Punk Rock and Formal Beauty

Being it’s so snowy here, lately I’ve been re-reading my copy of Kamikaze Girls (the novel). The first time I read it, I underlined it and made notes in the margins with the idea of eventually writing some deep, meaningful, book-club-worthy article about it. Such an article never occurred. I think the most precious things to me in this book, I can’t express, or perhaps am unwilling to reveal – like a secret heart. All of its grace, for me, is locked beyond the silent, promising lace-and-embroidered style of its book jacket.

As I reached the end of the story again today however, I discovered a new section of the book I hadn’t read – or, well, I must have, as I underlined and annotated it, but I certainly don’t remember it. I thought I would post it here for you to read, and absorb its wisdom. The parts in bold italic are the sections I underlined by hand in my copy.

(Note: this afterword was written especially for the English/American book release, which occurred after the movie aired/became popular in the US. This afterword is specially written to lolita overseas.)

 

I imagine that quite a few of you picked up this novel after seeing its movie adaptation. 

Well, nice to make your aquaintance. I am Novala Takemoto, a Rococo writer who has been racing headlong in full-blown lolita mode for years, in spite of being a straight male.

Momoko, the girl who tells this story, is pretty much my alter ego. So if you found yourself identifying with Momoko’s spirit, it means that I have been understood on the other side of the ocean, and this makes me very happy.

Lolita is a unique form of street fashion that emerged in Japan in the late 1970s. There are no leaders in the lolita world. I am sometimes introduced as an authority on lolitas, and enjoy overwhelming support among readers with lolita tastes, but even so if, if my assertions and opinions do not meet with their approval, I face harsh rebuke. Lolita do not recognize any authority. They follow only the values they have chosen for themselves, regardless of what anyone else might say.

In other words, lolita possess a hard-boiled spirit at root that cannot be attained by men today. “Hard-boiled,” that stylishly cool attitude that originated among American men, has thus been passed on to a segment of with-it girls in Japan called lolitas. And it is now being relayed back to girls in America. This may have been inevitable. The reason I have been writing books about lolitas since my debut, Kamikaze Girls and other books, is that the hard-boiled sensibility is the source of my own lifestyle and creativity.

While lolita is a fashion genre that sprang up spontaneously, it does have strict conventions. Bangs must be cute straight across in front of the eyebrows, skirts have to be worn over petticoats, and so on. So long as you stick to these basics, the rest is up to you – you are free to adapt the look any way you please, and give precedence to your own original definition of lolita.

Lolita is a fusion of the spirit of punk rock with formal beauty that honors tradition. Lolitas value independence and beauty above all else.

In Kamikaze Girls, the two girls are drawn to each other’s independent natures and eventually come to respect one another. Eve though their tastes and principles are different, they become bound by true friendship because they learn to respect the aesthetic behind those tastes and principles.

…Right around here, I pick up the Japanese copy of Kamikaze Girls that I had placed beside me to write this afterword to the American edition, and reread the last part for the first time in ages. Aah, this speech of Ichigo’s is pretty great, isn’t it? The one that starts with Momoko here ain’t my friend, see?” It brought tears to my eyes. (Hey, don’t read your own stuff and start crying!)

Actually, though, I was asked to write an afterword to the American edition and I said okay, but you know what? Everything I wanted to say, which is basically the simple message of “let’s all get along while following our own paths and doing whatever the hell we want!” is packed right into the book. I don’t really think I have anything to add to that at this point. Just connecting with you, who will be fighting this fight with me from now on, is enough for me.

Wow. Powerful stuff, really, when you think about it. Often Takemoto starts to ramble in a cute, mysterious way, but then he has sudden moments of perfect clarity – and this letter has a few brilliant insights. I thought he said several good points we would do well to remember in this simple, oft-unread letter to the lolitas of then – and now. By the way, keep in mind that he wrote this in what we now refer to as the ‘old-school days’, most likely somewhere between 2004 and 2006 – right before the sudden ‘fashion shift’ into the lolita of the 2000s (when Angelic Pretty dominated the scene and the multi-color print began to rise in popularity).

To begin with, he’s got us pegged: lolitas, for some reason or another, dislike authority. Anyone who claims to be an out-and-out authority figure on lolita fashion makes our guard go up. The touted ‘lolita expert’, La Carmina, comes to mind. Now, why is that? I think it’s our natural reaction to being ‘fenced in’ by someone who claims to have all the answers. As soon as someone says, ‘I’m an expert on _____ (let’s say, classic lolita)’ several girls also say, ‘But you’re not thinking of it from this point of view.’ As he continues to say, this is because lolita is something personal. I know we think of it as a fashion, a subculture, a community, a set of guidelines, but at the end of the day your love and interpretation of lolita is with you. Just you. I recently read a quote that went something along the lines of, ‘You can talk and share all night long, but when you sleep you all have different dreams.’ Within the shape of lolita we all have our own fantasy worlds and daydreams – of place, time, locale, color, and fashion, which emerge through our clothes. I personally tend to find a sense of ‘place’ – when I see certain clothes, I imagine the scene and world whence they come. Pink House makes me think of grassy fields and old orchards in summer, fading to fall; Angelic Pretty makes me think of Barbie-pink doll houses and retro soda shops. But other girls may get a sense of presence, such as imaging themselves in the clothes, or perhaps a sense of sound (imaging a piece of music?) for the aurally inclined. I know one of my friends expresses her emotions and fantasies in film – I wonder if clothes give her the sense of a silent music video?

As you grow into your style, play with others, and develop your aesthetic tastes, you begin to define what lolita means to you. Not the communities, not what’s popular online, not in magazines – but to you. Rather than sitting down to follow the guidelines or a subset, make your own. The other day, as I was thinking about Lolita Princess and its pure look, I found myself dreaming up a substyle! Was it lolita? Was it mori-girl or hime-kei? Was it a little bit fetched from lots of places? You bet. The more styles that seem to evolve and explode from Japan, the more they don’t seem so different. Girls are beginning to gladly dabble in everything from gyaru to pop-kei, mori-girl and hime-kei. They seem very different on the surface, but below the veneer they are deeply similar. The notion of dolls, femininity, princesses, heroines in storybooks… are all from the same world, aren’t they? Defining your lolita style doesn’t need to be simply within the confines of by-the-book lolita. Check out his ‘lolita style’ above – certainly not your cookie cutter coordinate! He pairs his favorite brand pieces (often Baby the Stars Shine Bright and designer brand Vivienne Westwood) to develop his own androgynous style, veering to more masculine or feminine as he sees fit.

Okay, we’re not all androgynous writers cobbling together knee socks and bloomers as pants – but plenty of day-to-day girls redefine their lolita styles out of the box. Moss Garden, for example, is a fine example of a ‘lolita blog’ that feels free to venture into the other realms of style such as natural-kei, dolly-kei, and mori-girl. Fairytale a La Mode, what we would mostly class as a classic lolita, often wanders down other fashion paths as well. Perhaps this is because as lolitas, it never truly leaves us? As Takemoto says, let’s all follow our own paths and get along while doing whatever the hell we want! (…I ramble sometimes, too, but not in a cute, mysterious way. In more of a raised-eyebrow, wait-what way?)

In a way, you could also consider this afterword to be a pep-talk, about independence and bravery and even, perhaps, despite our differences, solidarity. Many of his poems also touch on subjects of bravery. As anyone who has ever stepped outside their front doors wearing a full lolita coordinate knows, bravery – and insecurity – can be constant companions. And that’s not to say hiding under the quilt will fix that problem – you can find just as much disapproval online as in real life. Especially for someone who has decided to be independent and go their own way. But as the story of Momoko and Ichigo shows us, it’s not their common interests or even morals that bring them together. It’s that they recognize the same spark of independence within each other – in an interview, Takemoto calls them ‘soul twins’, kind of like our saying of ‘two sides of the same coin.’ After all of his reference to going your own way and developing your own style, he also encourages us to support that independence in others (even if ‘others’ means gross, spitting Yankis, of course – or, basically, other fashion styles that aren’t our cup of tea). He wants us to go forth, be brave, and stand beside others who are doing the same.

I could continue the dissertation about Novala Takemoto forever. Since my lolita journey began with Kamikaze Girls, I suppose you could say that without his writing, I wouldn’t be where I am today. So in this small way, I hope his afterword stays with you. Makes you think, or stand up. Remember: the lolita values independence and beauty above all else; the punk rock spirit fused with the beauty and love of a fantasy world. The princess, the doll, the maiden – is finally standing up for her right to be herself. I hope you do, too.

 

If you want to read more articles by Novala Takemoto, you can find them here and here. (English)

xoxo,

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