I’ve never seen so much pink in one room as there was at the Japan Society last week, the setting for Lolita Fashions, an event dedicated to the Japanese cult of fashionistas who dress up in adorable outfits. The fashion has spread to the rest of the world, and that was certainly in evidence here in New York, what with the preponderance of lace, petticoats, little stuffed animals worn as ornaments, frilly knee-highs, inspired by the Victorian era, pastel and candy colors, bows, cute patterns, lace, and little stuffed animals. The slushy winter weather didn’t deter the delicate Lolitas since the evening was sold out, attended mostly by women dressed up in ultra Lolita style, a few accompanied by less ostentatiously dressed arm candy. However, an alert was put on the Facebook event page warning attendees to carry their fancy Lolita shoes in a bag, since they would get ruined in the soupy snow. One girl threatened to wear her girly Nikes instead. Oh no!
The event began with a panel, then a fashion show featuring a collection of Japanese Lolita fashions from the store Baby the Stars Shine Bright, and a reception afterward where the models and guests dressed up Lolita style posed for photos and mingled with admirers. Gwynn Galitzer, the moderator, is a performance artist who herself was dressed ultra Lolita, wearing a fetching pastel pink and blue wig with a doll-like pink outfit and white platform shoes. The panel consisted of the darling diminutive Kawaii model Misako Aoki, who was visiting from Japan. Apart from being a model and a nurse, she’d been appointed in 2009 by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as the official Japanese Kawaii Ambassador, and was also the author of the book “Misako Aoki’s Kawaii Revolution.” The term “Kawaii” is used to describe in general clothing, toys, and entertainment that’s cute or adorable. During her visit to New York City, she was also hosting a Lolita tea party at the Dove Parlor, a Victorian themed bar in the West Village. Other panelists included Carolyn Dee, author of the F Yeah Lolita blog and Christina Gleason, who blogs on Ramble Rori and founded RuffleCon, the first northeastern US conference focusing on elegant and cute alternative fashions like Lolita, Steampunk, and Gothic.
The Lolita style does not refer to the sexual proclivity of older men obsessed with young girls – it’s about fashion and style. Sometime in the 1970s, it began on the streets of the Harajuku district in Tokyo and has spread worldwide, although there are no stores in New York City dedicated to it so it is an online phenomenon, although the retail operation Baby the Stars Shine Bright is located in San Francisco and Paris. There are various types of Lolita fashions which range from Gothic, Sweet, Punk, and Classic, and subgenres that can include a sailor look, broken wounded dolls, pirates, and other looks. Lolita became popular in Japan during the early 1990s when Mana, the fabulous Japanese male heterosexual crossdressing pop star, came onto the scene and invented EGL (Elegant Gothic Lolita) and EGA (Elegant Gothic Aristocrat). He was a guitarist for the band Malice Mizer and later split off solo and called his act Moi dix Mois. He then created his own fashion label, Moi-même-Moitié. EGL was comprised of blouses, baleros, skirts, JSK (jumper skirts), OP (One piece dresses), and petticoats. EGA (Elegant Gothic Aristocrat) is a more masculine style with pants, jackets, blouses, and coats. Typical Moi-meme-Moitie styles include large platform shoes, crosses, bats, coffins, roses, and prints using occult and surreal themes. Mana wasn’t at the event nor were there any male Gothic Aristocrat types, but there were plenty of charming girls dressed up Lolita style.
The Japan Society itself is a well-designed center. Apart from their intriguing programming, one of the reasons you must stop by there is the fabulous bidet toilet they have called the Toto Washlet. By pressing the buttons of the unit, you can experience a rear cleansing, a soft rear cleansing, and a front cleansing, and then press a button to dry off — what a refreshing way to enjoy the lovely Lolita fashions!
GERRY VISCO: So tell us about the Lolita Fashions event.
GWYNN GALITZER: It was a 30-minute panel, discussing the fashion itself and also the culture surrounding it. After the panel, there was a Q & A with the audience. They asked Misako, the Japanese model, lifestyle questions and then there was a fashion show with pieces by “Baby the Stars Shine Bright” and “Alice the Pirates.” There were a few pieces from last year’s collection and some brand new pieces from this year’s collection. They spoke about how the classical, more refined Victorian Style is coming back.
VISCO: Is this one of the few Lolita events that has occurred in New York?
GALITZER: Yes, I think this is the only event at an actual established institution. I don’t know of any Harujuku fashion week stuff that’s going on here. Sometimes, they’ll have self-produced, smaller, “Comic- Con” kind of conferences.
VISCO: Why is there nowhere to buy Lolita fashions and Harajuku in New York City? There don’t seem to be any stores and you don’t see too many people here dressing Lolita style. Why?
GALITZER: Well there used to be a store called “Tokyo Rebel” that was down on Avenue A in the East Village area and it imported everything from Japan. It carried the top Lolita fashion brands but they closed the storefront after Hurricane Sandy and now they’re just based online. Most people buy the fashion online and it requires a lot of research. Everything that’s readily available online and in the magazines is in Japanese. I think there might be one Japanese magazine they are printing now in English. I’m not sure why they don’t have more stores here because the demand would be there because it’s so fabulous.
VISCO: Are Lolita fashions mainly for teens and tweens?
GALITZER: – Actually one of the panelists was saying that the fashion trend started in the 1990s and came over to America about 10 to 15 years ago. The fashions now are getting more classical because the girls are getting older. I wouldn’t say that most of them are kids in high school. Most of the people at the event were early to late 20’s. I was actually expecting there to be some younger girls there, but there weren’t. The parents of some of the younger girls resist Lolita fashions because they automatically think it’s about the Lolita from the Nabokov novel and they don’t want their kids sexualizing themselves. But it’s really not connected to the novel Lolita.
VISCO: Is “Lolita” more of Japanese term?
GALITZER: One of the girls was saying backstage that it’s a term that’s badly translated. And in Japan it means “young girl.” It doesn’t have like the sexual connotation it does here.
VISCO: What about Misako Aoki? She came specifically for the event?
GALITZER: Yes, that’s what she came for. She’s also doing an appearance on Saturday at a tea party. She’s the former Kawaii Ambassador for Japan and started the Japanese Lolita Association and is a top model for “Baby the Stars Shine Bright.”
VISCO: Do you think those girls have jobs? Do they wear those clothes to work? I mean just an average job as opposed to a fashion job.
GALITZER: A lot of girls start dressing in crazy fashions and they use pictures of themselves to start up online presences and followings based on their fashions. A lot of those girls also are making their accessories and their clothing and showing their own stuff. It’s cool that they take it to a different level. For Misako, this is not her full time job. She works as a nurse. And modeling is something that she loves doing and she loves fashion.
VISCO: But does she dress like a Lolita as a nurse?
GALITZER: She probably has to wear some kind of uniform as a nurse, but she was saying that she dresses Lolita in her everyday wear and that she flew on a plane in her outfit.
VISCO: Do the girls dress up in Lolita fashions throughout Japan or mostly in the Harujuku district?
GALITZER: One of the questions I asked is how mainstream is this style in Japan versus how it is here. And she said that in Japan it also is like a sub culture so it’s not quite as underground as it is here but she said it’s not a mainstay. There is a popular fashion of dressing very feminine and dressing very sweet with lots of bows and ruffles and stuff but not the full on Lolita. Probably one of the reasons for that is because the clothes are insanely expensive. They make everything in very small quantities and there’s only one size for everything. They don’t make multiple sizes.
VISCO: Are there any male Lolita’s?
GALITZER: Yes, male Lolitas wear more of a dandy look, like trousers and tail-coats but really embellished and ruffled with top hats.
VISCO: What’s the new trend in Lolita? Is there something coming up?
GALITZER: The new trend is definitely more refined and more classic looking. More muted colors, less bright and crazy sweet prints — more of an aristocratic style.
VISCO: Do you think there are many middle-aged or older people in Japan or here that dress Lolita?
GALITZER: I don’t think so in Japan because of the difference in their societal norms. There probably aren’t a lot of middle-aged people that are dressing like that but I have seen online a good deal of women in their late 30’s or early 40’s that are dressing like that especially in the gothic and more aristocratic styles because they are really refined and they’re not as like babyish.
VISCO: Would you say there’s a fetish aspect also?
GALITZER: There definitely is a fetish community based around it. The main online presence though is definitely not that but strictly about fashion. There’s definitely is a subset of people who fetishize and there are definitely people who have sex in their outfits.
VISCO: Who were the attendees mainly?
GALITZER: It was a pretty mixed crowd. I thought it was only going to be people who knew everything about Lolita but there were a lot of audience members who came up afterwards saying that they hadn’t heard of it before and that it was something that they just came because it was a fashion event and that they really enjoyed it.
Two of the fabulous attendees who especially stood out due to their elegance were well-known personalities in the nightlife scene. Stella Rose Saint Clair, who is a designer fashion editor and model told me about her passion for the style. “I used to dress in Lolita everyday but now it’s just become a general inspiration to me. It was fun to have an excuse to pull on my Loli items. Hearing about others appreciation for the style makes me want to start wearing it again more often!” Similarly, fashion designer and personality Elena Kanagy-Loux said, “It was lovely to dress up in Lolita fashion with so many like-minded ladies for the event at the Japan Society. Although I’ve been dressing in Lolita occasionally since my teen years in Japan, I’ve never really been part of the New York community. It was a wonderful party!”