When The World Ends With You came out back in 2008, the western world was only just catching up with the vibrancy and dynamism of Japanese street fashion. Now, on the heels of NEO: The World Ends With You, it’s a global phenomenon.
Japanese designers like Rei Kawakubo, Junya Watanabe, Issey Miyake, and Yohji Yamamoto had turned Tokyo into a fashion capital by the mid-’90s, and the early aughts saw a influx of Japanese fashion influences trickle their way onto the runways of major western fashion cities like New York, Paris, and Milan. Alexander McQueen’s Spring/Summer 2005 collection, “It’s Only a Game,” played with the juxtaposition of Japanese textiles and kimono construction and American fashion iconography like football protective equipment. Similar silhouettes popped up in the collections of Elie Saab, John Galliano, and several other designers.
This influence plays out in a scene in the 2005 film The Devil Wears Prada, where designer James Holt holds a preview of his collection for Runway magazine’s Miranda Priestly. He introduces the collection by saying, “I was trying to capture the intersection of East meets West. The modern woman as geisha meets rockstar, with a little Desperate Housewives thrown in.”
Also in 2005, Gwen Stefani’s appropriation of Harajuku fashion—a nebulous term to encompass the dozens of different styles and subcultures birthed in Tokyo’s Harajuku neighborhood—came to a head with her album Love. Angel. Music. Baby. and the Harajuku girls she paraded around.
Of course, this is all indicative of the average person’s awareness of Japanese fashion entering the visual lexicon.
Long before Gwen Stefani marketed her Harajuku Lovers fragrances and clothing line in Targets across America, anime and JRPG fans held an appreciation for Japanese alternative cultures, which only grew as the aughts progressed. If you liked Japanese media, you were likely to get into J-Rock and Japanese fashion too. Especially if you liked manga like Ai Yazawa’s NANA and Paradise Kiss, which centered on music and fashion, or watched an anime with an opening by a visual kei leaning band. Tetsuya Nomura character designs, which you may have seen in promotional art for Final Fantasy games, have always leaned on just the right side of impractical and maximalist. I think that’s why so many JRPG fans fall in love with Japanese fashion brands. h.Naoto makes you look like your favorite zippered and buckled Final Fantasy character with a punk twist.
But access to Japanese street fashion brands was difficult, and expensive. Fashion designers like Stussy and Vivienne Westwood were clued into what was going on in Tokyo, but those Japanese designers were inaccessible to the average American or European designer. It feels unimaginable now to be unable to buy a BAPE T-shirt, but in the early aughts the only place to have BAPE anything, in my experience at least, was Kinokuniya, a Japanese bookstore chain, in expensive magazine and T-shirt bundles.