Harajuku Style Is Dead, And Here's What Killed It

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Though Tokyo street fashion blogs might make you think otherwise, Harajuku style is disappearing. Here's why.

“There are no more cool kids left to photograph,” said photographer Shoichi Aoki in an interview with BBC last year. After over 20 years, he had decided to fold the print edition of FRUiTS magazine, a publication that chronicled Harajuku style. Aoki says that in recent years, he has seen the less and less of the individualistic fashion of the district, a demise that made him declare that Harajuku style is dead.

Shoichi Aoki and FRUiTS

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Credit: @fruitsmag

Aoki founded FRUiTS in 1996, at the peak of Harajuku street fashion. “Most acts of expression have a system of being recorded and preserved, but there was no such system for street fashion,” he says. “I decided to make it my project to record street style.”

Back in its heyday, kids sporting Harajuku style could be spotted at every corner. But by 2004, when Gwen Stefani came out with “Harajuku Girls”, the subculture was already on the decline, and finding people to shoot for FRUiTS became harder and harder.

“It was hard to find people who could be shot, who were doing new things that were playing with categories or materials in an original way and looked good,” Daphne Mohajer, a Tokyo-based fashion designer who worked with Aoki in 2010, tells Quartz. “Maybe 1 in 100 or even less people.”

Harajuku style is dead: What happened?

FRUiTS magazine isn’t completely gone — it still lives on via social media, where it continues to capture those who continue to embody Aoki’s idea of Harajuku style.

Make no mistake: Harajuku remains a fashionable district, with many of its pedestrians still embracing the spirit of self-expression that made the district famous. However, there’s no denying that there aren’t enough to fill the pages of a print magazine — those who sport the statement-making outfits that make it to Instagram pages are the exception, not the rule.

Why?

Here are a few possible reasons.

1. Harajuku reopened to traffic

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Credit: @fruitsmag

Aoki says that the district’s creative vibe in the ’90s could be largely attributed to Hokoten (Hokousha Tengoku), which means “pedestrian paradise”. Harajuku’s streets used to be closed to traffic, so pedestrians could enjoy walking around at their own leisure. This made the district a mecca for fashion-forward creative kids to express themselves — and impress each other.

But in 1998, Harajuku was reopened to traffic. After that, international fashion chains like H&M and Forever 21 started putting up shop in the area. And that, says Aoki, was the beginning of the end.

2. Buying from Uniqlo is just easier (and cheaper, too!)

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Source: Wikimedia Commons

Harajuku style hinges on a lot of mixing and matching and DIY. But with the advent of big brands like Uniqlo and H&M, it’s a lot easier to look fashionable with less effort (and less money spent, as well).

Before Uniqlo came into the picture, Japanese shoppers were used to paying higher prices for clothing (compared to their counterparts in other countries). But then wages started falling, and there was more demand for cheaper, fashionable clothing. This was Uniqlo’s cue to enter. Simple economics! 

3. The cool kids have simply moved on

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Credit: @tokyofashion

Harajuku style might have just become too mainstream for the cool kids. Tokyo-based culture writer W. David Marx says that the demise of FRUiTS style is simply part of the style cycle. It is, after all, over 20 years old.

The people who still dress in ’90s-esque Harajuku style don’t do it for the same reasons, Marx claims in this series of tweets. “They dress that way to be social media stars or be on variety TV.”

Fashion comes and goes, and today’s cool kids could simply want something fresh — who can fault them for that?

H/T: Quartz, BBC

(Featured and lead image: @tokyofashion)