Sunday, December 28, 2008

Japanese punk, gothic and lolita fashion - KERA Magazine

UPDATE: I now run a store that sells this fashion in New York City! Click here. Original post is below.

This is KERA, Japan's most popular punk, gothic, rock and lolita style magazine. My wife bought me a copy for Christmas as kind of a gag gift, the result of an inside joke.

The cool thing about KERA is that it's the entire range of counterculture fashion in Japan - not just gothic and not just punk. It includes DIY stuff (think FRUiTS) and Lolita too.

The covergirl this month is Nana Kitade, who's a singer, and the poster-child of "punk Lolita" style. She used to be on Tofu Records in the United States, before they mysteriously disappeared. I actually think she's quite bad. She is cute sometimes, though - here are a couple more photos from inside the magazine:

These sorts of fashions in Japan are, from what I can tell, entirely superficial. Whereas most rock fashion in the US and UK were initially borne out of necessity or to express a particular feeling, in Japan it's mostly for show. Western punk bands wore what they wore because they were poor and that's just what was available in cheap used clothing stores. Gothic bands wore what they wore because their music was dark and they were depressed.

But I made the mistake of listening to Nana Kitade's music one day and I was horrified. Now, I am sure she's a very nice girl, but what. the. hell?! That's just false advertising.

Anyway, it's fun to look at! Click the images for larger versions.

The Japanese borrow more from British punk than American punk, even though American punk is the original. I understand why, though; our punk fashions are pretty boring. Mostly just blue jeans, t-shirts, sneakers and leather jackets. (Think the Ramones.) None of the tartan, colorful boots or other decorative flourishes of British punk bands. Though I suppose the girl on the far left up there is sort of a nod to American rockabilly, with her black leather and polkadots.

The funny thing is while western people that dress like this are usually wearing old, legitimately torn-up and faded clothes, in Japan you have to buy it like that new. I read a news article a few weeks ago that said that Japanese women spend, on average, $500 per month on clothes for themselves. On average. I mean that includes all the people who are less well off, who have families to take care of, who live in rural areas, who are over 60 years old, etc. Think about that! How much do young, single city girls spend? (If you're curious, in the United States the average household spends $1,760 per year on clothes.)

I'm digging the outfits on the bottom right and bottom left.

This magazine, like all fashion magazines, is basically just one big advertisement. Though Japanese magazines do things a little differently than American ones; I don't think American fashion mags really break down exactly what you need to buy, where to buy it and how much it costs like this. I admit my fashion mag experience is limited, though.

Some of the "articles" actually seem to be written by advertisers. This "Naoto Girls" piece is a regular feature that's really an advertorial for the fashion designer h.Naoto, who is one of the top designers for this kind of stuff. He controversially designed Amy Lee's dress at the 2004 Grammy awards. I really like that blue/black outfit second from right above, but I don't know if most of his designs really work on non-Asian body types.

I was actually looking for this - this is half of the ad spread for "Baby, the Stars Shine Bright".

An interesting thing about KERA magazine is that their models are neither professional nor anonymous (in most of the fashion world, designers don't want the girls upstaging the clothes). They're all regular readers who sent in their photos. And once they're accepted as KERA models, the magazine promotes them as people as much as it promotes the clothes. Up there, that's Misako Aoki on the right, and Midori (just one name) on the left. The girl with the red and black hair in some of the photos a bit higher up is Ayumi Yamauchi, and she promotes her indie rock band Lancer >> Bee in the magazine.

Anyway, you may know "Baby, the Stars Shine Bright" from the film "Kamikaze Girls", starring Anna Tsuchiya and Kyoko Fukada, a total chick flick that was my wife's choice but that I think I ended up liking better than her. It's funny as hell. Although, it's really just a long advertisement too. Pretty much everything in Japan is an advertisement.

You may wonder if there are really Japanese girls that walk around like this. Well, sort of. Read my posts on Harajuku cosplay and everyday Harajuku fashions for some insight. Obviously these boutiques do sell enough clothes to stay in business.

Westerners often think there's only one Lolita style: Gothic Lolita. And they mix pure "gothic" and "gothic lolita" together. They're two different styles. In the two photos above, you see both gothic and sweet lolitas. "Sweet" is actually the most popular style.

This is Nana Kitade again. She's got a regular column in the magazine. It's funny how many Japanese designers name their brands in English, but either they or KERA often butcher it when they spell it out. They've listed as the brand Nana's wearing here as "Gramour Punks."

This is interesting. As pioneered by FRUiTS magazine some years ago, a lot of fashion mags in Japan now have these "street snaps" sections where their photographers will just go out and take pictures of real people dressed up like the fashions in the magazine.

KERA is a little different than FRUiTS in that they actually develop relationships with their favorite girls that they find this way, and then they take more "street snaps" of them over the years. So this section is not really a totally random sample of people - it's about 20% the same people month to month, and some of them are famous.

This girl above is named Becca. She's obviously western, and she's a singer who's popular in Japan. She appears in KERA pretty often, though she's not one of their regular models.

As if you needed any, here's more evidence that this is just a look and not a lifestyle. I'm not sure anyone would consider Britney Spears, Hilary Duff or even any of the Japanese acts listed above as gothic, punk or really anything other than straight pop. Probably about the punkiest this magazine's audience really gets would be Avril Lavigne.

Still, nothing wrong with a little eye candy.

If you're interested in buying these types of clothes, check out my and my wife's online store - and watch for our physical store (complete with new lines from major brands) soon!


  1. Great post!
    I LOVE Japanese fashion magazines. I splurged a couple of years ago on a subscription to Cutie magazine. Cutie is very similar to both Kera and Zipper magazine except a little less goth and punk. I loved Cutie because it always came with lovely free gifts ranging from pocket mirrors to notebooks to tissue holders to socks. Every month was a wonderful surprise! They also featured some of my favorite Japanese ladies on the cover, like Mika Nakashima and our all-time fave, Ami and Yumi!
    I have a couple of Kera mags which are good for a little inspiration. I love the designers featured, particularly Vivienne Westwood and h. Naoto. I have a Westwood ring exactly like the one featured in the Japanese film "Nana". I also own an h. Naoto skirt. Sadly, many of the fashions do not fit an average sized American girl like myself. Therefore I rarely ever order fashions online from Japanese designers.
    There is a magazine/book called the Gothic & Lolita Bible that is sort of a highbrow version of Kera that caters specifically to the gothic lolita style (with occassional punk thrown in a little). It reached such a level of popularity here in the states that they started printing and English language version. It's nice because it actually comes with clothing and accessory patterns so that you can make versions of the featured styles for yourself. I have no seamstress skills so it doesn't help me too much, but it's still a nice feature for a magazine to have!
    My lovely friend Megumi visits her family in Japan each year and she brings me back fashion magazines each time. It's great, I use them for inspiration for clothing, makeup and haircuts.
    Oh, and I'm with you. Nana Kitade blows.

  2. I do know Cutie but would be a little embarrassed to buy one for myself :)

    Although my wife and I have been talking about opening a store in NYC that sells this kind of Japanese fashion, so I could always just call it "research". There's such a big Japanese population here and then beyond that such a large number of New York kids who would be interested in this stuff that I think a store specializing in it would do really well here. I don't know of any that exist right now. (Of course, this moment is probably not the best time to open one, but maybe in a couple years.)

    Apparently the book store that my wife bought this at now has a huge gothic section - I am going to head down there one of these days and see what else they have.

  3. Anonymous4:44 AM

    I like you too much.
    Send Kera to me at:
    POBOX 3039
    09080-BURGOS (SPAIN)

  4. Was researching about what to wear for a Halloween party, wanted to do a type of fashion, and came across this blog post :) it's great :)


About This Blog

This is increasingly not a blog about Alphabet City, New York. I used to live in the East Village and work on Avenue B, but I no longer do. Why don't I change the name if I'm writing about Japan and video games and guitars? Because New Yorkers are well-rounded people with varied interests, and mine have gone increasingly off the rails over the years. And I don't feel like changing the name. I do still write about New York City sometimes.


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