A catalyst for cultural exchange and consumer trends, the Harajuku district of Shibuya is home to the world’s most vibrant and adventurous street style scene. During the ‘90s, magazine like FRUiTS, Cutie, and Kerouac played a unique role in supporting the rapidly developing niche styles from this corner of Tokyo, capturing a “perfect storm” of European influences and Japanese experimentation.
THE FASHION LANDSCAPE
One of the major driving forces behind the vibrancy of Tokyo street style during the ‘90s was the new and unprecedented intersection—and mutual influence—of European and Japanese fashion design. Keen on benefitting from the capital's open-minded enthusiasm for fashion items, some European designers such as Christopher Nemeth, shifted their entire business operations to Tokyo, while others, such as Jean-Paul Gaultier, Vivienne Westwood, and Walter Van Beirendonck, achieved significant cultural and economic prosperity during the ‘90s by opening flagship stores in the region. Meanwhile, this era also represented a coming-of-age of sorts for Japanese brands such as 20471120 and beauty: beast, who had built on their long-standing interest in cult European fashion design to establish themselves as serious fashion forces in their own right (with 20471120 even showing at Paris Fashion Week). These cultural conditions became a perfect storm when filtered through the unprecedented styling filter of Harajuku's youth, who were largely indifferent to the historical connotations of specific items and designers, and instead utilized clothing pieces as pure fashion objects—raw materials for them to reinterpret and reimagine as they saw fit. This approach, unshackled from the limitations of Western conventions, fuelled the creation of adventurous and evolving fashion narratives and developed new styles that often exceeded the imaginations of even the most experimental catwalk shows.
In their desire to catch the attention of the new and rebellious Harajuku fashion crowd, Laforet (the area's major shopping center) commissioned a number of groundbreaking advertising campaigns, several of which were overseen by the notable Japanese pop artist, Nagi Noda. Laforet was originally built with the intention of housing established, luxury brands, but after their first year of trading proved to be a flop, the owners switched their attention towards hosting adventurous and independent youth-oriented stores for labels such as Hysteric Glamour.
Already a hugely popular clothing brand, 20471120 achieved further acclaim for their signature ski boots (famously seen on the cover of the FRUiTS book) that became the must-have, signature shoe of ‘90s Harajuku.
‘90s Japanese teens—just as all generations of youth—were keen to channel their rebellious spirit through carving out an identity that would distance themselves from the social conventions of those that had come before them. One of the notable ways in which this desire for generational distinction manifested was in teenager's liberal use of bright colors (particularly in their clothing), intended as a stark contrast to the understated tones of their parents’ generation—a statement that would ultimately become a defining signature of the Harajuku style during the ‘90s. For many teenagers seeking to achieve the most maximalist fashion looks, it soon became essential that considerations of color should not stop at clothing, and having a bright, signature hairstyle quickly became a necessity to secure a feature in one of Harajuku's many street style magazines. In the final third of the ‘90s in particular, hair trends developed at a rapid pace, incorporating all manner of colors and dyed patterns, custom smiley faces, and even shaved brand insignia (particularly for intensely followed labels like 20471120, whose fans were often particularly keen to demonstrate their affiliation with the brand). Eager to capture the trade of these fashion-forward teenagers, hair salons flocked to take up residence in Harajuku (with many remaining to this day), where they hooked up their customers with ever more colorful and dynamic styles. Indeed, many of the most striking hairstyles seen in street style magazines of the time are often worn by assistants at popular Harajuku salons, whose willingness to be subjected to the newest and most experimental looks effectively transformed them into walking advertisements for their respective establishments.
beauty:beast designer Takao Yamashita saved some of his most innovative work for his brands' footwear line, channeling his background in architecture to create a series of wooden-soled boots that wouldn't have looked out of place in the collections of Helmut Lang or Martin Margiela.
Hysteric Glamour differed from many Japanese brands of the era, making little reference to the conventions of domestic and European fashion design and, instead, drawing their aesthetic from trashy American B-movie and rock 'n' roll tropes.
THE STREET STYLE MAGS
Magazines in Harajuku during the ‘90s played a unique role not only in supporting and contextualizing the rapidly developing niche styles from a (relatively) small corner of Tokyo, but also in networking these new looks to like-minded youths in other cities, allowing them to establish their own scenes and region-specific interpretations of the latest trends. Of all the magazines that achieved prominence at the time, FRUiTS is—of course—the most obvious and well-known. The magazine was founded by photographer Shoichi Aoki, who had previously achieved acclaim for bringing the styles of London and Paris (as well as, occasionally, other cities such as New York and LA) to Japanese audiences through his pioneering street style magazine Street. However, FRUiTS was far from being the only game in town, with other widely read magazines such as Cutie—which focused on youth-driven street fashion and editorial shoots—covering the burgeoning styles in Harajuku from as early as 1989. Cutie was particularly notable for its “Kids Collection” issues, which showcased new season trends from a variety of youth-focused brands while also providing extensive photographic surveys of the styles that were being worn on the street. Meanwhile, publications like Kerouac offered a larger, more traditional “magazine”' take on the type of content being offered in FRUiTS, also bringing a unique focus on detail shots of bags, shoes, and accessories spotted on the streets through their unique “flash” photo series, and even publishing a special titled “Hair Boo”' at the end of the ‘90s, which compiled all the images shot for the magazines monthly “Hair Wars” feature.
Other particularly notable brands that achieved popularity within the 90s Harajuku scene include the cyber brand FÖTUS, Super Lovers/Lovers House, and Hitomi Okawa's long-running label, Milk.
Shoichi Aoki, the man behind FRUiTS, shot only the most impressive looks he saw on the street, yet some teenagers were still able to achieve streaks where they featured in multiple, and even consecutive issues, solidifying their status as true street style celebrities.
Harajuku, a district in Tokyo's Shibuya ward, has a long history as the catalyst for cultural exchange and consumer trends. After the end of World War II, it was the area inhabited by US Military servicemen and their families, and the area's shops, which stocked a range of Western products for the locals, quickly became an attraction for Japanese youth who were keen to sample the imported American goods. As Harajuku became an increasingly popular meeting ground, a number of independent Japanese designers took advantage of the area's studio spaces and opened stores in the area, in order to tap into the presence of adventurous young consumers. Building on the area's reputation for fashion, the Laforet Mall (which serves as the backdrop to many FRUiTS photos) opened in 1978 and introduced a range of new designer stores to the area, buoyed by the accelerated growth of Japan's post-war economy. However, by the early ‘90s, Japan's economic fortunes had hit a sharp decline, something which—perhaps surprisingly—proved to be a catalyst for much of the fashion creativity that would occur within the rest of the decade. In cultural terms, the economic downturn effectively broke the growing monopoly of (and cultivated a sense of mistrust towards) major brands in the area, effectively leveling the playing field to allow smaller, independent designers and brands to operate on a more equal footing. The independent offerings of these stores proved attractive to a new generation of consumers who had become wary of big business and helped cultivate a counter-cultural spirit that allowed the style of ‘90s Harajuku to thrive.
One of the notable backdrops in early issues of FRUiTS is the Hokosha Tengoku or “pedestrian paradise” stretch of the tree-lined Omotesandō thoroughfare, which—until 1998—was closed to cars on Sundays and became a popular area for Tokyo's young residents to gather and be photographed.
Of all the core clothing elements popularised in Tokyo during the 1990s, accessories are perhaps the most definitive in representing the DIY spirit of the era and the most indicative in illustrating the lack of hierarchy between established brands and independent (and even homemade) items. One of the most notable accessories trends during the era were customized armor rings, fashioned out of pieces of aluminum wire, which often featured small toys and other objects woven into their designs. These frequently became, along with other DIY trends, the subject of “how-to” guides within magazines, often written by street style celebrities who had achieved notoriety for that specific type of accessory. Out on the streets, these sorts of homemade accessories were just as likely to attract the attention of street style photographers as expensive designer items by brands such as Chrome Hearts, and—in a similar fashion—items from street corner vending machines could be just as likely to drive trends as pieces from the latest designer collections. This was certainly the case with the popular colorful perspex earrings of the time—one of the staple pieces within the context of rave/cyber trends (usually paired with items from brands such as FÖTUS and Cyberdog)—which, despite being sold either as cheap “counter” items in convenience stores or from coin-operated vending machines, became must-have fashion items.