It can be hard for a fashion purist to imagine a show that isn’t led by a big-name designer or that lacks the pencil-thin supermodels and A-list celebrities. But Japanese “gyaru” (gal) fashion works to a different set of rules.
This was obvious to anyone who spent last Saturday at the Yoyogi National Gymnasium with 23,000 mostly Japanese teenage girls and young women. The event, Tokyo Girls Collection, was billed as a fashion show, but it bore only a passing resemblance to the runway shows of Paris or New York.
For starters, TGC’s spring/summer show featured not just one brand, but many. They had names like Chesty, Apuweiser-Riche, Love Drug Store and Cecil McBee, and they specialise in affordable “real clothes” sold in Shibuya and Harajuku, Tokyo’s youth fashion hubs. And unlike the stone-faced supermodels, TGC’s models were petite and peppy women from the pages of non-no, Vivi, CanCam and other Japanese fashion magazines. From the raised runway, they smiled and waved at the crowd, shimmying to lounge music and Grease medleys.
TGC’s twice-a-year show has solidified its place at the centre of gyaru culture. Since its start in 2005, the show has evolved from a showcase of clothes to an entertainment spectacle with live music performances and booths where reps hand out freebies. But its selling point remains the same: accessibilty – of its models, its clothes and the “kawaii” (cute) look it promises. “The idea that it’s expensive to be stylish has changed,” says Ayako Nagaya, Tokyo Girls Collection’s chief producer. “Even celebrities shop at H&M.” Which isn’t to say that high-end brands had no place here. For the first time, Vogue Girl styled models for TGC in fast-fashion clothes and accessories from brands including Yves Saint Laurent and Marc Jacobs.
The key to TGC’s commercial success has been its embrace of technology. Anybody with a mobile phone can access the show’s online shopping site and buy the outfit the moment a model wears it onstage. TGC’s Nagaya says the e-commerce site does about ¥50m (€434,000) in sales within 24 hours of the show and some outfits are gone even before the event is over.
To open this year’s show to a wider audience, TGC worked with Google Japan on the first-ever live online broadcast. This time, links in the videos only opened a Japanese e-commerce site. A 3D film of the event slated for release later this month will also only be for cinemas in Japan. But with many in Asia looking to Japan for fashion tips, the media tie-ups could eventually help homegrown brands start exports in future.
At the snack bar during a break in the seven-hour show, 26-year-old Seiko Sato explained her fashion ethos as she and a friend ate edamame-flavoured crackers. “The high-end brands look good on Hollywood celebrities but not on us,” said Sato, whose floral-print dress and Ugg boots are nearly identical to her friend’s. “The clothes here aren’t pricey or too wacky, and they fit our body shape.” And the reason Sato has been to every show in the past four years? “We want to see the models close up,” she said.