Consuming Cuteness: The Visual Code Of Youth In Kawaii (cute) Fashion Subcultures

Friday, July 18, 2014: 9:15 AM
Room: 417
Oral Presentation
Megan RUSSELL , School of Social Sciences, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia
The kawaii (cute) fashion subcultural scene of Harajuku, Tokyo, presents a complex visual sphere in which youth produce and circulate images through the consumption and design of clothing products. This paper examines the power that the image can have in bringing together young designers and consumers. Using visual data from Harajuku and qualitative interviews with key cultural producers, it unpacks the idea that aesthetics in fashion subcultures can be used to signify wider thematics in the subcultureThis paper aims to revive the use of semiotics in the study of fashion subcultures, working under the Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies’ premise that there is resistance within fashion subcultures which is symbolic and counter hegemonic. It also integrates a discussion of cultural industries to map out how these images and their related mythologies are produced and circulated in the subculture. It combines the literature from these three fields to examine the ways in which kawaii fashion subcultures engage with residual and emergent social cultural forms, particularly pop culture. Youth in kawaii fashion subcultures claim images of childhood, and arrange them into a system of signs mediated through fashion styles as a form of symbolic resistance to hegemonic norms of Japanese adulthood. The clothing of kawaii fashion subcultures allows for self-transformation, as prints, motifs and textiles are used to signify individual identities and collective dreams centered around cuteness and passive doll-like archetypes. The streets of Harajuku become a public theatre in which participants act out these identities, utilizing a complex code of cuteness to communicate ‘authenticity’ to other subculturalists. Over the past decade, the subculture has been commercialized, and new codes are mediated through specialist magazines and shop fronts. This raises further questions around the extent to which subcultural resistance is formulated around active image making or consumption.