1 May 2018

Should We Stop Idolising Japanese Brands?

I know, I’m throwing some controversial thoughts at you, but I thought those worth discussing a bit further. Not sure if it will end up as in-depth as I would’ve liked, but let’s see where it leads us.




For years Japanese brands like Angelic Pretty and Baby, the Stars Shine Bright were at the forefront of innovation within Lolita fashion. They dared to try new things and start trends that others have subsequently followed. Lolitas worldwide looked forward to catching footage from the fashion shows and scans from magazines, to see what was coming up and what the future of Lolita fashion would look like. At the same time, for a long time, Japanese brands were the only ones that could affect the course of Lolita fashion, nothing else had this amount of influence since there were very few brands besides those from Japan.


It's a cliche, but the brandwhore mentality has helped make Japanese brands
into something much more about the label than the garment or coord.
Image from BowsMagazine.com

Now we do have players that not only match the big Japanese brands, but exceed them in terms of the impact they have. Chinese brands are a true force to be reckoned with, but other indie brands have also grown to be well-known names with sell-out stock. Haenuli is releasing new prints and designs at an almost furious rate: she’s had 8 original dress series released in 2017 and she’s already announced 5 before we’re even halfway through 2018. Then we have a brand like Lady Sloth, already well established for their blouses, who are now flying on the trend for daily wear with their Casual Sloth line, as well as continue making original Lolita designs. And let’s face it, the constant influx of new designs from all kinds of Chinese brands doesn’t even need mentioning, it has become a fact of life, as obvious as the oxygen in the air we breathe.

At the same time, new releases from Japanese brands are coming under scrutiny more than they seem to have in the past. This may be more to do with the online culture than the releases themselves, however, there are only a few 2018 Japanese brand releases that I feel were received positively and were met with an overall approval. Just look at the Angelic Pretty spring/summer fashion show reviews – or better still, watch Milkbox’s toot orboot video . Many commented about AP recycling old ideas (and I’m not even talking about the berry prints here) and expressed disappointment at the limiting of cut options (gone are the days of OP, JSK and skirt or OP and two JSK cuts released per series). While anniversaries are a great excuse to do re-releases, the frequency of re-releases and MTO’s has been met with far more enthusiasm than the new stuff, be it from AP, Baby or Alice and the Pirates – which speaks volumes about their new stock.

Regardless of what you think of the dresses
themselves, they do remind you of things
AP has done in the past, don't they?
Image from HoneyPeachTea.Wordpress.com

Many have also started complaining about the quality of clothing from Japanese brands. I remember people receiving their Romantic Cat dresses and discovering some missing or crooked ruffles. Whilst polyester fabrics are not mentioned when Chinese brands use them, people have bemoaned the use of those by Japanese brands, saying that for the cost they’d rather receive something cotton, not considering that their money does buy them the higher end variety of polyester. Those who have been in the fashion for longer also noticed smaller things changing such as lack of or lesser attention to small details. I recently saw immaculate pattern matching on the back of AP’s Whimsical Vanilla-chan JSKs – my Diner Doll JSK not only doesn’t have such details anywhere but the border, but the border print isn’t pattern matched either. Compared, for example, with Baroque’s Repose of Queen series, even though that one isn’t perfectly pattern matched, it showed more attention to things like pattern matching than AP has with Diner Doll.

The truth is, when you try to think of something really different and unique that you haven’t seen in Lolita fashion before, recently you’re not thinking of Angelic Pretty or Baby, the Stars Shine Bright. The only somewhat new-ish thing that AP has done was introduce grey colourways into Sweet prints and cuts, but to me that seems more like an influence of otome-kei brands such as Leur Getter. Everything that comes to my mind when I think of innovation in Lolita fashion comes from various indie brands, predominantly Chinese. We’re getting new shoe styles and wacky print ideas that you never even knew you wanted to see until you saw them. The large community of Lolitas in China is driving more demand and therefore, more innovation than Japanese brands could achieve domestically, while other indie brands are satisfying that need for innovation elsewhere (Brazillian in South America, European in Europe etc.).

Leur Getter's Victorian JSK came out in 2016 and was
available in grey. Many of their previous designs also were.
So AP isn't doing anything so groundbreaking by releasing
pieces in that colour - they're just following the trend started
by others.
Image from Lolibrary.org

In fact, as you ponder this, since the main customer base for Japanese brands has become more East Asian, Japanese and Chinese, it could be that brands have lost their motivation to try out new things. When others satisfy our need for new things, while customers expect certain things from their beloved Japanese brands, driving sales for re-releases and things that look similar to past releases that have done well, why would you risk steady income to shake things up in the world of such a niche fashion? Their status as an important player in this world is quite steady and safe thanks to the sales, international branches and the various events they’re invited to, there’s no need for them to constantly prove themselves through their releases. Granted, stagnation has affected some Japanese brands negatively: for example, restrictive sizing limited the number of sales Victorian Maiden could make, especially as simple Classic Lolita designs they make are also available from China at a fraction of the price and with wider size range. Yet overall the biggest Japanese Lolita brands are relatively unfazed by their lack of innovation, as their sales continue bringing profits, largely thanks to the Chinese customer base who wants that “quintessentially AP/BtSSB/IW/Meta/whatever” piece rather than something so different and new that it’s unrecogniseable as that particular maker.

While I do sincerely believe that there is a place for Japanese brands and that we should do what we can to keep them going in order not to lose them, I think we’ve put them on a pedestal that they don’t quite deserve to be on anymore. At least not in the same way as they used to. I believe that we should respect their work in building Lolita fashion to what it is now, in growing it to an international phenomenon that still brings people and communities together. But we should stop looking to them as if they’re the alpha and omega of the fashion. Let’s make room for all those indie brands, support their growth and appreciate the contributions they make to allow the fashion to continue, to grow and to become more accessible. This means things like recognising that Chinese brands are just as valuable as any other indie brands and not reducing them down to the platform they happen to sell on [http://www.rainedragon.com/how-the-western-lolita-community-is-failing-chinese-brands/]. This means buying from indie brands where possible and sharing the positive reviews about them, so that they can grown and realise their dreams whilst providing us with unique pieces (after all, even AP started out as a niche brand back in the day). This means not labelling anyone in the community negatively based on the brands that they chose to support and the clothes labels they put on themselves – though it goes without saying that the line is drawn when that label or its maker is problematic and harmful for the community (e.g. known to have harassed people or known to perpetrate and promote prejudice, discrimination and/or abuse in any form). This means dropping our elitist ways of thinking and welcoming newcomers to our communities, without judging them if they chose to wear a handmade item or one from a lesser known brand instead of spending their money on a second hand Angelic Pretty – and without instilling in them that mentality under the pretences of mentoring.

You didn't know you needed it until you saw it!
Image from Lady Sloth's Facebook page.

This has ended on a slightly more rambling note than I had originally intended, but I hope it didn’t come across as too preachy and that the message didn’t get lost in the process. What do you think? Do you think that Japanese brands like AP or BtSSB deserve to still be regarded so highly by the Lolita fashion community? What’s the most memorable, innovative thing you have seen in the fashion recently and do you remember who it was by? Anything in the fashion, any trends or upcoming items, that have you excited and you’d want to see more of? Personally, I’m very excited by Lady Sloth’s Casual Sloth line, I think the idea is fantastic and very on trend right now and I’d happily (and very patriotically) drop my money on some cute printed lounge- and casualwear from this Polish brand to wear when I’m not frilling up. I’m just waiting for the prints in those line to be a little less Gothic. ;)

4 comments:

  1. Now I am mostly an indiebrand hoarder, but that was active an choice to not follow the stream. I would say that AP has just actively jumping any next trend to mainstream, no matter how ridicule it was, for the last 3 years. Btssb is not that trend riding, I just feel they don't longer make pieces I am interested in. I feel a little like the same about IW, it was however nice to see them rerelease Strawberry Fields in new and more updated cuts, but it feels like Leur Getter or mm did it, rather than rererelease "Anette", in which they did anyway.
    I actually begun to like Meta more than ever, even they are trend followers in terms of one event OTT dresses, but their pieces are still in payable end. I actually feel Meta has been underdog of the bigger Japanese brands, because they don't make the same dress, even they have a bundle of base patterns they use year after year. They tweak them, but given they have the broadest style of all major Japanese brands, It is less obivious when the square cut of Dim Light, reappear as Grapy Sweet Fox Cub.
    It is nice to see Lady Sloth are begun to carry much broader, but I am more excited over Indie Brands are begun to make cutsews shoes, and bags. Particular bags can be really hard to find an orginal designs for on taobao. Even Taobao has become better, but I am not into to all that cute larme bags or ita bags in pastels.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I get what you mean, BtSSB definitely just got stuck in their own thing and they look like they're running out of ideas on how to make the same thing look different for an Nth time, so it ends up looking more and more ridiculous. And Meta is very underappreciated as a brand, but they make really nice stuff. Not groundbreaking, but lovely and wearable and still take their wide customer base into account (so various styles and can incorporate various sizes). But indie brands from all over are really stepping it up recently, so it gets a bit like "ugh, eyeroll" when people are still oohing and ahhing at the same old thing just because it's from a Japanese brand, when indie brands are doing so much more.

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  2. As for me, I am disappointed with both japanese brands and chinese brands. None of them make anything I like. I really miss old AP releases (2008~2012), so the last things I bought (before brazilian mail got this nightmare) were all old ap prints.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. A lot of people I know feel the same: nothing new really catches their eye and they're only hunting old releases that fit their style and taste better. And that's fine, it's ok to like or dislike something, but I feel like this whole brandwhore-ish mentality is still being passed around a bit too much to newbies ('buy second hand brand, it's so cheap now and you'll have brand' - this or something like this is repeated so often now that if it weren't for affordable Chinese brands from Taobao, I think things would've been even worse) when in fact the Japanese brands are only adding more of the same stuff and are quite slow to either bring new trends or respond to trends that are already big.

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