agency for themselves. I will be analyzing the photos in categories that will include visuals, aesthetics, emotions, grotesqueness, Japaneseness, Frenchness/Western-ness, linguistics, scene, and characters/objects. By starting


with Comme des Garcons’ expressions and ideologies in the 1980’s and 1990’s, I demonstrate how Kawakubo used Julia Kristeva’s subject-in-process to create the abject through fashion. Furthermore, I examined how she used her business to subvert cultural capitalism. Through examining Japanese fashion magazines and kawaii culture, I will show how these ideologies were first perceived and used as well as how the shojo and kawaii culture fit into showing the abject through fashion.


Chapter One:
Background of Japanese Postwar Cultural Revolution and Identity Politics Surrounding Avant Guard Philosophical Concepts.

Cultural interactions between France and Japan through the arts have been happening ever since the forced opening of Japan in 1853. These interactions have often included admiration for each other’s art and artifacts, while at the same time creating a special space for orientalization of Japan in the west. Japonisme is term to describe orientalization as it pertains specifically to Japan and Japanese culture. The traded art coming out of Japan, into western Europe and America made Japan seem exotic, specifically, woodblock prints were regarded as a primitive art form. An example of this cultural appropriation in art history would be how impressionist painters in France and Holland copied and were inspired by Japanese woodblock prints. During the Meji restoration leading up to the Second World War, the ruling elite of Japan saw the west, its intellectual and its scientific ideologies, such as The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, and began to imperialize because they wanted to become a more “civilized” nation and be at par socio-economically with the rest of Europe. After being isolated, Japan’s Meiji era intellectuals like Fukuzawa Yukichi were exposed to concepts of western barbarism and civilization. In the 1870’s Yukichi became a powerful spokesperson and expert on Seiyo Jijo (‘western things’), which was also the name of his book. He promoted enlightenment thought and concepts of human rights, religion, and civil order for the Japanese to resist western imperialism, by becoming more western, removing themselves from ‘savage’ Asian countries.


As Japan started its path to westernization, culturally, Japan started to look west for fashion and cultural influences. Socio-politically, Japan saw the industrialization of various western countries as a que to start “civilizing” themselves. Japan went through a period of industrialization and racially as well as culturally distanced themselves from the rest of Asia as being culturally superior. Although this process of imperialization and westernization led to the war in the pacific, Japan had undoubtedly become a great world power and its culture reflected a mix of western influences as well as idealized versions of Japanese culture that the emperor used as examples of its superiority over other Asian peoples.

In 1945, with Japan’s surrender in the war in the Pacific the country entered a period of occupation by the United States for years to come. Japan experienced extreme hardships in the first few years following its surrender and was forced to democratize effective immediately because of the 1945 San Francisco Peace Treaty. The intensive change that Japan went under in the late 1940s and 1950s proved to create a massive and booming economy starting in the 1960s and created a high wage economy that allowed for similar levels of leisure time and extra spending money, similar to the “thirty glorious years” in western Europe.

With this advanced economy now available, French luxury goods like Louis Vuitton and Chanel were purchased in Japan more than any other country.1 In large part, this was due to the perceived superiority of French fashion as Paris is undoubtedly the fashion capital of the world. The cultural capital that came from Paris was in large part wanted by the Japanese because France was and is seen as the center of western fashion and by virtue of that fact, the center of

1 Yuniya Kawamura, “The Japanese Revolution in Paris Fashion,” Fashion Theory-the Journal of Dress Body & Culture 8 (June 1, 2004): 195–223,


western culture. America is obviously the other large cultural influence in Japan but focusing on France rather than America is important because of the specific cultural exchanges though fashion ideologies alone. American influence in Japan can be boiled down to more of a democratic and economic influence. Culture and arts are intrinsically linked with economics in post-modern theory and material expression of identity then, has to do with what brands you identify with. The socioeconomics of how Japan grew its GDP is integral to understanding the cultural capitalism that takes place within the fashion industry, creative spaces in Tokyo, a mass consumer culture, and gender politics in Japan.

From 1952 to 1972, Japan’s industrial production was at all-time highs with relaxed anti- monopoly regulations and the Bank of Japan loaning money to conglomerates called Keiretsu, formerly known as Zaibatsu. From the 1960’s onwards, Japan’s economy shifted to that of mass exportation which was paired with Prime Minister Ikeda’s “income doubling plan,” which featured a slew of tax breaks, expanded social security net, incentives for exporting and targeted investment that led the Japanese economy to double in size in less than seven years.2 This plan was implemented after the signing of the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security Between Japan and the United States. This pivotal treaty granted the US to plant military bases in Japan, along with the not so gradual capitalist Americanization and westernization that followed suit with the Kennedy Administration. This was an extremely unpopular recreation of the earlier San Francisco Peace Treaty after World War Two.

2 “Japan - Economic Transformation | Britannica,” accessed November 30, 2021,


An umbrella organization named The People’s Council for Preventing Revision of the Security Treaty consisted of mother’s groups, labor unions, farmers, students, and the Japanese socialist and Communist parties. Collectively these groups carried out 27 nation-wide protests during the year prior to the signing. When it was time to sign the treaty on May 19, 1960, Prime Minister Kishi had the socialist and communist parties forcefully removed from the Diet so that he could quickly pass the treaty. In reaction to this event, on the 10th of June 1960, US Press secretary James Hagerdy was mobbed by thousands of protesters who slashed his tires and violently shook his car; Hagerdy had to be airlifted out by a US Marine helicopter. Several days later, on June 15th, leftist student organization Zengakuren attempted to storm the Diet building and ended up with the death of a Tokyo University student protester. Still bitter about the conservative right’s hold on Japanese politics and sparked by student protests worldwide starting in France, May 1968, later that year, Japanese students began occupying buildings of Tokyo University in protest of unpaid internships and “university struggles.” This struggle spread to more and more universities across the nation and also increased in violence and tension. The conservative leaders of the schools refused to change their ways, and in late 1968, students came by the thousands to protest and riot at Shinjuku Station, the capstone event of the ANPO protests (security treaty protests) (Figure 1).3 These protests were spurred by Japanese intellectuals like Takaaki Yoshimoto as well as Marxist ideologies from French Existentialist philosophers like

3 “1968–1969 Japanese University Protests,” in Wikipedia, October 23, 2021, 89.


Albert Camus.4 The basis of the theory was that the students wanted the opportunity to negate their own selves and be self-critical, as the existentialist philosophers had talked about. Although the students followed a boiled down version of these philosophies, the students indeed failed in protesting for their own selves and for the Japanese Left. This intense defeat and failure left the students and many of that generation in a complete identity crisis and lack of understanding of the self. During the 1970’s and 1980’s Zenkyoto literature developed as a means to reflect on these intense emotions of defeat and failure. Writer Haruki Murakami, as well as others, directly wrote about and influenced these shared ideologies and emotions.

Fashion, Moga, and Gender before and after World War Two:

It is necessary to understand the socio-political climate of Japan pre 1980 in conjunction with the evolution and history of Japanese fashion and gender history. Between the Tokyo Muslin strike in 1930, promotion of western attire in 1927 and the desire to work, by the late 1920’s 8,200 women worked white collar service jobs.5 In the 1920’s Moga (modan gaaru/modern girl)

Figure 1: 1968-1969 Japanese University Protests

4 Nick Kapur, Japan at the Crossroads: Conflict and Compromise after Anpo (Harvard University Press, 2018).
5 Miriam Silverberg, “The Modern Girl as Militant: (Movement on the Streets),” in Erotic Grotesque Nonsense, 1st ed., The Mass Culture of Japanese Modern Times (University of California Press, 2006), 51–72,


in Japan started using a linguistic technique called “jogakusei kotoba” or “schoolgirl speech.”6 This was a way of writing and speaking that would be considered “how women should speak.” Pre-Second World War, during the Meiji era, this type of speech was an objectifying and containing way of talking and acting.

Women across Japan started to be politically demanding simply because the average wage of these white-collar jobs was so high. It was a complete shift in women’s political status from previous eras in Japanese history where women are only considered “good wife, wise mother.” Or as Vera Mackie once put it “mothers or whores.”7 During this time Japanese women had an unprecedented level of freedom and job opportunities because of the rise of industry through the second world war. On the other hand, they were contained by their place in society. Western fashions, service jobs and café work confined them as a consumer subject as well as a commodified sex object.8

Modan Gaaru/Moga/Modern Girls, and Garusons/Garçons: These are terms used to describe the young men and women who had ample disposable income because of the shift in family roles. Mogas were crafty, smart and had their own money that they could “look and buy” anything they wanted. Those considered “100%” Moga were daughters of leftist parents, had little to no sense of family, were very self-aware/self-conscious, made their own money and had

6 Isaac Gagné, “Urban Princesses: Performance and ‘Women’s Language’ in Japan’s Gothic/Lolita Subculture,” Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 18, no. 1 (2008): 130–50, Pg. 132
7 Bonnie English, Japanese Fashion Designers: The Work and Influence of Issey Miyake, Yohji Yamamotom, and Rei Kawakubo (London, United Kingdom: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, 2011), Pg. 68
8 Miriam Silverberg, “The Café Waitress Sang the Blues,” in Erotic Grotesque Nonsense, 1st ed., The Mass Culture of Japanese Modern Times (University of California Press, 2006), 73–107,


no moral traditions to speak of. Thus the modan gaaru could transform with the times easier.9 To the older generations, the youth of Japan started to lack morals, and went for physical beauty instead of spiritual beauty.10 From Japanese women’s magazines called Nyonin Geitusu as well as the popular introduction of Vogue the “Paris Casual” look was born.11 The frames and designs of western fashion that were physically demanding of women gained traction and became the dominant form of dress by the late 1920’s into the early 1930’s.12 The idea of a “Straight” body, one that conforms, was promoted through said western magazines.13 With fashion as a prime example, Meiji Era Japan shifted its gendered ideologies to fit those of “civilized” western nations to further distinguish themselves above the rest of Asia.

Japan has not had a long history of traditional sexual relationships, and only banned same sex marriage and sex in 1872, during the Meiji restoration. The continuous alternative European fashion aesthetics of the Moga leading up to World War Two was called Garuson “Garçon,” by the Japanese people. These young women challenged the gendered aesthetics of western fashion culture because they wore short haircuts, long trousers, and men’s coats. Both the Parisian styles of the Garuson and the Moga were considered crossdressing by the older generations of Japan. Robertson points out that “If females were becoming more masculine, it meant males were becoming more feminine.” This is paired with a term that Robinson uses called “gender-more.”14 This term referred to the beautiful youth in Japan. It described much of the entertainment

9 Miriam Silverberg, “Japanese Modern within Modernity,” in Erotic Grotesque Nonsense, 1st ed., The Mass Culture of Japanese Modern Times (University of California Press, 2006), 13–48,
10 Silverbirg.

11 Sarah Teasley, “(Anti)-Hysteric Glamour: Masquerade, Cross-Dressing, and the Construction of Identity in Japanese Fashion Magazines,” Critical Matrix 9, no. 1 (January 1, 1995): 45–74. Pg. 45
12 Silverberg, “The Modern Girl as Militant.”
13 Akiko Savas, “Modernization in Japanese Fashion and the Influence of Fashion Magazines in 1930s Japan: Focusing on the Case of Fashion,” n.d., 17. Pg. 34

14 Jennifer Robinson, “Japan’s Gender-Fluid History,” accessed February 27, 2022,


industry of Japan such as modern androgenous boy bands, or genderless fashionistas as the Mogas. Japan has a different relationship with gender and how it relates to clothes and dress than the west.

Therefore, when this term is applied to fashion culture and gender politics in the post-World War Two period, Japan’s cultural elements that associated with post-destruction and post- flattening of Japan became known as Flat Culture.15 This "flatness” was a fear and a reality for the Japanese and presented itself through fashion via gender bending and androgyny in clothing. Flatness was a fear for the homogenous Japanese society because if women started dressing more like men, then men would become more feminine. Likewise, it was a reality because of the gender bending fashion of the Mogas that were considered crossdressing. Furthermore, androgyny through dress and fashion became increasingly important to a changing shojo identity that is discussed in Chapter 4.

Moreover, the wealth Japanese girls especially had during the Japanese economic miracle, starting in 1952, created a mass consumer base with a lack of incentive to go work. Youth in Japan chose to stay in their rooms and participate in bedroom culture. Bedroom culture is a postmodern adaptation to Japanese “floating worlds” in which women in Geisha houses distracted from the harsh realities of Edo Japan. It is this adaptation of a postmodern fashion scene that Osgerby and Hebdige talk about in their reflections on postmodern subcultures. In this interpretation, young women are especially prone to joining the scenes. Men typically will become salary men in Japan16, while the women started experimenting with listening to music, watching French films, participating in typically feminine past times like getting tea, having a

15 Adrian Favell, Before and After Superflat, A Short History of Japanese Contemporary Art 1990-2011 (Blue Kingfisher Limited, 2011).
16 Yuniya Kawamura, Fashioning Japanese Subcultures (Berg, 2012).


picnic, or buying fashion.17 This switch in gender norms during the late 1940’s through the 1950’s meant that Japanese interest in international fashion, French fashion in particular, was booming and was a highly imported commodity.18 By 1958, Harajuku, Tokyo became a hub for artists, models, designers, and the families of American Military that were based in Okinawa.

17 Tiffany Godoy, Style Deficit Disorder: Harajuku Street Fashion - Tokyo, ed. Ivan Vartanian (Chronicle Books, 2007).
18 Kawamura, “The Japanese Revolution in Paris Fashion.”


Chapter Two:
Rei Kawakubo, and the Philosophies she Applied to Fashion.

Kawakubo effectively created her own cultural and social environments so that women could attain more freedom and independence at a time when women were regarded as mothers or whores.1 But how does one get the point where they can create their own culture and social environment? Kawakubo was born in 1942 and was greatly influenced by the changing of Japanese morals, religion, and overall culture of the time. She attended Keio University, Tokyo, in 1960 where her father was an administrator of the university. Keio University was founded by Meiji reformer Fukuzawa Yukichi who was mentioned in chapter one and is crowned as being very prestigious. At Keio Kawakubo chose the major “the history of aesthetics” which was a mix of western and eastern literature, philosophy, and art. She was exceptionally familiar with concepts of gender and debates of positionality in social systems at the time.2 The way she continues to design even today, shows a deep connection to her values. However, that was certainly not the only thing that drove Kawakubo to create Comme des Garcons or what inspired her to innovate the fashion industry the way she has. Because of the environment she grew up in, I agree with Godoy when she stated that the designers in Harajuku at this pivotal time had a “preternatural” sense of trade, business, marketing, and trends.3

Rei Kawakubo started her fashion career as a freelance stylist dressing and accessorizing individuals for fashion magazines, both western and Japanese, as well as for the marketing agency of the textile factory Asahi Kasei. However, she decided that the clothes that she had

1 English, Japanese Fashion Designers. Pg. 69-70
2 English. Pg. 69
3 Godoy, Style Deficit Disorder: Harajuku Street Fashion - Tokyo.


been styling were not how women would or should dress if they wanted to avoid the male gaze and be comfortable with their body. Because of this, she founded Comme des Garcons, in 1969. The 1970’s was a sensational time for Japanese fashion as several integral department stores and magazines were about to become massive success stories. Boutique Mademoiselle Non Non opened in 1964 in the main street in Harajuku, Tokyo, curated to showcase several of the Designer Character brands as a single aesthetic, of which Comme des Garcons was a large part of.4 The same year the Japanese version of Elle Magazine, An An, was the first to feature these new Japanese brands such as Comme des Garcons and Milk, which had its own department store in Harajuku. An An was also the first magazine to associate certain models and celebrities to the Magazine’s identity.5 In 1971, up until 2000, the main drag of Harajuku was shut down which created a pedestrian paradise for consumerism known as Hokoten.6 Harajuku was an ideal starting point for Rei Kawakubo and Comme des Garcons. Being raised in Harajuku, the hotbed of consumerism and the arts in Japan, Kawakubo quickly learned to compromise ideals for consumer success. Furthermore, she used a new Japanese identity whose focal point was self- reflection, as well as moral and spiritual traditions that originate in Shintoism and Buddhism. Growing up with the culture of the ANPO generation described in Chapter One, Kawakubo holds concepts of Japanese Buddhism and Shinto in combination with a consciousness of the rise of mass consumerism in Japan. She combined these cultural intuitions to utilize cultural capitalism to her advantage while she was in Harajuku, Tokyo, where she originally started Comme des Garcons.

4 Godoy.
5 Godoy. Pg. 30-33 6 Godoy. Pg. 44-45


In the 1960’s, Harajuku was home to all types of creative people and others in the neighborhood that had money to spend on the clothes and other consumer items that the creatives were producing. This is especially true with both imported and domestic clothes. A specific “Harajuku” atmosphere was created in 1958, when an increasing number of department stores opened and the Central Appartements became occupied with said creatives. What happened when all these creatives came together was the decision to start something completely new. A new Japanese identity. The young designers, of which Kawakubo was one of many, started Designer Character brands. These brands were characterized via the way in which they produced clothes so that one could purchase an ideology of self-reflection, a designer character.

It is important to note that most if not all the designers and people interested in fashion in Japan at the time were avid readers of French Vogue.7 From the late 1950’s through the 1980’s, the cheap housing of the apartments allowed the designers to participate in what Godoy called “Maison Makers.”8 Out of their own homes, the designers would work with their small teams and have an abundancy of creative freedom because of the low overhead they had to spend on housing. They had artistic freedom, something that big name designers cannot have simply because of their need to be commercially successful. Down the street was Café Leon. A French style café where the designers would all hang out at and share ideas and collaborate. These creatives reclaimed a free-floating world.

The term free floating in Japanese culture has its origins in woodblock prints of scenes at a Geisha House. These scenes would focus on the relaxed, beautiful, luxurious life of these houses, but would retract from the harsh realities of Japan. Integral to the history of Japan is its

7 Godoy. Pg. 30 8 Godoy. Pg. 24


relationship to its environment, large animals and bugs, earthquakes, heavy rains etc. The free- floating nature of these woodblock prints contrast with that. The Japanese youth that participated in free floating and self-reflexive subcultural fashion identities had more disposable income than ever before as well as more leisure time to shop and buy designer clothing. “Free floating” and “self-reflexive” styles that Kawakubo and others made continued to challenge as well as accept mass consumer culture. Youth identity and new life values were represented by alternative forms of dressing and acting. Osgerby proposed that this free-floating nature applies itself in the postmodern in fashion and music, where “scenes,” rather than subcultures, subscribe to ideologies surrounding status and lifestyle.9 The scene of lolita that will be discussed in Chapter 4 is a perfect example of a “scene” because it based its subversive fashion on young women’s lifestyles, a remapped shojo lifestyle, that connected a free-floating, liminal space for the young women to be the character they wanted to be through dress ideology. He uses the term scenes because they ignore gender, class, and racial barriers. The Designer Character brands like h.NAOTO, Milk, Angelic pretty and others in the Lolita fashion scene took directly from the knowledge and ideologies democratized by Rei Kawakubo and Comme Des Garcons. “Comme des Garcons has been a font of inspiration for the designers and creators working in Harajuku since the early 1970’s.”10

Zen Buddhism and Shinto are what make Comme des Garcons “Japanese.” The cultural and spiritual elements that these religions hold was what allowed Comme des Garcons, and other Japanese Creative’s work to be displayed in museums as Japanese cultural artifacts, even though many of the artists do not think of their art as being inherently Japanese in nature, or

9 William Osgerby, Subcultures, Popular Music and Social Change (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Unknown: Cambridge Scholars Publisher, 2014),
10 Godoy, Style Deficit Disorder: Harajuku Street Fashion - Tokyo. Pg. 57


purposefully made to look Japanese.11 One might assume that in combination with other Japanese artists like Yohji Yamamoto, Japanese fashion and furthermore Japanese art, are Japanese because they come from Japan, but that is not a complete truth. Material expression of the Japanese consumer was heavily influenced by America and the west. People were wearing western clothes, not Japanese. One must look at the aesthetic values Zen Buddhism and Shinto to understand why Kawakubo came at fashion with such opposing ideas to the west as well as how she was portrayed and orientalized when she made her first appearance at Paris fashion week in 1981.

“I like to work with space and emptiness,” and “the void is important,” are phrases that Kawakubo has been quoted saying regarding how she designs12. The void and ambient space became a particular ideological element for those who were disenfranchised with the hegemonic culture Japan had become. Comme des Garcons’ head graphic designer Tsuguya Inoue, who made many of the most popular graphics and images for Magazine 6, who worked closely with Rei Kawakubo, and who has several graphic design books of his own, plays with negative space and emptiness in his art. Examples of his work and Kawakubo’s early designs can be seen in both in Comme des Garcons 1980’s, as well as ‘Magazine 6, Advertisements and Architecture,’ sections of my Scalar digital gallery13.

Rei Kawakubo’s work through Comme des Garcons displays her version of a Zen Koan.14 A Zen Koan is a story or dialogue to test the mind and focus on questions of great doubt

11 Ory Bartal, “Postmodern Critiques, Japan’s Economic Miracle, and the New Aesthetic Milieu,” in Critical Design in Japan, 1st ed., Material Culture, Luxury, and the Avant-Garde (Manchester University Press, 2020), 31–53, Pg. 43-45
12 Andrew Bolton, Rei Kawakubo and the Art of the In Between (Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2017). Pg. 10

13 Brimmer Morrison, “Independent Study: Grotesque Cultural Exchange, a Study of Japanese Fashion History,” Independent Study: Grotesque Cultural Exchange, a Study of Japanese Fashion History, accessed March 7, 2022, 14 Bolton, Rei Kawakubo and the Art of the In Between. Pg. 10


like “what am I” or “what is this.” Much like other Japanese creatives at the time, Kawakubo used her work as a visual essay to display her ideologies. The two sides of a Zen Koan are “Mu” and “Ma.” Mu Koan is of emptiness, negation, nothingness. Ma Koan is of a time in-between, an opening, a space between.15 Along with that is the concept of Wabi Sabi. Wabi denotes decay and transience, and Sabi denotes poverty and simplicity. In her collections that utilize Mu an all- black color palate is used whereas with Ma, the collections use loose fitting, oversized clothes that when worn create a void between skin and clothing.16 Kawakubo created clothes to provide a psychological portrait of one’s sense of being within society.17

The psychological portraits Kawakubo enabled people to wear stem from how she started her fashion career with no preconceptions of fashion design or fabrication processes. This was not ignorance; not knowing fashion design didn’t mean that she did not know how to express her ideologies through dress and the fashion industry. She began with an avant-garde and anti- fashion approach to fabrics and industrial production, a grotesque way of making clothing and dress. With her first collections, she used natural cotton with natural dyes. The stitching in most of her collections until the late 1980’s used a process in which Kawakubo would have the sewing machines unscrewed from the sewing table to create a more natural “human” effect.18 In later collections, 1993 and later, she used nylon-polyester blends because of both fabrics had reputations as being in bad taste to use in high fashion. Many fashion scholars have needed to question the Japaneseness of Comme des Garcons because the collections they have come out with do not match up with the traditional western concepts of orientalism and Japonisme. Authors like Bonnie English, Andrew Bolton and Martyna Gliniecka and Tiffany Godoy noticed

15 Bolton. Pg. 13
16 Bolton. Pg. 13
17 English, Japanese Fashion Designers. Pg. 73 18 English. Pg. 74


the ideological similarities that traditional Japanese clothes (Kimono) and Kawakubo’s designs share. Kawakubo herself stated that “the underlying influence of the Kimono is profound.”19 There is an inherit cultural capitalism that Kawakubo used to orient herself and to exploit herself when faced with the powerful high fashion bureaucracy in Paris.

A combination of industry and philosophy and postmodern thought created the concept of Mono No Aware. It is defined as the “feelings that are aroused by the awareness that phenomena exist and by the experience of direct personal contact with them... Mono no Aware occurs when a person’s aesthetic sensitivity in the sensorial sphere.”20 This entails that the sensations from sounds that occur in real life like the stomping of walking, or someone coughing behind you, can equally be included into the terms of music. The idea that there is simply no difference between musical sound and noise. There is also no transition where silence becomes sound. The concepts of mu, ma, and wabi sabi are the principles that Bolton talks about in Rei Kawakubo, The Art of the In-between. Other authors mention the importance of Japanese cultural values in Kawakubo’s work; however, many do not mention the ideological fusion of soundscapes and how they interacted with the architecture of the Comme des Garcons stores. There is no difference between art and business and Comme des Garcons realized that early on. The flow of consumers in the “guerilla stores” as well as their flagship stores directly affected the design and placement of that season’s collection for increased interaction with the fashion that was being displayed.21 Furthermore, the guerilla stores were strategically “historic... and be set apart from any established commercial areas.”22

19 English. Pg. 72
20 Luciana Galliano and Martin Mayes, Yogaku: Japanese Music in the 20th Century (Blue Ridge Summit, United States: Scarecrow Press, 2002), Pg. 18 21 English, Japanese Fashion Designers. Pg. 86-87
22 English. Pg. 87


Mono No Aware is an important concept because of its connection to the greater soundscape and sensory conceptions of space that Rei Kawakubo and Comme des Garcons used in everything from her fashion, design, and attention to architecture. Kawakubo even stated that “It is true to say that I design the company, not just the clothes. Creation does not end with just the clothes. New interesting business ideas, revolutionary retail strategies, unexpected collaborations, nurturing in house talent, all examples of Comme des Garcon’s creation.”23 This awareness of art, architecture, and brand identity as they interact with the consumer that Comme des Garcons implemented was all part of their ‘good mood,’ or ‘soft sell’ marketing that had not been introduced to the west until the Japanese fashion revolution in Paris, which Kawakubo spearheaded.

‘Good mood’ and ‘soft sell’ marketing are Japanese marketing techniques where the consumer is sold an identity, rather than the product itself. It focuses on social relations and multiple characters rather than a single individual because one is more likely to follow a group’s approach to a lifestyle rather than an individual.24 Kawakubo champions this concept with the Comme des Garcons bi-annual magazine, Magazine 6 (1988-1991). This was part of Kawakubo’s desire to make a maximum visual impact.25 When most designers were using commercials with hand-picked models, perfect settings and fashion clothes, Kawakubo took a completely different approach. Magazine 6 is a compilation of images and graphics that depict the emotions and ideologies associated with the correlating fashion season. These are not your average fashion magazines like Vogue, I-D or Elle. These magazines were made by Comme des Garcons, not an outside agency. The coherence of a designer made identity that accompanied the

23 English. Pg. 76
24 Martyna Gliniecka, “Fashion Essay: Japaneseness in Comme Des Garcons...,” ARCHIVE.pdf, accessed November 16, 2021, Pg. 72-73
25 English, Japanese Fashion Designers. Pg. 76


“Japanese avant-garde” fashion movement made the followers of Comme des Garcons very loyal to the brand.26 For example, the mass movement of women that bought Comme des Garcons and dressed in all black were known as Karasu, crows.27 To the west, these types of advertisements were carnival and grotesque. The clout and prestige that was garnered by Comme des Garcon’s marketing strategy matched up perfectly with the fashion scenes that were blowing up in Japan.

Kawakubo created Comme des Garcons in an ideal time and space where she could realize her ideologies into her own company. Fusing new spiritual and religious values, western material aspirations and self-reflexivity is how Kawakubo achieved prestige as a domestic designer. The success she experienced in Tokyo was only the beginning of her mission to destroy fashion. To reach international recognition, she knew that her new blueprint for the fashion industry through the post-modern woman and avant-garde statements had to have “Made in France” on the label.28

26 Gliniecka, “Fashion Essay.” Pg. 72-73
27 Godoy, Style Deficit Disorder: Harajuku Street Fashion - Tokyo. Pg. 57 28 English, Japanese Fashion Designers. Pg. 76


Chapter Three:
The Japanese Revolution in Paris; Cultural Capitalism Exploited.
Rei Kawakubo in the Press:

Rei Kawakubo believes that the making of a collection relies on key individuals. Coming into Paris in 1979 and having the first collection on the runway in 1981, Comme des Garcons rose to infamy in the fashion world. This new “Japanese avant-garde” that Kawakubo presented to Paris fashion elites was immediately orientalized and exoticized. Journalists and critics alike called the looks that the designers produced “post Hiroshima” and “day after,” implying the destructive and messy qualities of the pieces. According to Kawamura, the way into the system is through insiders like critics and journalists that gatekeep the superiority of the system; if you cannot win them over, you lose.1 Kawakubo was aware of this from the beginning.

As I have mentioned before, Kawakubo wanted to create the most impactful visual impact and visual contradiction that she possibly could. Even though Comme des Garcons was extremely experimental, Kawakubo did not want to be considered part of haute couture, a position only held by a few fashion houses by the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture. Kawakubo did not want to have status; she wanted to make clothes for ordinary, mature women. She hated the western ideologies surrounding beauty and bodily perfection. The original reactions to her and other Japanese avant garde designers was obviously shock, but other articles during this time such as those from Le Monde, inform a slightly different story. “Fluides, parfois lourds, laissent le corps libre, ils ne posent pas de problèmes de retouches. Toute laisse à penser

1 Kawamura, “The Japanese Revolution in Paris Fashion.” Pg. 36-40 22

que ce style va trouver des résonances chez les créatures Parisiennes, en ondes de choc successives.”2 In this article from April 1983 displays how even though there was a massive shock value to her work, the avant garde and abject work from Comme des Garcons was what Paris needed to move into a new era for the fashion industry. Kawakubo knew that she was making something completely new and used media coverage like this to her advantage. Most of the articles from Le Monde in the 1980’s reflected a similar shock and awe seen in the 1983 article.

Rei Kawakubo, de Comme des Garçons, met de l’eau dans son saké avec des modèles plus près du corps en camaïeu de bleu et de rouge. Apparition de la couleur.3

Mais le plus étrange, la plus fascinante des sorcières japonaises, est, sans doute, Rei Kawakubo... Sur une seule musique – Brazil – elle lance les filles altières, ses érotiques orphelines en gros bas noirs tirebouchonnâtes, qui marchent à longs pas décidés même quand elles portent des robes étroites, comme si la reine leur avait insufflé une énergie inexorable.4

2 Nathalie Mont-Servan, “L’onde Japonaise,” Le Monde, March 1983, College of Wooster Archives. [Fluid, sometimes heavy, leave the body free, they do not pose problems of retouching. Everything suggests that this style will find resonance in Parisian creators, in successive shock waves.]
3 Nathalie Mont-Servan, “Une Femme En Hiver,” Le Monde, March 31, 1984, College of Wooster Archives. [Rei Kawakubo from Comme des Garcons puts water in her sake with models closer to the body in shades of blue and red. Appearance of color.]
4 Colette Godard, “La Mode Printempts-Ete 1986: Pour La Fraicheur Estivale,” Le Monde, October 19, 1986, College of Wooster Archives. [But the strangest, most fascinating of the Japanese sorcerers is, without a doubt, Rei Kawakubo... With a single song – Brazil – she throws the altieres girls, her erotic orphans in big black stockings tirebounates, who walk long determined steps even when they wear narrow dresses, as if the queen had infused them with an inexorable energy.]


Les jeunes Japonaise, constate un cinéaste, grandissent a l’ombre de Disneyland, pas du kimono... Rei Kawakubo, qui créa “Comme des Garçons” lança le look “post- Hiroshima” avec ses pull-overs troues et ses vêtements évoquant des halions.5

What other authors like English or Sudjic say about the progression of Comme des Garcons is as if Kawakubo was a large domestic brand in Japan, and then moved to Paris and got these shocked reactions, that were not of the highest praise, then was successful a couple years later. It is evident that Rei Kawakubo in fact played the fashion world against itself, executing a flawless example of cultural capitalism to gain worldwide recognition and success. These quotes prove that the energy she brought to the fashion industry was more than welcomed and in fact appreciated when in comparison with other popular designers of the time like Jean Paul Gaultier, Chanel, Thierry Mugler and even Yohji Yamamoto.

We can see the flip side of that appreciation as orientalizing commentary like “fascinating Japanese sorcerer.” Commentary like this is ubiquitous with the tone directed towards Comme des Garcons by Le Monde fashion writers, but that was a benefit for Kawakubo. She would often have full columns to herself and her business when the fashion seasons were under review. The press that she received was both orientalizing and complimentary in addition to aware of her situation coming out of Japan. It is not as if the French people do not know about the dropping of the atomic bombs and that Japan had changed a lot since the second world war. Kawakubo purposefully made clothes and conducted her business in a way in which she was

5 Roland Jaccard, “L’axe Paris-Tokyo,” Le Monde, December 12, 1985, College of Wooster Archives. [Young Japanese women, says a filmmaker, grow up in the shadow of Disneyland, not the kimono... Rei Kawakubo who created Comme des Garcons launched the post-Hiroshima look with their sweaters and clothes reminiscent of these scoundrels.]


portrayed as the crazy Japanese sorcerer queen of fashion. Although there is obviously Japonisme in a title like that, it is not a bad title to hold.

The Japanese Revolution in Paris:

The Japanese revolution in Paris, particularly the Japanese avant-garde shift is attributed to Rei Kawakubo, Issey Miyake and Yohji Yamamoto. In Kawamura’s book The Japanese Revolution in Paris, she explains in Part One that Paris is not known as a fashion capital because of the individual genius that has come out of it. it is the culture economy that has been purposefully curated since King Louis XIV started making his court the “arbiter of Europe,” for all things to do with high taste.6 After his death, his minister of finance, Jean Baptiste Colbert, actuated an economic system named Colbertisme that continued to create guilds and protective legislation so that luxury brands’ products would be promoted and so that the silk industry across Europe was reliant on silk from Lyon.7 As Paris fashion came into the modern era, The Federation, La Federation de la Couture, du Pret-a-porter des couturiers et des createurs de Mode, founded in 1868 and changed its name to what it is now in 1973, was the most powerful fashion organization in the world. The way in which the organization held that power was on the basis that the “French fashion system is an organized system that produces and consumes the exclusive image and belief, and it provides the added value to clothing that constitutes fashion.”8

After Japan was opened in 1853, the west quickly became extremely interested in cultural products of Japanese origin. World fair exhibitions in the late 19th century added to the ideological spread of high taste being associated with traditional Japanese cultural items. By the

6 Kawamura, “The Japanese Revolution in Paris Fashion.” Pg. 21-24 7 Kawamura. Pg. 25-34
8 Kawamura. Pg. 38-39


time Kawakubo and other Japanese designers came to Paris, the introduction of Japanese fashion was not at all new, yet Kawamura states that “their cultural heritage was their forte.”9 This is because Paris was familiar with the cuts and fabrics of Japan like the kimono, but unlike what Kawamura elaborates on, Paris fashion was not keen on visual aesthetic ideologies of Zen Buddhism and Shinto. Because of this, Kawakubo was reeled into being a fashion insider quickly because of the quality of content that Comme des Garcons continued to produce. The clout of being the fashion capital of the world can only be held by the place where only the best designers have their houses. Kawakubo and others put the “Made in France” tag on their clothes because the system is codependent on the best designers being in Paris, letting Paris boast the title of being the center of culture. According to Kawamura, the way into the system is through insiders like critics and journalists that gatekeep the superiority of the system; if you cannot win them over, you lose.10

This is a process of cultural capitalism that Kawakubo exploited to rise to the top. The designs from Comme des Garcons used Zen kaons and philosophical questions in high fashion. In her early works of the 1980’s she explored the concepts surrounding “newness” in fashion; creating something that had never been made before. These concepts reflect “ma,” space, and “mu,” emptiness. With deconstructed outfits and shirts, all using monochrome colors of black and grey, she disrupts the western concept of high fashion, and furthermore material expression as a whole.11 What Kawakubo created more than any other designer at the time was a disruption,

9 Kawamura. Pg. 36-40
10 Kawamura. Pg. 141-142
11 “Exhibition Galleries,” The Metropolitan Museum of Art, accessed November 27, 2021,


the beginning of anti-fashion. A way in which the fashion wearer could have a conversation with their clothes and control their own material expression.

Kawakubo elaborates on her ideas on fashion design that “its purpose is to allow a person to be what they are.”12 Essentially, Kawakubo hated the idea of dressing up, the west’s obsession with the ultra-healthy and how women were held to a standard that is perfectly symmetrical to the point of normalizing plastic surgery.13 Kawakubo wanted to “explode the arguments surrounding the size of flesh.”14 Defying common sense and taking a completely alternative path to fashion is how she redefined the nature of an art object. Her persistence to use different fabrication tools, and innovative cuts of fabric set her apart from the rest of designers. Her dresses and coats often contain oversized destressed fabric with little to no additives such as buttons or zippers. Kawakubo is quoted as saying “perfect symmetry is ugly... I always wanted to destroy symmetry.”15

One of her most recognized expressions is the 1997 Spring/Summer collection titled Body Meets Dress, Dress meets body. Often colloquially named “lumps and bumps”, the ready to wear clothes were all made of gingham cotton and filled with foam pads. These large foam pads under the gingham fabric created an asymmetrical silhouette that uses the idea of a grotesquely pregnant woman to subvert dominant powers. Kawakubo did this to redefine the process of signification in the dominant ideologies of self and other. Classic Lacanian theory would suggest that there is a separation between self and other plagued with misrecognitions. In a collaboration with choreographer Merce Cunningham, the lumps and bumps pieces were worn

12 Kawamura, “The Japanese Revolution in Paris Fashion.” Pg. 137
13 Francesca Granata, “Chapter 2: Rei Kawakubo and the Gotesque,” in Experimental Fashion, n.d. 14 Granata.
15 Kawamura, “The Japanese Revolution in Paris Fashion.” Pg. 133


by dancers in the piece Scenario. In this performance in Brooklyn, 1997, the alteration of proportions and one’s relation to the body of the dancers created liberation and unease at the same time immediately after the dancers change back from black costumes into red ones, one of the dancers gives a puzzled and curious look at another dancer during a solo. At times observing, at times following her movements, his reactions seem to suggest a refamiliarization and remapping of his own body and the body of the other. It reaches its climax as the duo start dancing together and the male dancer lifts the female dancer into the air creating unexpected shapes, where a viewer cannot quite tell were one body ends and the other begins.”16

Kawakubo was an expert in using a subject-in-process to showcase the abject through her designs and her business. These ideas borrow from Julia Kristeva’s work on the abject in her book Powers of Horror, 1982. The abject happens when the self, “I,” is becoming the other at the expense of the self’s own death. During this process where the self becomes the other, the self is presented to itself amid sobs violence and vomit. The abject both accepts and rejects the subject. This is a system in process of viewing itself. Kawakubo presents the other as the self, forcing the audience to see themselves, and critics always shared opinions that showed rejection and disgust at the Japanese designer’s collections. “The abject does not lack morality, it is not about a lack of cleanliness.”17 The abjection of the self is the experience the self has when realizing that all its objects are based on the voids and spaces that lay the foundations of the internalized social order that created the subject.18 19 As gender roles and beauty are controlled by dominant societies, fashion is an area where this can be deconstructed and morphed.

16 Granata. Pg. 50-51
17 Julia Kristeva, Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection, trans. Leon Roudiez (Columbia University Press, 1982). 18 Carlon Robbins, “‘The Abjection of Self,’ Julia Kristeva,” accessed November 8, 2021,
19 Kristeva, Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection.


“ itself is complicit with Kristeva’s theorization of a subject in process.”20 Clothing is a major way of identifying and controlling expressions of gender. Because of Kawakubo’s cultural self-conscious, foreignness in Japan as well as in France, she was able to play on Kristeva’s ideologies on the grotesque. She was able to deconstruct cultural codes and explore the grotesque because of her recognition of the subject being based in illusion.21

The Remarkable Business of Comme des Garcons:

Kristeva states that the abject “Curbs the other’s suffering for its own profit” “Establishes narcissistic power while pretending to reveal the abyss,” and “an artist who practices his art as a business.”22 Sudjic’s book Rei Kawakubo and Comme des Garcons focuses on the innerworkings of Comme des Garcons and what makes it so phenomenal. Processes like the architectural design of the Comme des Garcons stores that allow for the “ritual that goes with the way the sales staff approach and serve the customers.”23 This points to a principle of Comme des Garcons; they make all their clothes that were on the runway available to the public to connect the buyer to the brand better.24 Sudjic acknowledges that Rei Kawakubo relied on key individuals to make the business, in addition to the fashion, be completely new and always evolving.

The textile expert behind Comme des Garcons is a man named Hiroshi Matsushita who runs the textile business Orimono Kenkyu Sha. With his direct hand in the fabrication process, he is the person responsible for creating all the textiles for Comme des Garcons up until his

20 Granata, “Chapter 2: Rei Kawakubo and the Gotesque.” Pg. 47
21 Granata. Pg. 53
22 Kristeva, Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection.
23 Deyan Sudjic, Rei Kawakubo and Comme Des Garcons (Rizzoli International Publishing, 1990). Pg. 13 24 Sudjic. Pg. 24


recent retirement in 2013. He is notably the one who crossed rayon with elastic textile for the 1984 and 1986 collections to create a fabric that creates moments of transitions; “half inside half outside.”25 “He has the capacity to recognize intuitively the qualities which will reflect Kawakubo’s mood for a collection and the detailed technical knowledge to bring fabrics which contain those qualities into being.”26 Matsushita is the intermediary between Kawakubo and more than 50 fabrics businesses that supply to Comme des Garcons.27 Kawakubo used many different people to complete the idea and image of Comme des Garcons. Everyone’s personal style and creativity comes into the making of the brand and its clothes. Kawakubo would go to individual patternmakers over others because she wanted to choose the right person for the task at hand; “if I wanted a more severe style or do it in a more elegant way.”28

Magazine 6 was the pinnacle of graphic output produced by Comme des Garcons, but the company continuously makes calendars, thank you cards, postcards, invitations to openings and fashion shows and more. Another important person in Kawakubo’s team is art director Tsuguya Inoue. Responsible for portraying the brand’s identity through its graphic output, he worked in corporate identity and advertisements before coming to Comme des Garcons. Like Kawakubo, he had no fashion industry experience before Comme des Garcons. As I discussed in Chapter Two, Magazine 6 was to portray the identity of Comme des Garcons solely through images, a difficult project that Inoue is responsible for.

Kawakubo wanted the public to not only see the exposed cuts and design in the clothes Comme des Garcons made; she wanted the public to understand the brand’s identity through all

25 Sudjic. Pg. 34 26 Sudjic. Pg. 28 27 Sudjic. Pg. 29 28 Sudjic. Pg. 34


forms possible in the industry. Through the architecture of the stores, the ads, the graphic designs, interior design and obviously the clothes, Kawakubo wanted to make the buyers of Comme des Garcons loyal to the brand. She individually interviewed every new staff member for Comme des Garcons. By the end of 1980’s there were 94 outlets outside of Japan and 222 in Japan. The brand’s export sales were larger than Yohji Yamamoto and Issey Miyake combined.29 She understood that there is a crucial difference between the western markets and the Japanese market that meant changing the names of the different collections. For the western market, different sections like Homme and Homme Plus, Noir evening wear, Tricot and Robe de Chambre are differentiated so that Comme des Garcons is seen differently by different ages. In Japan, as one gets married and matures, you do not want to be seen as much, and take on a less free lifestyle. In contrast, in the west, especially America, there is assumed to be a financial freedom and higher spending when you mature and get married. The differences in the Comme des Garcons clothes lines reflects the brand’s identity while acknowledging different stages of life and personal material expression. She knows that a businessman is not going to wear a ripped-up sweater, so lines such as Homme Deux, sold in Japan, is a subtle, slightly cheaper version of the Homme line that one could wear to the office.

In conclusion of this chapter, Kawakubo based Comme des Garcons in simple principles of creativity but used that in a subversive way that allows her to be founder and CEO while at the same time being a creative genius designer. She is practicing the abject in every aspect. She was important in creating an identity of Japan both for Japanese people, but also the west. To put her business with her avant-garde clothes, Kawakubo “echoes the practice of corporate identity

29 Sudjic. Pg. 56


consultants.”30 She utilized the remarkable reviews from fashion insiders to her advantage and employed key individuals to produce one of the most influential fashion brands in the world.

30 Sudjic. Pg. 58


Chapter Four:
Becoming the Abject in Japanese culture; The Gothic Lolita Fashion Scene and “Kawaii”

While Kawakubo became a household name in Japan by the mid 1970’s through magazines like An An, there were subcultural groups that were watching and listening. As I mentioned in Chapter Two, Kawakubo and Comme des Garcons was one of the first Designer Character brands in Harajuku. Designer Character Brands are defined by their clothes that create a character, rather than just a style, when wearing them. The characters and styles that these new brands created were tied into different temporal and contextual settings that allowed the wearer to create a performance that asserts oneself in an “appropriate setting.”1 Because of the concept of the shojo, and the heavy influence of kawaii consumer culture, the Designer Character brands that took stage by the late 1980’s recreated their own gender norms to their fancy and delight. This is the basis of the Lolita fashion subcultural scene and is exemplified by the Gothic Lolita scene in the late 1990’s.

To the naked eye, Lolita fashion is seemingly based on Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, published in 1955. A book in which the main character, Humbert, creates an insidious sexual obsession with young, nymphette, teenage girls, namely Delores Haze. Although the Lolita fashion scene cannot deny the fetishistic appeal, the people who wear the fashion effectively detach themselves from the sartorial production economy of hetero reproduction. They do not wear the clothes for the gaze and pleasure of men. This is because Designer Character brands and the Lolita culture based themselves in the ideologies of kawaii culture and shojo manga.

1 Masafumi Monden, Japanese Fashion Cultures (Bloomsbury Academic, 2015). Pg. 82-85 33

Understanding Kawaii and Shojo:
kawaii culture is essential in knowing anything about Japanese fashion

culture post 1970. Kawaii, translated directly, means cute, but that cuteness can take on attributes of the grotesque and carnival based on the brand that makes the clothes. The nature of kawaii is of delicate revolt.2 A revolt that allows women to dress cute in a non-sexual way. In this way, Japanese woman are allowed to retain an infantile cuteness without emphasizing mature female sexuality.3 As Monden explains, kawaii is an appreciation of youthfulness and can be applied to men and women, making the culture asexual and allowing women to re-invent their “authenticity” which created alternatives for multiple established “binaries of aggression, sexualization and modesty in which women tend to be represented.”4 Monden defines kawaii as “an aesthetic that celebrates sweet, adorable, simple, infantile, delicate and pretty visual, physical or behavioral qualities.”5 Kawaii ideology has been a long-placed aesthetic in Japanese culture, even dating back to the Heian period.6 Contemporary cuteness/kawaii was most visible in Japanese shojo comics/manga, an amalgamation of “intercultural exchange between Chinese ink- painting, European tableau with its central perspective, European caricature, and American superhero comics.”7 This quote by Jaqueline Berndt in Monden’s argument is paired with an analysis of the work of Jun’ichi Nakahara (1913-1983), a creative that Monden attributes Japanese appropriation of Euro-American cuteness to. This appropriation of cuteness in the Meiji era, prewar, was so that the Japanese government could educate girls to embody ryosai kenbo, or

2 Pg.78
3 Monden, Japanese Fashion Cultures. Pg. 78
4 Monden. Pg. 78
5 Monden. Pg. 79
6 Monden. Pg. 81
7 Jacqueline Berndt, as quoted in Masafumi Monden, Japanese Fashion Cultures (Bloomsbury Academic, 2015).Pg. 81


“good wife, wise mother.”8 This education was for the purpose of creating a hyper-feminine ideal known as shojo.

In the Meiji period, shojo indicated an age range of 12-17 and demonstrated three virtues: affection (aijo), chastity (junketsu) and aesthetics (biteki). Monden highlights the work of Masuko Honda in perceiving the shojo as “the period between girlhood and womanhood, which the girl’s imagination turns into a romantic space of liminality where the term girl can indulge in a momental reverie unconstrained from social trammels attached to womanhood.”9 As the shojo has been defined in literature, granting a degree of independence to this age category, the liminal space that Honda describes is where shojo, kawaii and postmodern thought collide, allowing young women to create what Osgerby describes as a “floating world”. In 1971, the Satori Company started making products like school bags, pencils, and lunch boxes that had characters like the famous Hello Kitty that were meant as “social communication goods.”10 This was a big step in marketing a shojo identity via nonverbal communication. In the postmodern era, particularly in the 1980’s and 1990’s when consumerism was at its height in Japan, the construction of the ideal woman imposed by westernized Japanese men, was flipped. This allowed young woman to express and explore their ‘girlish femininity’ via imported western consumer culture.

8 Monden. Pg. 83
9 Monden. Pg. 83
10 Ory Bartal, “From Cute to Rei Kawakubo: Fashion and Protest,” in Critical Design in Japan, 1st ed., Material Culture, Luxury, and the Avant-Garde (Manchester University Press, 2020), 86–123, Pg. 91


What and why is Lolita?
Fashion historians often debate over the origin of the Lolita style specifically, but it is

generally accepted that it is a mix of Victorian English style and French Rococo aristocratic fashion. This is then mixed with French Jumeau (French fashion dolls) to create a more infantile, doll like aspect to the way of dressing. In this sense, the two main characters that these Designer Character brands pull inspiration from are Marie Antoinette and Alice, from Lewis Carrol’s Through the Looking Glass, translated to Japanese in 1910, and the animated film, Alice in Wonderland, by Disney, released in Japan in 1952. 11 12 The reason why these are the two main figures that Lolita fashion takes inspiration from is not just the exaggerated fashion but the maiden mentality that both Alice and Marie Antoinette are known for. Monden dives deep into the romanticization of these characters and the time periods they operated in. Marquise de Pompadour, Jeanne Poisson (1721-1764) was the designer for Marie Antoinette, mistress of King Louis XV, and the taste maker for the French Rococo period.13 She used the popular robe a la francaise style and added the echelle of three ribbons that were placed vertically on the bodice of the cotton dress. Moreover, Marie Antoinette represents the material and aesthetic culture that made maidens so special and therefore powerful. Shojo manga and Marie Antoinette are linked by the long-lasting popularity of The Rose of Versailles, written by Riyoko Ikeda in 1972.14 This shojo manga series about two women: Marie Antoinette and Oscar Francoise de Jarjayes, and is the first shojo manga to reach mainstream commercial success. Although past the peak of Lolita fashion the film Kamikaze Girls, 2004, the main character dresses in Lolita style and she speaks

11 Masafumi Monden, “The ‘Nationality’ of Lolita Fashion,” Asia Through Art And Anthropology : Cultural Translation Across Borders, accessed September 21, 2021, Pg. 165
12 Monden, Japanese Fashion Cultures. Pg. 86-93

13 Monden. Pg. 111
14 Monden, “The ‘Nationality’ of Lolita Fashion.” Pg. 169


about how girls like her want to escape and revel in a world that is not fit for them as sophisticated women.15 Rather, wearing the clothes that she does, she appropriates rococo era female passivity and feminine beauty. As Valerie Steele points out, this concept is explored further with the inclusion of French Jumeau doll fashion to create a more infantile, girlish, version of the robe a la francaise.16

In a similar light, Alice is a perfect image of a young girl exploring herself in a liminal space, or a floating world as I refer to it in this essay. Literally titled Alice in Wonderland, it is easy to draw comparisons to shojo ideology. “If we consider the typical concept of shojo as sweet and innocent on the outside, and considerably autonomous on the inside, the imagery of Alice displays similar characteristics.”17 “The popularity of Alice among Japanese culture, especially as an icon of the idealized shojo, is undoubtedly due to the heroine’s intricate combination of aloofness, autonomy, and girlish appearance.”18 I cannot emphasize enough the importance of Alice as independent, yet she expresses neither passive nor assertive qualities of said autonomy, this reflects the loneliness felt while in this floating world.19 Furthermore, the clothes that Alice wears are girlish, and do not inhibit her actions.

Monden concurs that “assuming these dresses merely endorsed female oppression is rather simplistic as clothes, whether men’s or women’s, may never have been completely functional or ‘natural.”20 Modern sensibilities made the dresses that the Designer Character brands fabricated stylistically closer to a classic post-World War Two American prom dress.21 A

15 Monden. Pg. 166-168
16 Valerie Steele, Japanese Fashion Now (Yale University Press, 2010). 17 Monden, Japanese Fashion Cultures. Pg. 87
18 Monden. Pg. 87
19 Monden. Pg. 88
20 Monden, “The ‘Nationality’ of Lolita Fashion.” Pg. 167
21 Monden. Pg. 170


type of dress that is much easier to wear than one of the Anciene Regime. Monden describes that this shift allowed the designers to match the aesthetics of a Victorian era “little girl” dress, with Americanized fashions that were flowing into Japan in the 1950’s and 60’s, and a modern hooped petticoat.22 These all contributed to the underlying aesthetic of the opulent maiden. The way that young Japanese women would dress in the 1980’s would be an odd mix of practical clothes and designer items, that showed off these gendered ideologies. This fashion scene does not have a message; they are not a counterculture.23 Yet, because of their life ideologies and material expression they unveil a “silent rebellion.”24

Magazines Displaying Kawaii and Lolita:
For the young creatives in Japan in the 1980’s there were two magazines that directly

influenced the styling and fashion culture, CUTiE and Olive. Olive magazine embodied the French schoolgirl aesthetic. The “Olive Girl” watched French films, had picnics with her friends and idealized pre-World War Two boarding school interests and past times. Covers of the magazine would have phrases like “Olive Girls try to look like the Lyceenne.”25 Olive magazine was the first to characterize kawaii style and aesthetic. The Olive Girl was portrayed wearing clothes lines from popular brands Pink House, 1973, and Milk, 1970. Milk and the brands that signed to Pink House were the first conceptions of the Lolita style with elements of frills, chiffon, lace, and ribbons that reflected a shojo, girlish, innocent image.26 The slogan for the

22 Monden. Pg. 170
23 Kawamura, Fashioning Japanese Subcultures. Pg. 68
24 Kawamura. Pg. 68
25 “The Magazine ‘Olive’ Made Japanese Girls Aware of The Rare Value of Girlhood and Maidenhood : The ‘Kawaii 2.0’ Theory Vol.6,” Japanese kawaii idol music culture news | Tokyo Girls Update, accessed February 14, 2022,
26 Kawamura, Fashioning Japanese Subcultures. Pg. 67


magazine was “Magazine for City Girls,” a spin on the men’s fashion magazine Popeye, which specialized in an Ivy style. In 1983, the slogan was changed to “Magazine for Romantic Girls.”27 In this change, the French Schoolgirl (lyceenne) was what girls were supposed to idealize. Both ‘girlish’ and ‘boyish’ styles were promoted that reflected French and English street styles. The magazine focused on romanticizing girlhood and maidenhood, spoke subjectively about what it meant to be a girl and the values that being a ‘girl’ were. The readers wanted to be the hero in their own fairy tale-schoolgirl-kawaii fantasy. In this way, the popularity of this magazine furthered the culture of kawaii by associating these traits, temporal attitudes, aesthetics, emotions, and style to kawaii fashion. As important as Olive magazine was to the Lolita movement and kawaii culture, it was not until CUTiE magazine used kawaii to describe Japanese fashion, rather than just conceptually.

CUTiE magazine was an explosion of content for the purpose of documenting youth culture and defining kawaii style. CUTiE was a mix of street style photography, fashion and beauty advertisements, music, discussion topics and most importantly, implemented shojo manga in the middle of the magazine. The manga drawn for the magazine had high school girls involved in new wave, punk, and club subcultures.28 The fashion in the magazine was for independent women. Furthermore, Godoy points out the tipping point for the success of CUTiE was the stylist, Sonya Park. Sonya Park saw Comme des Garcons in An An Magazine when she was 13 and saw how much it changed the culture surrounding fashion and clothes. She wanted to document youth fashion culture and in 1987 landed a stylist job for CUTiE.29 With her prowess, CUTiE continued to define kawaii style into the post-modern era. With the inclusion of shojo

27 “The Magazine ‘Olive’ Made Japanese Girls Aware of The Rare Value of Girlhood and Maidenhood.” 28 Jane Mai and An Nguygen, So Pretty, Very Rotten (Koyoma Press, 2017).
29 Godoy, Style Deficit Disorder: Harajuku Street Fashion - Tokyo. Pg. 130


manga in the publication, it embellished upon maidenhood and girlish style that is not meant for the consumption or gaze of men. It further separated the shojo from its original intentions, more than Olive Magazine. Moving away from the karasu zoku (crow tribe/subculture) and an-non zoku (tribe/subculture based on An-An and Non-no magazines), that CUTiE helped solidify the role of fashion as religion in Japan. The identity and fashion of CUTiE was so prevalent and sought after, the magazine circulated 600,000 magazines per issue at its peak between 1995 and 1999.30

Japanese spending on clothing in 1988 was 376.6 billion yen, by 1990, that rose to 826.5 billion yen.31 Although there are other influences, CUTiE essentially created kawaii fashion culture as we know it today. This presence was internationally recognized when Shoichi Aoki photographed Harajuku Street style in FRUiTS magazine, 1997. With FRUiTS magazine, Japanese street style became an international sensation that accurately documented grass roots Harajuku fashion. By the mid 1990’s, Lolita fashion culture started to dominate Japanese fashion, notably Gothic Lolita. However subversive and individually creative the fashion was in FRUiTS magazine, or how perfectly girly CUTiE magazine was, they still did not reach a full-on rejection of gender norms, separation from the hetero-reproductive system or character creation that would allow for one to do so. Although the popularity of these magazines was at the same time as the Lolita and Designer Character brand movement, the mid to late 1990’s is when forms of Lolita, specifically Gothic Lolita, exuded the ideologies of Rei Kawakubo and Comme des Garcons, one of the original Designer Character brands, along with the complete subversion of the shojo.

30 Bartal, “From Cute to Rei Kawakubo.” Pg. 92 31 Bartal. Pg. 89


Taking on Jouissance as Gothic Lolita:
In the Edo period (1603-1867) the term
iki was used to describe stylish cool things. In

Osaka, rather than Tokyo, the kimonos that were considered stylish used outlandish color palates and patterns to portray individuality.32 This differed from the Tokyo style which was more sophisticated with a muted color palate. As Japan westernized culturally, western attire became more common, but the regional styles of Osaka continued with outlandish fashions even when westernized to the same extent as the rest of Japan. This an important cultural difference that Godoy uses to explain the complex music and fashion scene of Visual-kei. Visual-kei, or visual shock style as it was first officially used in SHOXX magazine in 1992, was an amalgamation of punk, gothic, glam and metal styles that used androgenous stage costumes and heavy make-up.33 The most influential group of this movement was Malice Mizer. The lead singer of Malice Mizer was Mana-sama, a renowned idol for the lolita community.34 It is understood by historians like Monden and Kawamura that he is the unofficial originator of the gothic-lolita scene. This is because his style on stage, and off stage, used gothic and lolita influences such as designers Kazuko Ogawa, Jane Marple and Alice Auaa. Godoy named the group of designers in this area “Kansai Creatives.”35 Mana mostly wore designs by Kazuko Ogawa and later founded his own brand Moi-Meme-Moitie in 1999. Evidently, everyone at Malice Mizer shows would wear the same style as him and carry that same energy and fashion found on the streets of Osaka. By 1995, Malice Mizer was known all over Japan and was frequently in magazines and television

32 Godoy, Style Deficit Disorder: Harajuku Street Fashion - Tokyo. Pg. 134 33 “Visual Kei,” Visual Kei Encyclopaedia, accessed February 24, 2022,
34 Kawamura, Fashioning Japanese Subcultures. Pg. 74

35 Godoy, Style Deficit Disorder: Harajuku Street Fashion - Tokyo. Pg. 135 41

programs. Gothic lolita landed in Harajuku, Tokyo through similar visual-kei performances that happened near Harajuku station. In 1998, KERA magazine was the first to explore and document this goth-loli street fashion that had found a home in the creative neighborhood of Harajuku.36 At the end of the 1990’s, brands of prominence such as h.NAOTO, Moi-meme-Moitie, alice auaa, Black Peace Now, Baby The Stars Shine Bright, Angelic Pretty, Beauty:Beast, Innocent World, Metamorphose themps de fille, Victorian Maiden and others were featured in a special issue of KERA known as Gothic and Lolita Bible (2001).

The features of Gothic and Lolita Bible would include regular photographs of Mana, articles on gothic and lolita style history, hair styles, make up tips and clothes from gothic and lolita brands. The brands mentioned above all take inspiration from early Designer Character brands and especially Comme des Garcons. To describe how gothic lolita blends kawaii, lolita and other scenes, lolita historian Novala Takemoto used the analogy, “were someone to try to make the beautiful Mona Lisa even more beautiful by adding a crown to her head, but by doing so, actually somehow make her less beautiful and by doing so, get in trouble with the Louvre Museum for graffiti... this is the kawaii of lolita.”37 The reason why gothic lolita succeeds exceptionally at a soft revolt, completely changing gender roles and achieving jouissance through fashion is just that, a spray-painted crown on the image of the sartorial shojo.

Kristeva’s concept of jouissance is that one an enjoyment out of life through an alter ego so that they leave the concept of just being the ‘other sex’ or simply the ‘other’ in Japanese society. What Takemoto is saying through the quote above is that by taking the image of the beautiful Mona Lisa, who represents women as the other sex, then making it ‘cooler’ and ‘more

36 Godoy. Pg. 136
37 Novala Tokemoto, quoted in, Mai and Nguygen, So Pretty, Very Rotten. Pg. 128


beautiful’ via graffiti, it makes the Mona Lisa worthless, and not worth looking at. This applies directly to lolita because while they wear their clothes in such a way that it is an act of female passivity, girlishness, and feminine beauty. By association of the aesthetic characters of Marie Antoinette and Alice, as well as consumer kawaii and shojo culture, character traits such as passivity and maidenhood became desirable for young women. Because the feminine beauty they display is through an alter ego of the shojo they go far past the image of the other. What they end up with is a pacified and forfeited existence that takes pleasure and fancy in the complete forfeiting of what it meant to be a shojo in Japan, thus achieving jouissance. The difference between earlier lolita and goth-loli in the 1990’s is that goth-loli enjoys the abject, rather than just desiring it. At the beginning of lolita, they were harassed in public and seen as bizarre to say the least. At that point in the 1980’s within the transition wherein Designer Character brands took on a lolita style, they remapped the relation between self and other, their ego and their clothes. Once gothic-lolita came to popularity in the late 1990’s, they were no longer a subject- in-process that Kristeva talks about, and Grenada relates to Rei Kawakubo and Comme des Garcons. The gothic-lolita scene uses the alter ego of lolita that let them view themselves and therefore escape subjective homogeneity. This is how the ‘soft revolt’ of gothic-lolita works so well in resisting assumed gender roles.

Pieces that are integral to the gothic lolita style include the Vivienne Westwood Rocking Horse Ballerina shoes and the pompadour Bustle Jumper Skirt by Innocent World. These two items were in high demand and referenced by every Japanese subcultural historian and sociologist that I have come across. In So Pretty, Very Rotten, Mai and Nguyen go into detail about what different types of lolitas would wear in their respective eras, e.g. Gothic lolita, Pink-


House style, CUTiE-era lolita.38 They mention the outfit that is typical of lolita in general is a “bell shaped, A-line skirt, supported by a petticoat or pannier, and worn with bloomers. A blouse under a jumper skirt with over knee socks or tights, rounded toe shoes, and a hairbow, beret or headdress.”39

Combining all elements of avant garde fashion from Comme des Garcons, kawaii consumer culture, the Harajuku Street culture, and the gendered politics of shojo, the gothic lolita fashion scene achieved jouissance through fashion. The original Designer Character brands in Harajuku that created the groundwork for identities to be based in a mass consumer kawaii movement. The designers and creatives asked themselves how we can prosper in our own world, away from “good wife, wise mother.” Growing up with a patriarchally placed ideology of the shojo, the brands saw what Rei Kawakubo was experimenting with in Paris and wanted to use the lolita and build upon her concepts of fashion. Using the characters of Alice and Marie Antoinette added up to equal a trans-temporal and trans-contextual space for the wearer of the clothes. These brands gained massive success domestically in Japan by the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. With the popularity of visual-kei artists from Osaka, like Mana, the gothic and lolita fashion scene broke away fully from Japan’s homogeneous culture. Gothic Lolita is not a subculture. Gothic Lolita takes pleasure in the abjections that create it, therefore removing it from self and other. The self represents a mainstream Japanese culture, and the other being a fashion subculture. As a scene is defined as a group that ignores gender, race, religion, and economic status, and utilizes a free-floating world to subscribe to ideologies surrounding status and lifestyle, gothic lolita is a fashion scene, not a subculture.

38 Mai and Nguygen. Pg. 18-29 39 Mai and Nguygen. Pg. 17



Cultural exchange between Japan and the west has been happening since the forced opening of Japan’s borders in 1853. Before the Second World War started, Meiji era Japan created new concepts of civilization, society and state, and western ways of dressing became commonplace all over Japan. After losing the war, America quickly signed the San Francisco Peace Treaty, letting them effectively occupy Japan. For Japan, this meant that their economy quickly turned around and created an “economic miracle,” which allowed Japan to create a mass consumer culture. The politically left of Japan protested the actions of the National Diet for years, not wanting America to occupy Japan, then later joined the 1968 University protests. Their efforts failed, and the homogenous, patriarchal system that had been in place in Japan stayed. Due to this devastating loss, intellectuals and creatives started thinking of new ways to think of themselves as Japanese. The generation that came out of this stage in Japanese history are known as the ANPO generation, and with postmodern authors like Takaaki Yoshimoto, a new Japanese identity was created. It was based philosophically and spiritually based in self-reflection, Buddhism, and Shinto. The ANPO generation also had an embedded knowledge surrounding consumerism because of the economic miracle. Rei Kawakubo grew up in Tokyo during this period and it heavily influenced her work and why she was singlehandedly so influential in creating a fashion culture in Japan. Everyone in Harajuku, Tokyo took inspiration from her, not only her creativity but her business practices with Comme des Garcons as well.

Moving to Paris was a huge investment for Comme des Garcons. They were domestically well known and had countless core followers of the brand and its values but moving to the fashion capitol of the world when only a select few Japanese designers had gained any notoriety


in Paris’s complex fashion beurocracy was a risk. In 1981, Comme des Garcons presented their first collection in Paris with completely grotesque tears, asymmetrical cuts, naturally dyed fabrics, and shocked Paris fashion elites. Through the 1980’s and 90’s French creatives were enthused to have the genius of Kawakubo in their city and Comme des garcons kept pushing boundaries with fashion that reflected a subject-in-process; something completely new. Authors such as English and Bolton speculate upon the popularity and nationality of Comme des Garcons and Kawakubo’s work. Rei Kawakubo became the influential international fashion house, not simply because her designs were so orientalized for the public of the west, but also because her ideals were so strong and whimsical that they caused a massive uproar in the fashion scene, and everyone ate it up. What these authors miss is the purposeful connections, business practices, and knowledge of consumerism, and cultural capitalism that Rei Kawakubo curated very carefully. She knew she would be orientalized from the start; that was no surprise. The authors do correctly point out that even though Kawakubo does not think of her work as Japanese, there are objectively inherit uses of wabi sabi, mu, ma, and I add, mono no aware. Up until 1988, all the clothes that Comme des Garcons produced tended to be in monochromatic themes, matching with ideologies of mu, ma, wabi sabi and mono no aware. By doing so, women no longer had to base their fashion on the bipolar fashion system of concealing and displaying. In western fashion, one conceals the self because there is too much separation between the self and the object, the clothes. Furthermore, displaying the female body for objectification of the male gaze is central to western design. Kawakubo was genius in that she played with cultural capitalism so that her pieces, collections, and Comme des Garcons, could represent anti-fashion and the abjection of the self. Her purpose was to create something completely new. As described in both chapter two and three, there are several points of attack that Kawakubo used to subvert the western fashion


system, namely using her clothes to create a subject-in-process. The way she used Julia Kristeva’s concept of the abject in fashion was by exposing and closing the gap between the body/self to its objects/clothes.

While Comme des Garcons established itself as an international fashion house in Paris, their influence as a Japanese based company, and one of the first Designer Character brands, had massive implications to the Japanese people and their material expression of identity. Through the 1970’s Rei Kawakubo was a well-known domestic designer and sold her clothes to different department stores like Mademoiselle Non-No and would be featured in Japanese fashion magazines like An-An/Japanese Elle. Through new Designer Character brands in the late 1980’s, brands that would be shown in the designed ideologies of Olive magazine and later CUTiE magazine combined kawaii consumer culture and a reinvented self-reflexive version of the shojo. Early lolita aesthetics presented by these brands and fashion magazines utilized the free floating, liminal zone of the shojo in Japanese gender history to take Rei Kawakubo’s practice to a different degree in and for Japan. Once Gothic Lolita became a fashion scene by 1997, exemplified by Gothic and Lolita Magazine, the shojo was completely flipped. After developing trans temporal and trans textual references such as Alice, and Marie Antoinette, the gothic lolita fashion scene achieved Julia Kristeva’s concept of jouissance. Daintily laughing at “good wife, wise mother,” they take the pleasure in their own abjections. Authors such as Monden and Godoy certainly link the lolita scene to the ideologies of shojo and Comme des Garcons but miss that this created jouissance through fashion because of all the contextual elements that are analyzed. With the ultimate expression of Rei Kawakubo’s fashion ideologies, through pure joy of fashion, letting the consumer become the creative, gothic lolita was novel in crafting its own jouissance.


Annotated Bibliography

Primary Sources: 47032785 Gothic Lolita Bible Vol 1. Accessed October 4, 2021. ol1.

Gothic Lolita Bible volume one is an essential to my research in Gothic Lolita and Lolita fashion cultures. The Designer Character Brands that participated in the fashion scene and the subversive designs that went with them. The cuteness, Japaneseness, westerness is also something that I will be analyzing. The attitude and emotion of the models is also important to describe and prove the ideology of hyper femininity and female passivity. The Carnival and the Grotesque is important as well. This as well as other volumes of this magazine are important to my IS.

“1968–1969 Japanese University Protests.” In Wikipedia, October 23, 2021. tests&oldid=1051491889.

This photo from Wikipedia is of the 1968 univeristy protests. I chose this one because it shows the mass of people that participated in this protest in just one place alone, the National Diet. Protests happened all around Japan during the spring and summer of that year. This event led this generation to be the ANPO Generation, and lead to a national identity crisis after their protests completely failed. This is an important historical contingency for the creativity in Japan that I needed a photo of.

“Archivings.” Accessed October 31, 2021. are fashion scans by Shahan Assadourian. Many images from the Comme des Garcons archive of this website have helped me show the abject ideology of Rei Kawakubo and Comme des Garcons. I have found many images from multiple collections that uniquely showcase the abject and subject-in-process described by Kristeva. This is one of my largest primary sources and is an archive of photos.

Archive.pdf. “Comme Des Garcons: Six Number 5, 1990 | Archive Fashion Scan.” Accessed September 28, 2021.

Archive.pdf is a fashion archiving website that has fashion essays, magazine archives and blog posts about fashion. I have found a couple secondary sources form this site and Magazine 6 scans that they have are perfect for my research on Rei Kawakubo’s ideologies. Magazine Six was a publication made by Comme des Garcons as a sort of mood board to accompany the collections that would be made for that year. The photos in there range from graphic design to vintage photos but are all curated by Rei Kawakubo. The writer of the blogs that come before the magazine scans is Casino Riv.


Bowles, Hamish, and Anna (1988-) Wintour. “Fashion: Fashion’s Visionary.” Vogue. New York: United States: Condé Nast, 1993.

An article written by Hamish Bowles and Anna Wintour about the continuing success of Rei Kawakubo and Comme des Garcons. This is from the Vogue Archives which has been a massive help with my primary source analysis. In my analysis of how Paris, and the west has reacted to Rei Kawakubo’s practices and designs this has helped me find a such a reaction.

College of Wooster Archives. Le Monde.
Nathalie Mont-Servan, “L’onde Japonaise,”
Le Monde, March 1983,
Nathalie Mont-Servan, “Une Femme En Hiver,”
Le Monde, March 31, 1984,
Colette Godard, “La Mode Printempts-Ete 1986: Pour La Fraicheur Estivale,”
Le Monde,

October 19, 1986,
Roland Jaccard, “L’axe Paris-Tokyo,”
Le Monde, December 12, 1985

CUTiE July 1997, 1997.

Cutie magazine 1997 is perfect for exploring the kawaii nature of Japanese fashion as it was the first magazine to use the word to describe a specific Japanese style. This magazine at this point is all styled by Sonya Park, who is an influence in 1990’s Japanese fashion history and led CUTiE magazine to be one of the highest selling magazines in Japan. I have used ads and other images to analyze in my Scalar digital exhibit.

CUTiE Nov. 1999, 1999.

This CUTiE Magazine is from 1999, which is at the end of my designated time period for my analysis. This shows the lengths that Lolita fashion has achieved in terms of using Kawakubo’s ideologies to subvert Japanese monoculture ideologies on clothes and gendered dress. This magazine is also a major contributor to Lolita fashion and by this point, 1999, the style is starting to spread worldwide and become wildly popular.

fruitsaregoodforyou. “FRUiTS: Archive.” Tumblr. <p>true japanese street style</p> <p>sharing archived issues of FRUiTS magazine</p> <p><a href="!/fruitsrgood4u">twitter</a></p> <a href=""><img src=" _4/maxflags_248/viewers_0/labels_0/pageviews_0/" alt="free counters" border="0"></a><br><a href="">Free counters</a>. Accessed December 1, 2021.

This is an archive of scanned images from several Fruits magazines. I have chosen several already for analysis. FRUiTS Magazine is important in showing the extent of Harajuku street fashion goes to become a cultural fashion scene. All the photos are taken by Shoichi Aoki in Japan and most of them on the streets of Harajuku Tokyo. This magazine alone influenced a boom in Japanese street fashion recognition worldwide.


jmagazine scans archives. “Jmagazine Scans Archives: Gothic & Lolita Bible.” Accessed December 9, 2020.

Gothic and Lolita Bible is a mainstay for my research because of its importance to the Lolita fashion subculture. First made in 2001by Mariko Suzuki, this magazine was published quarterly and featured the styles and dress of Lolita subculture. The magazine is a popular spinoff of parent magazine Kera and features articles about how to act, what trends to follow, events related to the subculture and even interviews. The photo provided is of the first edition and features an animated drawing of a Lolita with an eloquent maid dress on and a red background. These scans are copyrighted by the Magenta Sugar Network

Klensch, Elsa, and Grace (1971-1988) Mirabella. “Fashion: Another World of Style: Rei Kawakubo.” Vogue. New York: United States: Condé Nast, 1987.

The front page of this article in Vogue, written by Klensch and Elsa, is titled “another world of Style:Rei Kawakubo” which directly speaks to the Japonisme and orientalizing that happens due to the incredible designs that Kawakubo made. I needed to find sources that show how the west reacted to and orientalized Kawakubo and at the same time bolstered her as a once-in-a-lifetime designer. In my analysis of how Paris, and the west has reacted to Rei Kawakubo’s practices and designs, this has helped me find a such a reaction.

Mirabella, Grace (1971-1988). “Vogue’s View: Japan Update.” Vogue. New York: United States: Condé Nast, 1983.

In this viewpoint edited by Mary Russell, in Vogue magazine 1983, after the first few successes of Japanese designers in Paris, this article updates the world on what is happening in Japanese fashion. I needed to find sources that show how the west reacted to and orientalized Kawakubo and at the same time bolstered her as a once-in-a-lifetime designer. In my analysis of how Paris, and the west has reacted to Rei Kawakubo’s practices and designs, this has helped me find a such a reaction. This is also a great early source, being as it is after her fall winter 1983 collection.

“Olive Magazine, 1980s - Japan Post - Imgur.” Accessed December 9, 2020.

The picture That I used for my primary source analysis is of Olive Magazine. This is a magazine that will help me further the analysis of Mori and Lolita subcultures in Japan. This magazine showcases styles and products that can be bought by consumers of these two subcultures. Olive magazine is one of the most important magazines that contribute to Lolita and Mori subcultures.

“Rare Video Footage of Comme Des Garçons’s Fall 1983 Show | Vogue.” Accessed November 24, 2021.

This is a video of Comme des Garcons Fall/Winter 1983 fashion show in Paris. This specific collection by Comme des Garcons is integral to how Kawakubo is initially perceived by Paris fashion editors being that it was her second most influential collection that came out after 1981. I needed to find sources that show how the west reacted to and orientalized Kawakubo and at the


same time bolstered her as a once-in-a-lifetime designer. In my analysis of how Paris, and the west has reacted to Rei Kawakubo’s practices and designs, this has helped me find a such a reaction. This is a wonderful video and is perfect to put in Scalar.

Rowlands, Penelope, and Anna (1988-) Wintour. “Vogue’s View: Europe’s Second Story: Comme Des Garcons Comme Des Garcons by Rei Kawakubo.” Vogue. New York, United States: Condé Nast, April 1, 1994.

This source has a direct quote from Kawakubo, how she is making a second section of Comme des Garcons that is more affordable and then has a picture of a tote bag and a rayon dress. These pieces and how they should be styled at that price point and what is taken away from the design is also included. Rowlands is a cultural fashion writer for WSJ, the New Yorker and Vogue as well as the editor of Marie Claire.

Russell, Mary, and Grace (1971-1988) Mirabella. “Fashion: Japan.” Vogue. New York: United States: Condé Nast, 1982.

The title of this article is Japan: A Long way from the Kimono. The discussion of how much Japaneseness is in Kawakubo’s designs is important in understanding how cultural capitalism has worked in the favor of Kawakubo. I needed to find sources that show how the west reacted to and orientalized Kawakubo and at the same time bolstered her as a once-in-a-lifetime designer. In my analysis of how Paris, and the west has reacted to Rei Kawakubo’s practices and designs, this has helped me find a such a reaction. Russell and Mirabella are both writers for Vogue.

Scianna, Ferdinando. “FRANCE, Paris, Rei Kawakubo, Comme des Garcons.” Accessed November 24, 2021.

This image taken of Rei Kawakubo by Ferdinando Scianna is possibly the best portrait of the designer I have found. I have used this in several different parts of my Scalar project.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. “Exhibition Galleries.” Accessed November 27, 2021.

Another large primary source of mine, the MET digital archive of Comme des Garcons is a collection of haut couture, and rady ot wear pieces from the 1980’s through the early 2000’s and is from the 2017 exhibit Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garcons: Art of the In-Between, curated by Andrew Bolton, head curator at the MET. This source has helped greatly with finding photos of the clothes themselves rather than on a model or on runway. Some of the photos that I would have liked to use in this archive were done unprofessionally and with terrible lighting that take away too much of the visual aspects of the pieces.

Volandes, Stellene, and Anna (1988-) Wintour. “Fashion: Vogue’s View: Puff Pieces: Rei Kawakubo’s Designs For The Merce Cunningham Dance Company May Find A New Generation Doing The Bump.” Vogue. New York, United States: Condé Nast, October 1, 1997.


This Vogue article is about the 1997 collection Lumps and Bumps in Merce Cunningham’s dance company. This dance is one that several secondary sources have focused on because of its use of the fashion to show off its true nature. The lumps and bumps of the designers combined the dress and the person into one and made many of the dancers question their sense of self. This is an important event in Comme des Garcons history. Volandes was a writer for Vogue and is now the Editor of Town and Country.

Secondary Sources:
“ABC of CdG - 032c.” Accessed September 21, 2021.

This short article highlights certain specific dates that pertain to the popularity of Comme des Garcons. It has excellent images and dates that have helped me look up specific years in Comme des Garcons history. Between design, fashion, and magazines, it talked about why these events were so controversial or important.

Aesthetics Wiki. “Kawaii.” Accessed November 30, 2021.

This wiki page about Aesthetics of Kawaii in Japan is an in-depth page, cited, and has several other pages with defining cuteness, kawaii culture, “Olive” girls, consumer society and girlishness. This has important descriptions of terms and historical facts as well as photographic evidence from magazines. The page is written by Kai Nagase, who has a master’s in Japanese literature. This has helped me find magazines, brands, dates, and ideologies that I had not heard of before. Understanding Kawaii is extremely important to understanding Japanese consumerism, Lolita fashion and Japanese fashion in general.

Bartal, Ory. In Critical Design in Japan, 1st ed. Material Culture, Luxury, and the Avant-Garde. Manchester University Press, 2020.

This book is about the post-World War Two creative and economic miracles of Japan. It explains how the subversive tendencies of the modern Japanese culture is caused by the political unrest in the 1960’s, and then many young leftist artists actively changed the visual expression of their country to being postmodern in nature. Dr. Bartal is a Japanologist who focuses on contemporary Japanese visual culture. This book emphasized the correlation to the creatives in Japan and how they have massively had a permanent impact on the visual expression of Japan. Not only fashion, which is what chapter three talks about, but other forms of art and design that act as visual essays on postmodern thought.

Bernt, Joseph P., Katherine A. Bradshaw, James C. Foust, Catherine A. Luther, Carolynn McMahan, Tiffany J. Shoop, and Dr. Martha M. Lauzen. “Media Report to Women: Media Report to Women” 37, no. 3 (01 2009).

This academic journal about women and media has an article on Gender Images in Japanese Fashion advertisements. This article talks about the impact Japanese advertisements have had on


ordinary gender relations in Japan. How the strong message of turning away from “good wife wise mother” has been greatly in part to Japanese fashion ads. This explores the history of post- World War Two gender relations as it correlates to the Japanese economy. This research has helped me inform my argument for stating that Rei Kawakubo transferred her ideologies back to japan through advertisements as well as making clothes for women. And that the Japanese ads they are talking about are in Vivi and Can Cam which I am not studying but certainly fit into the category of early Japanese Lolita and Kawaii based fashion magazines that I am looking at. Their research method is also an influence on my image analysis I will be doing in Scalar.

Bolton, Andrew. Rei Kawakubo and the Art of the In Between. Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2017.

This is the book of the 2017 Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition, Rei Kawakubo; The Art of the In-between. This exhibit featured parts of all her collections with names of them for the first time ever. Bolton is the head curator of the MET Museum and talks about all of Kawakubo’s philosophical and biographical building blocks and influences of her career with Comme des Garcons. This has been an amazingly in-depth source for both visual and written Content. This has been the best source that focuses on Rei Kawakubo and her life influences rather than other economic or business influences.

Carriger, Michelle Liu. “‘Maiden’s Armor’: Global Gothic Lolita Fashion Communities and Technologies of Girly Counteridentity.” Theatre Survey 60, no. 1 (January 2019): 122–46.

This article is about how the subversive dress that is described as Gothic Lolita is a cultural phenomenon. This is an argument for the breaking of gender boundaries that Lolita fashion performs and how that was historically created from different brand and music perspectives. How Carriger explains gender expression with Lolita fashion is why this source has been important to me. Carriger is an assistant professor in the Theater department at UCLA. This article leaves out larger international designers in the development of Lolita and Harajuku street fashion. Despite this, the theatrical analysis of gender in fashion magazines and street fashion is very relevant to my research and questioning the relationship to the westerness of Japanese fashion.

Catwalk Yourself. “Comme Des Garçons Biography.” Accessed December 2, 2021.

This is also a small blog post with simple dates of different collections and points of importance in the timeline of Comme des Garcons and Rei Kawakubo. This is a blog post by a woman named Saxony Dudbridge. Although this is not a scholarly source, this helped with me finding what dates people consider important to the development of Comme des Garcons.

English, Bonnie. Japanese Fashion Designers: The Work and Influence of Issey Miyake, Yohji Yamamotom, and Rei Kawakubo. London, UNITED KINGDOM: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, 2011.


English’s book is one of my most important secondary sources when researching the life, work, career, ideology and philosophy of Rei Kawakubo. The book features other top Japanese designers, but I did not read them for this project. Similar to Kawamura’s books on Japanese designers; this is an all-encompassing book. Bonnie English is one of the most vetted fashion historians right next to Valerie Steele. This fashion history takes a large world view for the impact of the designers and English gets a bit hyperbolic in her tone which makes it hard sometimes to tell if what she wrote is an opinion that I wanted to argue against or not. This book made me question the Japaneseness and Westerness of Japanese designers, as well as made me find more research on cultural capitalism in Japanese fashion.

Favell, Adrian. Before and After Superflat, A Short History of Japanese Contemporary Art 1990- 2011. Blue Kingfisher Limited, 2011.

Favell relates the dropping of the atomic bombs effect on Japanese culture ‘superflat.’ In this book he explains the complex politics of post-World War Two Japan and how this developed through art. This aesthetic gained popularity in the 1990’s as Japan’s bubble economy collapsed and as Japanese went through social and ecological challenges. He focuses on artists Murikami and Nara who champion the ‘superflat’ aesthetic. This connection of art, politics and economics is key in discussing lolita, shojo, and androgenous identities in Japan. Although I did not reference the book much, the impact is clear and it is important in understanding Japanese gender politics.

Galliano, Luciana, and Martin Mayes. Yogaku: Japanese Music in the 20th Century. Blue Ridge Summit, United States: Scarecrow Press, 2002.

Galliano et al. speak about the transformation that Japan has taken in its music in the twentieth Century. They also talk about the importance of how music and sound is traditionally interpreted in Japan rather than in the west. In Japan people have traditionally perceived music as an experience and or expression of sound, rather than a great work of a particular individual. This book provides insight into Japanese culture pre-World War Two that then sets up the importance of electronic music beginning in the 1950’s.

Gagné, Isaac. “Urban Princesses: Performance and ‘Women’s Language’ in Japan’s Gothic/Lolita Subculture.” Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 18, no. 1 (2008): 130–50.

Gagne takes a linguistic anthropological approach to Japanese language and Lolita scene. How the youth were able to subvert traditional words and make them into a positive “women’s language.” This women’s language is presented to the reader not as a subculture or a scene like Osgerby suggests, but a counter-public. This interesting word choice is used because the mode of operation for most women in Lolita takes place in a counter-public space. This postmodern description of the gendered language used in Gothic and Lolita culture includes the linguistic history of Japan and how when reforming Japanese education in the Meiji restoration, jogakusei kotoba, “schoolgirl talk” in urban Japan developed. This schoolgirl talk is how Lolita subculture transformed from subjugated schoolgirls to Lolita women. In the sense that the language was supposed to be a way in which women should speak/usually speak. On the flip side, it is now


used to refer to a temporal feminine ideology of French Rococo aristocracy and Victorian era England. This linguistic research is massively important to how language mixed in with economics, gender, and fashion. Truly an excellent example of cultural capitalism and mixing up ideologies to create a postmodern visual essay.

Gagné, Isaac. “Bracketed Adolescence: Unpacking Gender and Youth Subjectivity through Subcultural Fashion in Late-Capitalist Japan.” Intersections: Gender & Sexuality in Asia & the Pacific, no. 32 (July 2013): 1–1.

True to my essential research questions, this article is about the hyperfeminine aspects of Lolita fashion and Harajuku, Tokyo being a central public place for visual performance. This article defines Lolita to some extent and then goes further into the economic timing of Lolita and Japan overall. How Lolita as a scene blew up in the late 1990’s right as Japan’s economic miracle became recessionary. This article also references the influence of Shojo girls manga as a major influence of Lolita fashion ideology and the reason that the scene has aged well because the ideologies that the manga represented and instilled in modern Japanese girls.

Geczy, Adam. Fashion and Orientalism: Dress, Textiles and Culture from the 17th to the 21st Century. London ; New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2013.

Fashion and Orientalism is an essential book for my historiography of cultural exchange between Japan and France and furthermore the east and west. This book as an overview of cultural exchange and development of orientalism/Japonisme in the west through fashion and textile history. The time period defined in the title is very important because of specific exchanges and ideologies that spread around the world over this time because of fashion and textiles. I originally read this for my junior independent study, but it applies greatly to my research now because of how the east and west, specifically France and Japan, have operated together for centuries. Geczy is a senior lecturer at the University of Sydney and a lead theorist of fashion and art crossover. He has several books out about fashion history and theory.

Gliniecka, Martyna. “Fashion Essay: Japaneseness in Comme Des Garcons...” Archive.pdf. Accessed November 16, 2021.

This fashion essay by Gliniecka is the main basis of my image analysis and how Japanese magazines and images produced my Comme des Garcons should be assessed. The question of Japaneseness, westernness, and the emotion of the ad were all important. Gliniecka is a Doctor of Philosophy and is a student at Western Sydney University institute for culture and society. I have gone back to cite and reference this essay for my visual analysis in Scalar, so it is very important. The essay does not have much historical basis to it, and approaches Comme des Garcons from a philosophy of media studies perspective which is crucial for my understanding of visual messages and visual context in Japanese media. I also learned the term soft sell, and good-mood advertising to describe Japanese identity advertisements.

Godoy, Tiffany. Style Deficit Disorder: Harajuku Street Fashion - Tokyo. Edited by Ivan Vartanian. Chronicle Books, 2007.


Style Deficit Disorder is a history of street fashion in Harajuku, Tokyo. It covers Rei Kawakubo, Lolita, visual kei, several magazines that I am using in my research and is a recent study of the subcultural scenes of Lolita and kawaii in Tokyo. The book has large size images on nearly every page and several of them, if cleared properly, could go into my primary source collection as well. There is a rich history of post-World War Two evolution of Harajuku as a fashion center of Japan. This book has given me many dates and names of individuals on the timeline of cultural capitalism between Rei Kawakubo and other Designer Character brands and how they interacted ideologically. This book does not show so much the fashion theory as it does gender, fashion history and pop history of Japanese culture. Godoy is a fashion journalist, writer in Vogue and other publications, and has made three books on subcultural fashion scenes during the same time period and even more recent than my time period.

Granata, Francesca. “Chapter 2: Rei Kawakubo and the Gotesque.” In Experimental Fashion, n.d.

Chapter two of Rei Kawakubo and the grotesque takes Kristeva’s Powers of Horror and applies them directly to Rei Kawakubo. This has been crucial in my development of my theory for my IS and helping me define the ideologies of Rei Kawakubo. Granata is an associate professor of fashion studies at Parsons and focuses on fashion theory. This chapter is a fantastic synthesis of fashion theory and how it applies to designer Rei Kawakubo. It does not go into the historiography of Rei Kawakubo that much but that is ok because this is not an all-encompassing book like that of English or Kawamura, and it is assumed to some extents that you know who these artists are already.

Hebdige, Dick. Subculture: The Meaning of Style. Electronic resource. New Accents. London ; New York: Routledge, 1991.

This book details the meanings and cultural clues that make up subcultures. Hebdige argues that subcultures try to counter ruling class’s ideal expression of material relationships. The ideology of subcultures change how we can view sexuality, behavior, music, and fashion. Subcultures try to create moral panic and a social disturbance through their actions to get noticed, the more mainstream the subcultures get the less rebellious by nature. These disturbances are meant to be indications to mainstream culture that it has failed in some way. He writes through a Marxist and postmodern view of how subcultures acted in post war England. The book provides an in depth look at how fashion and style play a fortified role in subcultures and their ideologies.

“Japan - Economic Transformation | Britannica.” Accessed November 30, 2021.

This is an encyclopedic article about the Japanese economic miracle and economy after world war two. This has basic information that is essential to the economics of fashion and political aspects of gender. Although not really in depth, the dates and information are critical in the discussion of the success of Harajuku and greater Tokyo as a fashion capitol. The “Coca-Cola- nization” of Japan and American economic intervention is also extremely important to my research. All of the essential information on this page are absolute truths that happened in Japanese history.


“Japan’s Gender-Fluid History.” Accessed September 18, 2021.

Written by Jennifer Robinson, professor of anthropology and art history at the University of Michigan discussed gender and clothes in Japan. Through this article, the phrase “gender more” that caught my attention. This term has to do with the non-gender conforming clothing and dress throughout the history of Japan and how that represents itself as a person who is deemed so pretty or beautiful because of their lack of gender conformity. She also states that sexual acts in japan were not ties with sexual identity until very recently during the AIDS pandemic in the 1990’s. This furthers my understanding of Japanese gender and it’s inherit differences from the constructions of gender we have in the west. She also mentions visual-kei as a point of analysis which is an important influence in Gothic-Lolita fashion.

Kawamura, Yuniya. Fashioning Japanese Subcultures. Berg Publishers, 2012.

This book is a direct look at Japanese youth subcultures and how they have changed how the world views fashion, expressing gender, and what it means to be a part of a subculture. Kawamura speaks on how the female youth dictate the subcultural changes, rather than the men. This is a large difference between her work and that of Dick Hebdige. The main subcultures that come out of Tokyo are Gyaru and Gyaru-o in Shibuya and Lolita in Harajuku and Mori Girl in Kouenji. All of these areas are different fashion districts of Tokyo. Kawamura displays how these subcultures deal with consumer culture, the fall of the Japanese economy, becoming an adult in the contemporary world. Furthermore, the process of how smaller groups bring small fashion trends to massive heights and help create successful department stores. This book directly helps me with my research because it is directly about Japanese fashion subcultures.

Kawamura, Yuniya. The Japanese Revolution in Paris Fashion. Berg Publishers, 2004.

Kawamura starts the book by establishing why Paris has such a profound place in the Fashion industry, and why Japanese designers thrived there. The institution of culture and fashion in Paris is simply like no other in that it is so exclusive and has a strong beurocracy behind it. The Japanese designers that came to Paris were both Orientalized by a long tradition of Japonisme. However, the designers also used their own race card to put themselves in the spotlight of all forms of fashion, whether it be ready to wear or haute couture designs. These designs also challenged the way the west viewed fashion and how to dress. The relaxed, pattered pieces that many of the designers made were not form committing and lacked western ideals of femininity. For the designers, this is what they wanted; they wanted comfortable and break the traditional norms of material expression in the fashion community. This book is extremely helpful for my research because is looks at Japanese designers that came to Paris and changed the dynamics of fashion. Furthermore, it showed how cultural and economic exchange between Paris and Tokyo is crucial in understanding fashion as well as Japanese and French culture as they transition to a post-modern and transnational world.

Kinsella, Sharon. “Cuties in Japan.” In Women, Media and Consumption in Japan. Routledge, 1995.


Cuties in Japan is a reflection of Kawaii culture that dominated Japan culturally in the 1980’s onwards. It first focuses on the handwriting of schoolgirls and the economics of buying cute everything. Everything with the cute kanji writing denoted cuteness in the product. This is important in knowing the 1970’s and 1980’s Japanese consumer culture and consumer ideologies that invaded Japan during its economic miracle. “A perception of innocence” is a phrase she uses to describe kawaii culture. She fails to mention how that can be viewed differently in the west and how the west’s appropriation of kawaii often does not work for this reason. Kinsella is a lecturer of Japanese visual culture at the University of Manchester and focuses on Japanese gender history through multiple postmodern lenses.

Kristeva, Julia. Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection. Translated by Leon Roudiez. Columbia University Press, 1982.

Powers of Horror is one of the most influential postmodern writings of all time and Kristeva is a well-known literary theorist. Powers of horror defines the abject in society and how it is expressed. Kristeva’s theories are how all other authors show the story of Rei Kawakubo and Lolita fashion, so it is very important. In my research, I look at the concepts of the grotesque, subject-in-process, the carnival, the abject and jouissance. This is one of the few deeply theoretical backgrounds of my research and why my research is important in showing the subversive nature of Rei Kawakubo and the Designer Character brands.

Mai, Jane, and An Nguygen. So Pretty, Very Rotten. Koyoma Press, 2017.

This book gave me look books, an interview with a Lolita historian, and multiple quality descriptions of Lolita culture and ideology. Mai and An went into depth of their personal experience with Lolita culture and how Designer Character brands played a large role in the development of the subcultural scene. They also explained how Shojo manga was a primary ideological standpoint of how Lolita works in gender studies. Both authors are illustrators and cartoonists but Novala Takemoto is the Lolita historian that they interview. This interview, among other essays that Takemoto wrote are included in the book. This helps me with the history specifically of Lolita and how its ideologies are subversive.

Moeran, Brian. “More Than Just a Fashion Magazine.” Current Sociology 54, no. 5 (September 1, 2006): 725–44.

Moeran talks about how in cultural capitalism, the fashion magazine is both a commodity and a cultural product. With the example of Comme des Garcons Magazine 6, this is very much the case. The magazine is a cultural production that ties one into the fashion via the consumer’s values. In other essays this is called “good mood” marketing but this essay specifically on the sociology of the fashion magazine. I will be using images from Magazine 6 in my image analysis of how Rei Kawakubo and Comme des Garcons uses cultural capitalism. Furthermore, Moeran is an anthropologist who studies the cultural production of creative industries. This is a perfect little essay on cultural capitalism, I can relate it easily with the rest of my post-modern fashion theory as well as advertising theory that I am working with.

Monden, Masafumi. Japanese Fashion Cultures. Bloomsbury Academic, 2015. 58

Japanese Fashion cultures is one of the most important books in my bibliography because it is precisely in the time range that I am also researching. Monden is a Japanese historian from the University of Western Australia and specializes in Japanese fashion cultures. This book features several different aspects of my project like Rei Kawakubo, Lolita fashion, Japanese identity crisis, the economic miracle and much more on how Japanese history and world history ties into the spread of Japanese fashion aesthetics. This is also centered around gender studies and how Japan has tried to shift away from “good wife, wise mother” ideology via fashion cultures. This book is full of information about the subcultural scenes that I am researching and other categories like gender and how the pieces of clothes work in cultural capitalism.

Morrison, Brimmer. “Independent Study: Grotesque Cultural Exchange, a Study of Japanese Fashion History.” Independent Study: Grotesque Cultural Exchange, a Study of Japanese Fashion History. Accessed March 7, 2022. grotesque-cultural-exchange-a-study-of-japanese-fashion-history/index.

This is in reference to my digital media gallery on Scalar. Because I needed so many images to analyze this cultural exchange and fashion history, I wanted to refer to primary sources that might be left out of the written portion of this I.S. All my images are correctly cited in the metadata of the website.

Osgerby, William. Subcultures, Popular Music and Social Change. Newcastle-upon-Tyne,: Cambridge Scholars Publisher, 2014.

Osgerby writes about how the boom in leisure culture post World War Two allowed for conversations about terms like “youth” and “generation” as well as how the new leisure time allowed for increased drug use and crime. The counterculture and subcultures alike defined themselves by finding ways through music, fashion and behavior that displayed their “social and spiritual discontents and hopes.” However, as these cultures move into a post-modern world, where the clothes and music have self-reflexive and free-floating meanings to them. These styles and trends reflected status and lifestyle, rather than a specific subculture. Osgerby calls these, “scenes” rather than countercultures or subcultures because of their transnational elements that connect people around a specific ideology. He also notes that queer peoples are more involved in the subcultures and scenes that they are in. This is because most of the scenes skip over gender, class, and racial barriers. This book is important in showing the significance of music and fashion as a pair, being important to cultural exchange.

Robbins, Carlon. “‘The Abjection of Self,’ Julia Kristeva.” Accessed November 8, 2021.

Robbins writes a short essay on The Abjection of Self by Kristeva. This essay was used to help me understand the abject and jouissance. He put it in different words that were easier to understand. The only reason I read this was to go more in depth in my understanding of Kristeva’s term jouissance because it was hard to decipher what she meant in her essays in abjection. Robbins is a literary and philosophy professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.


Roquet, Paul. “The Sound of Embodied Security: Imaginary Landscapes of Ambient Music.” In Ambient Media, 49–76. Japanese Atmospheres of Self. University of Minnesota Press, 2016.

Roquet talks about ambient spaces and the sounds that are associated to them. I used this in my research in my Junior Independent Study but is also useful in my research now correlating to Rei Kawakubo’s interest in architecture. Architecture, ambient spaces, the void and space in between are all aspects of Kawakubo’s fabrication process that revolutionized fashion in the west. Understanding Japanese theories of space is very important also to how Comme des Garcons sells clothes in their flagship stores which are designed to bring the customer closer to the ideology of the clothes they might buy. Although not the most important to my research, this source does help me understand ambient spaces and ambient sounds. Roquet is an associate media studies and Japanese studies professor at MIT.

Savas, Akiko. “Modernization in Japanese Fashion and the Influence of Fashion Magazines in 1930s Japan: Focusing on the Case of Fashion,” n.d., 17.

This source gave me information about prewar fashion ideologies in Japan. This essay describes a time in Japanese history where the indigenous clothes that they wore as a culture began to become western, and by the 1930’s most all people in Japan dressed in western attire. The essay spends the first half including social history of Japan and how the upper classes of japan moved around that then added to the western influence of larger urban centers. Savas also talks about fashion as a more cultural set of norms, rather than just the clothes themselves. Furthermore, he argues about the body image and fashion transformation via the importation of Vogue New York, which changed the body standards of Japanese women. This essay focused mainly on the influence of fashion magazines in the 1930’s Japan and how it set the stage for fashion to become very popular in Japan. Although this is not the time period I am focusing on, it is important to get a larger scope of the worldwide fashion industry in relation to Japan during the Meiji restoration. Fashion and gender relations in Japan before World War Two are important to understand upon researching how fashion and gender politics are dealt with right after the war. Savas is a Japanese history professor at Osaka University.

SILVERBERG, MIRIAM. In Erotic Grotesque Nonsense, 1st ed. The Mass Culture of Japanese Modern Times. University of California Press, 2006.

Silverberg was a history professor at UCLA and was the director for the Center for the Study of Women. As a women’s and gender historian, her book gave me great insight to the erotic and grotesque of Japanese culture and Japanese fashion. Her history is about pre second world war Japanese women and their place in Japanese society. This gave me information about mogas, modern girls, and the economics of those women. How they were able to “look and buy” with the money that middle class had at the time. Furthermore, it talked about the change in gender roles of more independent Japanese women as well as moral codes which is important to the later creation of a consumer paradise in Tokyo.


Skov, Lise. “Fashion Trends, Japonisme and Postmodernism: Or `What Is so Japanese about Comme Des Garçons?’.” Theory, Culture & Society 13, no. 3 (August 1, 1996): 129–51.

This essay is specifically about Japonisme, cultural capitalism, post modernism and trends with Comme des Garcons and Rei Kawakubo. Interestingly, this paper came out in 1996, which in my research is not the extent to which Kawakubo has participated in cultural capitalism. However, this is very insightful into the use of Japonisme; he argued that there is no distinction between Japan and transnationalism. This is an ongoing debate in Japanese cultural studies and this essay made me rethink how I thought about Japan as a cultural entity, and how much of the “Japanese culture” is just artists capitalizing on displacement of ideologies after the second world war and American intervention. The complex relationship Japan has with the West puts itself as validating the west. He says importantly that the Japanese designers that came to Paris should not be looked at as an east versus west fashion contest, or as Japanese fashion outperforming western fashion. Placement of Japan as the other is not cut and clean and has its own transnational interactions with the rest of the east as well as the west. He argues essentially that there is no difference in the creation of the self, between a woman in New York and a woman in Tokyo who both wear Comme des Garcons. The ideology of “Japaneseness” in Comme des Garcons might be there because Kawakubo is from Japan, but that is not the end all for the identity and Japaneseness of Comme des Garcons. Skov is a professor of History who has taught at the Copenhagen School of Business among other places and focuses on visual cultures.

Sudjic, Deyan. Rei Kawakubo and Comme Des Garcons. Rizzoli International Publishing, 1990.

As one of my main sources for information about just Rei Kawakubo and her ideologies with Comme des Garcons this has added greatly to my knowledge of the economics and business side of Comme des Garcons. Sudjic focuses on how Kawakubo changed the fashion industry by the specific business practices she used. Like only having one fabric maker that interpreted all her ideas and turned them into fabric reality, the people in her life and the staff of Comme des Garcons are integral aspects of her business. How the staff and designers take her few words of how they should start a project and turn it into the runway and ready to wear pieces. Other business practices are important in her success in Paris and Japan but also how she participates in the Abject. Sudjic is a specialist in design and architecture and has directed several Design museums around Europe and is a veteran in the design and architecture world.

Teasley, Sarah. “(Anti)-Hysteric Glamour: Masquerade, Cross-Dressing, and the Construction of Identity in Japanese Fashion Magazines.” Critical Matrix 9, no. 1 (January 1, 1995): 45–74.

Teasley talks about the postmodern subjectivity-formation of Japanese fashion and the ideology of the feminine masquerade. She takes her time describing the postmodern nature of dress in Japanese fashion and dress where counter identifications take place. When the object of desire that the subject is switched with the opposite object of desire. There is also a part of Japanese colonial history where Japan decided on a Japanese identity that was transvestic and a masquerade of colonial mimicry. This post-modern approach to Japanese and western fashion is important to my research in the cultural capitalism of the Japanese designers. She also uses Japanese fashion magazines that I am using as primary sources as examples of this post-modern


exchange. Teasley is a professor of design history and theory at the Royal College of Art London.

Japanese kawaii idol music culture news | Tokyo Girls Update. “The Magazine ‘Olive’ Made Japanese Girls Aware of The Rare Value of Girlhood and Maidenhood : The ‘Kawaii 2.0’ Theory Vol.6.” Accessed February 14, 2022. theory-vol-6-20160694637.html.

Tokyo Girls Update is essentially a Japanese popular history encyclopedia. I have used this source to find small amounts of information such as images, translations of magazine covers, and Japanese terminology. This gives great cited and translated text about lolita, olive girls, kawaii, and shojo. These are all terminology that was hard to define from other books and this gives clear examples and translations that make sense. Namely, this helped me with identifying values of maidenhood and girlhood that are discussed in early Japanese fashion magazines.

Visual Kei Encyclopaedia. “Visual Kei.” Accessed February 24, 2022.

This source was simply to help define ‘visual-kei’ in my writing. This is an encyclopedia that covers the name, history, subcultures associated, fandom, popularity, and medias associated. This page of the encyclopedia also goes into detail about the different types of visual-kei around the world. However, the writing focuses on the Japanese versions and their popularity.

Digital Media Gallery

The Digital Media Gallery represents the image analysis for this Independent Study. The site can be located at:


Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.