Internet fashion might be the never ending topic of discussion — NORMCORE MUST DIE — but let it be known, there have been many days in the office where my “aesthetic research” deals with “reading a lot of old manga for beauty looks”. I wouldn’t be where I am without nerd culture, for sure, and so many hours of my life have been spent flipping through my favorite Manga, slurping on some Shin Ramyun. My parents at one point banned it from the house because they were concerned for my sodium intake. They were probably right.
The thing about otaku culture though, of course, is that like any other subculture, it is entwined with debates and systems of bro-dom and patriarchy. Even Miyazaki, the pop culture Uncle of so much of anime culture (Spirited Away? Howl’s Moving Castle?) — thinks anime culture is full of problems. I did stop being so into anime and manga because of the really uncomfortable gender dynamics. That being said, Nana and ParaKiss will always be my salvation. And Dragon Ball Z? Okay, while it might not influence me very much aesthetically, I try to keep my hustle over 9000.
When Shirley Yu teamed up with her friends at Parsons New School of Design on a fashion-meets-Otaku concept, I couldn’t stop smiling. The debate about international Otaku culture might rage on but sometimes a girl just wants to chill out with a romantic manga and eat some Pocky. Ya dig?
I reached out to the designers involved with the project for some insight on the collaboration. From Joan, one of the designers involved:
We chose to focus on the “otaku” subculture and how most “otakus” are viewed by society as being weird, closed off, and nerdy. This became our main focus. The idea that while Otaku’s interests are weird and zany, the clothes they wear in reality are often more muted and viewed as “unfashionable.”They tend to stress comfort when buying their own clothes. We wanted to created a line of clothes that would be the intersection between their clothing habits and interests. All of the clothes are comfortable to wear, and represent our interpretation of fashion for an actual Otaku. We wanted to represent the culture with all the quirky colors and stickers from the photos, but we wanted to keep the clothes marketable and comfortable if they were to really be sold. We wanted to make ourselves interesting and appealing to real Otakus, but have a non otaku audience look at our clothes and feel interested.
My group came up with the name “Otakool” to represent the collection we created. My group consists of 4 people total, Semi Yang, Rebecca Liu, Conrad Sun, and Joan Kao.
Personally, I look for clothes that offer something interesting and new in design-all while being perfectly functional and aesthetically pleasing.
Now, clothes with the intention of riffing a culture can be, of course, problematic. But then let us consider the difference between subculture — punk, grunge, et. all — and “culture” at large. Because there is a difference between culture and costume. When does exploring that space become damaging? When does the exploration and pursuit of authenticity become violent? Some people might become concerned with a project based on subcultures but let’s be real: there’s nothing that honest or inherently authentic about any idea of any subculture, because subculture is what you make of it. And is there anything to consider precious about a subculture that is largely built on the sexualization of teen girls? Upskirt politics is an actual thing when it comes to drawing female characters in Anime. Given the complexity of what Otaku culture means in Western Culture compared to Japan, who can say? And real talk: if I had these clothes when I was still in Anime club, or still in Taipei flipping through the Shoujo section at the bookstore, I’d feel hella cool. You know what? I’m gonna rewatch Neon Genisis Evangelion and try to cop these jawnz. See you on the other side.
Photography by Shirley Yu / Photos by SHIRLEY.
Designs by Semi Yang, Rebecca Liu, Conrad Sun, and Joan Kao.