The House of Pomegranates, our grand collaborators and Muses, wrote a beautiful article about Deathliness and the emergence of Gothic and Lolita in 2009. When I sat down wanting to write about the roots of lolita as a style I just kept coming back to their essay, so here we are. I am going to simply post their essay below, as they’ve given permission to me to do so and it is so worth the read!
We are continually inspired by the HoP and I hope this article will get your head churning:
“NOT, I’ll not, carrion comfort, Despair, not feast on thee”
–Carrion Comfort by Gerard Manley Hopkins
There are a gazillion earnest “histories of” out there on the topic of Gothic and Lolita and it’s fashions and origins, just Google, you will see. So rather than recap, rewrite or plagerize from them, I encourage you to go for a walk in the ether yourself. What I’ve written here is more an idea, like a drop of mercury, hitting the ground and scattering. It is in no way exhaustive, extensive or earnest. Enjoy.
Gothic and Lolita and the Atomic Bomb
July 16, 1945. Through tinted welder’s goggles Dr. Robert Oppenheimer silently looked out over the desert wasteland of Los Alamos at the Trinity test site, his face tight with stress. Around him were his colleagues who nervously smoked cigarettes or just stood and waited. This was the first testing of the atomic bomb, the bomb developed to end the Second World War. No one really knew what would happen, there were theories, conjectures, but no one knew. One theory was that it would start a chain reaction, exploding outward not stopping at the source but continuing from out engulfing not only Los Alamos, but the entire world. The military was on high alert that day, ready to evacuate. (To where?) However the bomb went off as expected, enormous, lethal, and horrific. Seeing their abstract theories made real and sensing what they had done, some vomited, Dr. Robert Oppenheimer quoted the Bhagavad-Gita: “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”
It was estimated that 14 to 17 million people, mostly civilians would be killed if Japan was invaded by land. The Americans used this figure, 14 to 17 million to justify dropping two nuclear bombs one on Hiroshima and one on Nagasaki saying the casualties would number in the high 200,000’s. And on August 6th and August 9th 1945 they did. Six days later Japan surrendered.
What does this have to do with Gothic and Lolita Fashion and Japanese fashion in general? It is little mentioned but during the occupation after the war the lodgings for U.S. commissioned officers and their families were built in a vacant lot used for military drills named Washington heights in Harajuku. And there Japanese wives would lurk trying to catch glimpses of the cool and free American style as worn by the wives and children of the officers. Fashions that changed frequently and inexplicably. How new and different it was.
It must be remembered that due to persistent attempts by European traders to convert the Japanese to Catholicism (how tiresome they can be!) and their tendency to engage in unfair trading practices Japan expelled most foreigners in 1639, and for the two centuries that followed, limited trade access to only Dutch and Chinese ships with special charters. It wasn’t until 200 years later on July 8, 1853, when American Commodore Matthew Perry led his four ships into Tokyo Bay that regular trade between Japan and the western world began again.
The west in its western way saw most Asian cultures as backwards. As Edward Said wrote, the general European reaction to the east was “incredulous amazement to condescending veneration”. Yet, as the last of the eastern civilizations to be exposed to the west, Japan escaped this and on the whole was considered superior to other ‘non-Europeans.’ The Victorians thought Japan to be a curious (see Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Mikado) but an essentially advanced and, more importantly, unconquered civilization.
Japan, let it be said, was notorious then as now for absorbing, pilfering, stealing, (many times in violent ways), modifying and claiming as their own art, culture and language. So, for the wives that watched the American woman parade Harajuku in their western clothes, it was perfectly natural for them to be influenced, to modify, to reinvent.
It was Comme des Garçons and principle designer Rei Kawakubo, however, that put Japanese fashion on the map. Established in 1969, and not really a Harajuku brand, it revolutionized the Japanese fashion industry, stirring interest in Japanese couture by appealing to not just a Japanese market, but to Europeans and Americans. Until 1988 Kawakubo’s clothes were primarily black and started a trend so pervasive that the well healed women circling and swarming the Omotesando shopping district were referred to as karasu (crows). When the press began covering her shows the Parisian journalist labeled her clothes ‘Hiroshima Chic’ Interestingly she had no interest in expanding her business to the foreign markets, the foreign markets came to her.
And what they found! All that pilfered pop culture, reworked, redone and made insanely bright and new and often times much better than the original. Japanese Teddy Boys with huge hair and larger brothel creepers. Bizarre, tanned 70s girls in pink lipstick and blond hair, and, majestical young girls dressed in full Victorian funeral splendor, walking the shopping districts called tantalizingly and oxymoronically Gothic Lolita.
From Wikipedia: “The Lolita style began in the 1970’s with brands such as Milk and Pink House making outfits that resembled Canada’s Anne of Green Gables (which is widely loved in Japan) and, to a lesser extent, Little House on the Prairie. Angelic Pretty opened in 1979, Baby, The Stars Shine Bright opened in the 80’s, and Moi-meme-Moitie opened in 1999. Mana, ex-Malice Mizer(co-founded with Kozi, also guitar), is widely credited for having helped popularize Gothic Lolita, though he is not a founder of the style. He coined the terms “Elegant Gothic Lolita” (EGL) and “Elegant Gothic Aristocrat” (EGA) to describe the style of his own fashion label Moi-même-Moitié, which was founded in 1999. Other influential figures in the scene include the singer Kana, who often modeled for Lolita related fashion magazines, and Mitsukazu Mihara, who drew the first eight covers of the Gothic & Lolita Bible.”
Japanese CUTiE magazine with ‘for independent girls’ in English on the cover moved the hyper kinetic street fashion in to the mainstream. It also made mainstream kawaii (cute) which was already an important and distinctive feature of Japan’s pop culture, in anime and manga and the kids in general. Here was a magazine filled with photos of impossibly cute kids making peace signs, the knee jerk reaction for having their picture taken, dressed in outlandish and colourful clothes. This market was “youth who strive for a counter-culture that resists established systems and values. Idealism mixed with rebelliousness and impatience…”
Eventually, as you know, came Kera magazine, the Gothic and Lolita Bible and Kera Maniax to promote, report and sometimes create this new and fast changing fashion. Dreamy Moon Kana got her start as a model here. (sigh) Also were the influential street snaps by photographer Shoichi Aoki and his FRUiTs magazine. Kids actually began to invent styles just to be seen and photographed for the magazine, instantly starting trends that were created in a bedroom days previous, only to be discarded, passionately, the following weekend.
And with that movement came designers, from the street, in to the malls.
Quickly, the first influential brands:
Opened in 1979.
BABY, THE STARS SHINE BRIGHT
Started in 1988 by husband-and-wife team Akinori and Fumiyo Isobe
Influential band leader and designer Mana invented his brand of Gothic Lolita clothing in 1999, coining the terms Elegant Gothic Lolita (EGL) and Elegant Gothic Aristocrat (EGA).
(you know we’ve left lots out)
It’s hard to think that Kaira from Ishigawa who is “inspired by relaxing in cafes” as quoted on page 24 of the dour English version of the Gothic & Lolita Bible Issue 1, awakes at 4 a.m. soaked in a pool of weltschmerz, and maybe I am reading too much in to a fashion I love, yet there is a deathliness in these clothes and in response to the weltschmerz, this world sorrow, there is a cry for universal truth, beauty and freedom. And within that the constant reminder of the bomb, the economy, the environment, of the outside world threatening, of death, of the end of a generation, of the end of fun, the end of youth. School. Jobs. Babies. Mortgages. Karaoke. Death. Deathliness.