Sunday, September 28, 2008

Tales Of The City

Those of you who have managed to read through this curious little blog regularly may have picked up on my fluttering love of a few certain things - the adorable, the embellished, the imaginative - especially when it comes to fashion. I'm a little girl at heart who secretly craves big wedding cake dresses frosted in pink and white, a modern day princess who dreams of falling asleep in a wardrobe filled with rose-water cakes and rocking horse shoes. I love everything over-the-top and frosted with fairy-tale grandeur, which might explain why six years ago I was instantly drawn to a sleepy little movement in Japan called, quiet simply, Lolita.

Lolita is based on the fashion, architecture, and aristocratic lifestyle of 18th century France, a period which historians have dubbed "Rococo". From France to Japan, the Lolita movement took the Rococo idea of filling life with everything sweet and delectable and drew it into the twentieth century in the form of candy-colored dresses and a positive outlook on life.

A slew of brands emerged, propelling this moment out of obscurity and into history. My personal favorite, one that I feel truly represents everything Lolitas believe in, one that paints its stores pink and fills them with everything that little girls could only dream of, one that sells the most beautiful and child-like dresses that I've ever seen, is a little-known brand called Baby, the Stars Shine Bright.

Last night, through some magical twist of fate, I stood in the presence of the CEO and head designers of Baby.

Remy and I rode the F train to Bryant Park with the intent of making our way to Kinokuniya, an incredible Japanese bookstore that sells everything from manga to magazines. It's one of my favorite spots for picking up interesting gifts, as well as catching up on Japanese trends, so I always make a point to go there whenever I'm in town.

We wandered upstairs, threading through isles of comic books and figurines, only to find the café section of the store blocked off. Instead of the usual brood of business men and twentysomethings pondering over newspapers and noodle bowls, a panel of Lolitas perched carefully in the dining area with a camera crew in tow. These quiet American girls dressed in full Lolita garb nibbled on salads and sipped down lemonade, huge slices of strawberry cake in front of them, while four alert Japanese women and one man sat across from them. I peeked through the chest-level glass dividing the cafe from the rest of the store, eyeing the scene curiously, when suddenly the translator caught my attention. "We here at Baby," she spoke, hands folded, "are completely open to American suggestions and would like to know if you have any questions or comments." I slammed my face against the glass, covering my mouth to quiet my incredibly obvious gasps. I eyed the Japanese panel carefully and realized that in this city of nearly nine million people, in this world of more than six billion, I was standing before Akinori and Fumiyo Isobe, creators and current CEOs of Baby, the Stars Shine Bright.

I stood behind that piece of glass for more than a hour, ecstatic and thrilled and uncontrollable in my mental backflips and jumping jacks. Here I was, dressed most un-Lolita-like in a simple blue dress and a faux-fur jacket, staring down the prince and princess of a sub-culture that redefined my life.

While these American girls chattered about how Baby's clothes were too small, for most of them couldn't fit into them, and too expensive, for most of them spent about $6,000 a year on dresses and the like, I felt this incredible ping of jealousy deep down inside. These girls, these upper east side eighteen year olds, could not only afford a closet full of Baby wears, but they were also seated right in front of Mr. and Mrs. Isobe themselves, yet all they could manage were complaints.

And that's when it hit me like a lemon-soaked dart: being a Lolita is not about being able to afford the dresses - it's not about wearing Baby every day and always taking tea at three o'clock on the spot - it's about being yourself, whoever you may be. Lolitas come in all shapes and forms, and shockingly enough not all of them can be found in Vivienne Westwood shoes or Baby frock. Lolita is a mindset, not a conscious choice - maybe not all Lolitas can afford sparkling dessert-like dresses or lace-covered cutsews, but that doesn't make them any less passionate about the lifestyle or, for that matter, any less Lolita.

I am a Lolita. Sure, I didn't get a council with Mr. Isobe, and sure, I may not own a single thing from Baby, but I am still a Lolita. And I will find my own drum to march by in my unique, Rococo-dusted world.

Because I am a Lolita, and I always will be. And I never needed a dress to give that kind of passion to me.

Penelope ♥


Rie said...

To be a devil's advocate, if they're going to spend so much on the dresses, I'm glad that they spoke up about what they needed in terms of size. As a short, busty inbetweenie (anywhere from a medium to an XL depending on the brand and cut), I know how heartbreaking it is to be in love with clothing but not be able to fit in it. As American girls are sized and shaped differently than Asian women for the most part, it's good that they got their voices out there.

That said, I'm sorry that they couldn't do it in a more polite, mercenary manner.

Rie said...

And you should have told me you're in NYC! Too bad the weather was so rotten...

Ashley said...

I don't think I'd ever be able to wear Baby or any other brand like that. I'm also glad they spoke about sizing differences.It also makes sense why the dresses are so expensive. They're made with intricate stitching, beautiful fabrics and most importantly, love. So if you're able to afford a dress, you treasure it more. But rich kids like that shouldn't even be talking like that. =-=

And you're also right, Penelope. Being lolita is simply havin the courage to be yourself, every single day of the year! ^-^

Penelope said...

Rie - I seriously considered dropping you a line and asking you out to lunch but the weather pretty much sucked all the way up until the day I left so Rem & I ended up spending most of our time in Brooklyn. I'm pretty sure I'll be back at the end of October, though, so we'll have to get together, rain or shine!

In terms of the American Lolis, I really don't think I painted a completely accurate picture of them, but I don't believe in talking down about anyone so I'm just going to leave it at that. All I'm going to say is that it was really kind of a horrifying spectacle for someone like myself who holds such a deep respect for these people to hear not one compliment passed. There was only one woman there who praised the incredible movement that these people have furthered and expressed her love for it deeply and truly, and she was a thirtysomething who wasn't on the panel and wasn't even dressed in Lolita garb! I think that's really what confirmed my belief that just because you can afford the dresses doesn't mean you understand them - I think not having them makes you appreciate the lifestyle even more.

Penelope ♥