Intersections: Transnational Bricolage: Gothic Lolita and the Political Economy of Fashion

Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific
Issue 20, April 2009

Transnational Bricolage:
Gothic Lolita and the Political Economy of Fashion

Vera Mackie


      …we are in the middle of a full-blown gothic revival, and it's casting a long shadow over the way we dress and furnish our lives. Even the arts are turning dark.[1]

  1. In the streets of my hometown of Melbourne, too, I can see the evidence of this gothic turn.[2] On the tram I see people wearing t-shirts decorated with skulls and skeletons. Posters on the tram shelter advertise the latest vampire movie, Twilight, while bookshops carry the Twilight series of novels. Members of the Goth subculture are featured in weekend supplements on street styles.[3] Fashion magazines use the University's neo-gothic cloisters as a backdrop for their fashion shoots.
  2. In the last year or so, there has been a series of exhibitions devoted to the 'gothic' style in fashion and in art. Taken collectively, these exhibitions have been characterised by an eclectic mix of haute couture and street fashion, high art and popular culture. The discussion has spilled over from the Úlite spaces of the art gallery and into the popular media.[4] The gothic influence is evident in low and high culture, from Melbourne to Paris, New York to London, Harajuku to Auckland.
  3. Some of this gothic revival has a particularly Japanese inflection. One of the fashion styles which has featured in these exhibitions is a style which has come to be known as 'Gothic Lolita.' This style is associated with the street fashions of the Harajuku region of Tokyo, but has also gained a following around the world. There are shops devoted to this style in places as diverse as Melbourne, Sydney, Berkeley, Paris and of course, Tokyo and Osaka. There are websites devoted to Gothic Lolita clothing and accessories, blogs devoted to chronicling and reflecting on the style,[5] and books and magazines which document this and other 'Tokyo Looks.'[6] Relatively mainstream bookshops also carry manga and animation with gothic themes.[7]
  4. This is an example of transnational fandom focused on fashion. However, in common with other examples of subcultural fandom, there is a generic profusion which sees related narratives and motifs appearing in different cultural forms.[8] In addition to the clothing and accessories, there are guidebooks, manga, animation, movies, video games and fiction. These are also translated and adapted into other languages and cultural contexts. As these styles are consumed and adapted in disparate places, businesses develop in order to support the dissemination of these styles. As fandom and consumption take on a transnational character, there is also a transnational political economy of design, production, distribution, marketing, publication, commentary and consumption.

    The imagined community of style
  5. Fashion provides a particularly rich site for the analysis of the interaction between consumption, subculture and political economy. Clothing may also be seen as the boundary between body, self and society. Fashion is symptomatic of gender relations, too, for clothing is one of the major means of communicating one's relationship to societal expectations of gender—whether this be to affirm such expectations, negotiate with them, or resist them.
  6. Fashion may also be seen as a semiotic system, a system of signs which can be read for meaning.[9] Each style may be seen as a genre, as defined here by John Frow:

      [Genres are] cultural forms, dynamic and historically fluid, and guiding people's behaviour; they are learned, and they are culturally specific; they are rooted in institutional infrastructures; they classify objects in ways that are sometimes precise, sometimes fuzzy, but always sharper at the core than at the edges; and they belong to a system of kinds, and are meaningful only in terms of the shifting differences between them.[10]

  7. Members of each fashion subculture are skilled at reading the signs which provide a sense of belonging in their own subculture and a sense of distinction from other subcultures. In reading signs and deploying these signs for their own purposes, members of each subculture become part of an imagined community. These imagined communities are forged through the performativity of parading through the streets in their chosen style, perhaps to be photographed for the pages of subcultural magazines such as FRUiTS, or to see their photographs appear on fashion blogs.[11] Community is also forged through shopping in particular specialist stores, through dressmaking, and through the act of exchanging information through subcultural magazines and internet sites.[12] A similar sense of imagined community is evoked by Cintra Wilson's comments on her participation in the black-clad goth subculture of 1980s San Francisco.

      …our new monochromism was helpful to community building: We were able to recognize our neighbors as well as if we had all adopted regional folk costume.[13]

    Her comments are echoed by Valerie Steele, curator and author of Gothic: Dark Glamour.

      The goth subculture…remains a visual shortcut through which young persons of a certain damp emotional climate can broadcast to the other members of their tribe who they are. Goth is a look that simultaneously expresses and cures its own sense of alienation.[14]

  8. The dissemination of street styles may also be seen as a useful site for the consideration of questions of globalisation, localisation and what has been referred to as 'glocalisation'.[15] Finally, clothing is an element of capitalist production and consumption, and thus an element of transnational political economy. With the dissemination of information through the internet and the international distribution of fashion goods, fashion subcultures also take on a transnational dimension.
  9. The members of a fashion subculture are placed in a web of imagined spatial connections with members of similar subcultures in other cities around the world. We can also, however, place the style in a chain of temporal links, in a genealogy which takes us back to earlier styles.

    Goth and the semiotics of black
  10. Takahara Eiri has referred to the Gothic sensibility as '…essentially a variation on the heritage of the past. However, this is a fabulous past which has never actually existed.'[16] This is a nostalgic sensibility which looks to the past, not with a desire for historical accuracy, but rather in search of a particular mood.
  11. 'Gothic' referred originally to the East Germanic Goth tribes, and the term came to be used as a term of abuse, signifying the meaning of 'barbaric.' The label was attached to a form of medieval ecclesiastical architecture, characterised by clustered columns, ribbed vaults, pointed arches and flying buttresses, reflecting the state of architectural technology at the time of the construction of the great medieval cathedrals. The Gothic style has regularly been revived in order to invoke a sense of archaism and tradition, in nineteenth century university buildings, chapels, residential colleges, banks, railway stations and railway hotels, for example.
  12. Gothic novels are characterised by a fascination with horror, morbidity, melancholy, darkness and the supernatural, in stories set in cemeteries, ruins, castles and monasteries, and populated by ghosts, vampires and werewolves. From the late twentieth century, this nostalgic sensibility is seen in horror movies, film noir, 1980s rock groups like Souxsie and the Banshees and Bauhaus, television shows like The Addams Family and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and in the films of Tim Burton, such as Edward Scissorhands and the Corpse Bride.[17] Consumption of these cultural forms has also come to be associated with a particular form of dress and an associated subculture.[18]
  13. The generic features of the Goth style include dyed black hair, pale foundation, exaggerated black eyeliner and black nail polish. Clothing is black, purple or sometimes red, and is characterised by decorative features such as lace, or corset-like lacing. Some features, such as heavy work boots, body piercing or torn stockings have antecedents in the punk style. Ornate crosses refer to Christian symbolism and witchcraft.[19]
  14. The colour black is a feature which distinguishes Goth from other styles, while at the same time placing it in a lineage of black fashion styles. This has been expressed by one former devotee, who 'nursed grandiose ideas' that her funereal vintage attire aligned her with 'beatniks, existentialists, Zen Buddhists, French Situationists, 1930s movie stars and samurai.'[20]
  15. The relationship between all of these black fashion styles is shown in Figure 1. This diagram expresses the perceived links between Goth, Punk, Fetish and Beatnik styles, suggests roots in Bohemian styles,[21] Victorian mourning dress, religious dress and the dress worn by domestic servants, and includes more politicised manifestations such as the wearing of black by protest groups such as 'Women in Black.'[22]

    Figure 1. The genealogy of black dress

  16. There is an exquisite contrast between the black clothing and the pale skin which is often achieved through the liberal application of make-up.[23] In Euro-American cultures where a healthy suntanned look is valued, this style is deliberately anachronistic. It has associations with vampires, ghosts, and the consumptive heroines of operas, Romantic poetry and Victorian novels, as alluded to in this fictional evocation of 1980s New York youth subcultures.

      [They] cultivated a wan, undernourished aesthetic that reminded me of the way the Romantics had glorified tuberculosis…Drawn faces, thin pierced bodies, colored hair, and platform shoes…I had begun to understand that in that circle looking unwell was considered attractive.[24]

    Or, as Valerie Steele has commented, '[y]ou're running around in blue jeans, and they're wearing poetry, decadence and dark romanticism.'[25] In the description of Australian youth subcultures this has been described as the choice between 'sunlight and shadow.'[26] In Japan, Gothic Lolita is associated with pale skin and pale makeup, in contrast to the exaggerated suntanned look known as 'gan-guro,' or the exceedingly anti-naturalistic 'yamanba' style.[27] This frail and pale aesthetic is captured by Momoko, the schoolgirl heroine of Takemoto Novala's novel, Shimotsuma Monogatari.

      Once in a while at morning assembly there will be a girl who faints from anemia, and every time I see that I gnash my teeth with envy.[28]

    The genealogy of Gothic Lolita
  17. The Gothic Lolita style has its roots in the Gothic sensibility and the Goth subculture, but also has some more local cultural reference points. One source is the musical genre known as 'Visual Rock,' where the musicians dress in extravagant costume. Lead singer of the group Malice Mizer, Mana, 'wears a kind of modern Victorian mourning style with large elaborate dresses, big hair, and dark make-up.'[29] Mana is responsible for the Gothic Lolita fashion label "Moi-Même-Moitié", a style which is described as "Elegant Gothic Lolita".[30] The fans of Malice Mizer and other 'visual' bands adopted this style as 'costume-play' (kosu-pure/ cos-play) at concerts and conventions.
  18. The Gothic Lolita style, while referencing some elements of the Goth style, is rather more innocent in tone, eschewing, for example the bondage elements which are a feature of both punk and goth styles.

      Abstinence, girlishness, and virginity were prominent themes. Girls covered up so very little skin was left exposed, and wore lace and other frilly material almost to excess. They covered their legs with knee-high socks and wore Odeko shoes, characterised by a prominent rounded toe, rather than high heels.[31]

  19. The various Lolita styles can also be connected with the culture of 'shōjo' (young girls). This is particularly true of the 'Sweet Lolita' style, as exemplified in the products of brands such as 'Baby, the Stars Shine Bright.'[32] The shōjo sensibility has been associated with a young woman who is 'neither na´ve child nor sexually active woman,' a 'pure object, a toy-like being,' who demonstrates the qualities of 'freedom and arrogance.' Shōjo style is epitomised by the mimetic adjective 'hira-hira' ('fluttering,' 'frilly').[33] The cultural forms associated with the shōjo are the cross-dressing performances of the Takarazuka Theatre, the literature of Yoshiya Nobuko and Yoshimoto Banana, manga like Ikeda Riyoko's Rose of Versailles (Berusāyu no Bara), fairy tales, and the character goods of the Sanrio Corporation (see Figure 2).

    Figure 2. Gothic Lolita Kitty (detail), Sanrio character goods store at Narita Airport (photograph by author, March 2007)

  20. Several features of the shōjo sensibility have been articulated by the Lolita character in Takemoto Novala's novel, Shimotsuma Monogatari, who describes men as 'dirty. And smelly. And crude. And just plain yucky.'[34] Takemoto's novel also makes reference to the novels of such writers as Yoshiya Nobuko, who portrayed close emotional relationships between young women in a world from which masculinity had been banished.[35]
  21. The name of the style adds further complexity. 'Lolita' originally referred to the young woman who is the object of Humbert Humbert's infatuation in Nabokov's novel, Lolita. In contemporary Japanese popular culture this name has been transferred to the label 'Lolita complex' (usually abbreviated to Rori-kon/ Loli-con), referring to middle-aged men who have an interest in younger women.[36] 'Lolita' has also, however, come to refer to the Gothic Lolita style of street fashion. This is a style which is adopted by young women themselves, rather than an image imposed from outside, although there is a complex interplay between the street fashion subculture and the capitalist enterprises and small boutiques who sell the fashion goods and magazines.
  22. The name of the style also suggests a complex relationship with positive and negative expectations about young women's sexuality. There are recurrent moral panics about young women's sexuality in the popular media. These are alluded to, played with, and ultimately rejected in Takemoto's novel, Shimotsuma Monogatari.

      …To purchase the clothes I wanted from Baby, the Stars Shine Bright, I resorted to all sorts of fund-raising tactics: selling PCP on the sly, hacking into computers, going on paid dates, stealing money from temple offertories…I'm lying, I'm lying…[emphasis added].[37]

  23. Aficionados of the Lolita and Gothic Lolita fashion style are at pains to distinguish themselves from the fantasies of the men who harbour the desires known as the Lolita Complex (Rori-kon/Loli-con). They also aim to dissociate themselves from 'maid' coffee shops (mēdo kissa) staffed by women in dress which mimics that of a Victorian domestic servant, and frequented by the nerdish young men known as otaku.[38]
  24. However, it is not so easy to stand outside culture in this way. Once a particular style appears in the streets, the fashion pages and the internet, there is no way of controlling how this style will be read by disparate kinds of viewers. I would further suggest that both the Lolita fashion style and the middle-aged Lolita complex actually share common roots in an anxiety about adult female sexuality. For the wearers of the Lolita fashion style, their reaction to the conundrum of adult sexuality is to attempt to prolong their girlhood. For the bearers of the Lolita complex it is to focus on young women who are less threatening than an adult woman would be.[39]
  25. This passage from Takemoto's novel suggests that attracting the attention of male admirers is far from the minds of wearers of the Lolita fashion style.

      …If I didn't dress in this totally conspicuous and bizarre way, I'd make friends and be popular with boys…is what people tell me, and the more they say that, the more it fans the flames of my Lolita passion and stiffens my resolve to be a Lolita through and through.[40]

    It could also be commented that the frills and decoration actually draw attention away from the body, obscuring rather than accentuating the shape of the body, and making the clothes into an especially dense border between the body and the outside world.[41]
  26. Furthermore, there are men who adopt the style, suggesting a queering of the sex/gender system whereby there is no necessary connection between the sexed body and the cultural construction of gender. Men who adopt elements of the Gothic Lolita style include 'visual' rock bands, the writer Takemoto Novala,[42] and members of the transgendered Gothic Lolita subculture.[43]

    Gothic Lolita as genre
  27. A light-hearted quiz in one of the guides to Tokyo fashion subcultures invites readers to identify their preferred fashion style through a flow chart with a series of questions. The questions focus on such features as colour, skirt length, suntanned or pale skin, liking cute things, and following particular rock bands - features which distinguish between the 'Gothic Lolita' style, the sexy 'gyaru' style, and the cute 'dekora' style.[44] The generic features of the Gothic Lolita fashion style include clothes in the colour black, pale make-up, decoration with lace, frills and ribbons, accessories such as bonnets, top hats and head dresses, Victorian blouses, corsets, crinolines, panniers and aprons, over-the-knee socks or fishnet tights, high heels, platform soles or 'Mary Jane' shoes, and parasols.
  28. The Lolita style has various subgenres: Kuro-Rori (Black Lolita), Ama-Rori (Sweet Lolita), Guro-Loli (Grotesque Lolita), Gosu-Pan (Gothic Punk) and Rori-Pan (Punk Lolita).[45] The sweet or cute style is that portrayed in the novel and film of Shimotsuma Monogatari.

      …I'm wearing a red Elizabethan-style dress that has a frilly four-tiered skirt, princess sleeves that open really wide at the end (with lots of lace trim), and a rose-shaped lace doily sewn into the middle of the bodice, the white frills of the dress gorgeously setting off the red material while giving a fresh and cute impression, end even though the outfit is adorable enough without it, a detachable lace cape for good measure. A red felt mini-hat accented with rose-shaped burnout lace is perched on my hair, which is styled in a princess cut with long ringlets, and I have on frilly white over-the-knee socks. So aside from my shoes, which are Vivienne Westwood's Rocking Horse Ballerinas and Lolita must-haves (they go with any Lolita outfit), I am clad head to toe in my darling Baby, the Stars Shine Bright.[46]

  29. The Gothic Lolita style and related subgenres are characterised by references to an imagined past, with keywords such as 'Victorian' or 'Rococo.' These references, however, do not strive for historical accuracy, but rather a particular mood of archaism and romance.

      As [an] anonymous Japanese corset maker says, Gothloli girls don't need to fantasize about European nineteenth-century stuff any more. They have created their own fashion style, which doesn't refer to any real historical period. I wonder how many of them can tell the difference between what is nineteenth century European and what is medieval.[47]

  30. This also suggests that it is futile to search for authentic roots for the style in any one place. Within Japan, the style developed in association with a longing for features of the European romantic and rococo traditions, with references to time periods from the Renaissance to the Victorian era. As the style has been adopted in other parts of the world, it is rather associated with Tokyo street style. Further, the flows of influence are multidirectional, travelling between Tokyo, Osaka, London, Paris and New York. As suggested above, a Gothic Lolita outfit might deploy a form of transnational bricolage which brings together dresses made by an independent label in Tokyo or Osaka with home-made items and imported shoes from such brands as Vivienne Westwood.[48]

    Transtextual style
  31. The brand names associated with the Lolita style of fashion deploy layers of references to texts. This can be described as an example of 'transtextuality,…all that which puts one text in relation, whether manifest or secret, with other texts'.[49] The favoured brand of the Sweet Lolitas is 'Baby, the Stars Shine Bright,' which takes its name from a pop song by the group 'Everything but the Girl.' Another brand has the name, Jane Marple, referencing the amateur sleuth in Agatha Christie's novels.[50]
  32. Each fashion style is also implicated in transtextual links with literary and popular cultural genres. For Lolitas, it is visual rock, shōjo shōsetsu, shōjo manga, anime, Takarazuka musical theatre, popular music, fairy tales and the cute character goods of the Sanrio corporation. For those of a gothic persuasion, the links might be to manga such as Rozen Maiden, anime such as Le Portrait de Petite Cossette, or cinema such as Tim Burton's The Corpse Bride.[51]
  33. Fashion is by its very nature a citational practice. Fashion styles regularly reference the styles of other times, such as the 'Victorian' or 'Rococo' era, or other places, in 'exotic,' 'Oriental' or 'European' styles. Fashion styles also have paratextual links with labels, packaging, advertisements, commentaries and 'how-to' guides. Since the year 2000, the Gothic and Lolita Bible has provided information on where to acquire the products associated with the Gothic Lolita style, 'how-to' hints on make-up, dressmaking and craft, photographic spreads of such artists as the visual rocker Mana, interviews with such writers as Takemoto Novala, and gothic manga and fiction.[52] The 'Bible' is also gradually appearing in English-language editions, with translations from Japanese and new English content, volume by volume.[53]

    Gothic Lolita as transnational bricolage
  34. Accounts of the development of the Gothic Lolita style regularly refer to the international rock stars who frequent the stores of such brands as Moi-Même-Moitié or h. naoto on their tours of Japan. The Gothic Lolita style has also been disseminated on the internet, through blogs and mail-order sites. There has been a series of articles on US-based aficionados of the style in such mainstream publications as the New York Times. I have seen shops devoted to the Gothic Lolita style in places as disparate as Melbourne, Sydney, Berkeley, Singapore and Paris. Figure 3 shows the shop, 'Boy Loove Girl' in Paris; and Figure 4 shows the Japanese fashion shop 'Shibuya' in Melbourne.

    Figure 3. Boy Loove Girl, Paris, September 2008 (photograph by author, September 2008)

    Figure 4. 'Shibuya' Japanese fashion store, Melbourne, October 2008 (photograph by author, October 2008)

  35. The transnational fans of the Gothic Lolita style have received attention in the Anglophone news media. One New York Times article describes a young woman who has four parasols, various flouncy pastel skirts, and plenty of 'floppy lace bows' and goes on to describe the community she has built up.

      She and friends organise Gothic and Lolita outings for which they dress up and have tea or go to movies like 'Lemony Snicket's Series of Unfortunate Events,' in which the costumes evoke the Gothic and Lolita style. She said she sometimes gets stares from students on campus. 'I used to wear big frilly skirts out to classes, but it's hard to do,' she said. 'You have to function sitting at a desk and, in a ruffled skirt, you just can't do that.'[54]

  36. A blog describes a US-based woman known as 'Curiosity Valentine,' who practises 'Gothic Lolita Industrial Jazz Music'.[55] The dress of the cartoon figure on the flier displays the features of the Gothic Lolita style: curled hair, ribbons, lacing, petticoats, platform shoes, knee socks, a parasol and a coffin-shaped handbag decorated with a cross. The heraldic twin crocodiles add a whimsical touch, framing the scene like the animals on a coat of arms, the crowns and jewels adding a subtle reference to aristocratic culture.

    Figure 5. Flier for Curiosity Valentine, 'Gothic Lolita Industrial Jazz Music.'

  37. Meanwhile, one young woman illustrates the difficulties in the cross-cultural and intergenerational reception of fashion styles: 'My mom, when she first saw me dressed up, said, "Why didn't we just save your baby clothes?"'[56] Not all viewers have the same training in reading subcultural styles.[57]
  38. There has also been an Australian connection. Chinese-Australian artist Queenie Chan's TOKYOPOP graphic novel, the dreaming, adapts the story of Picnic at Hanging Rock in Gothic Lolita style.[58] This story harks back to the shōjo novels by such authors as Yoshiya Nobuko, which were regularly set in such communities as boarding schools.[59] The narrative also references what has been referred to as 'Australian gothic,' where there are regular stories of children disappearing in mysterious circumstances in the bush.[60] Furthermore, the title 'the dreaming' literally describes the recurrent dream sequences in the narrative, but also references Anglo-Australian understandings of indigenous culture, popularly referred to as 'dreamtime' or 'the dreaming.'
  39. Singer Courtney Love has been associated with a rather more sexualised version of girlish fashion.[61] Courtney Love's name is attached to a series of graphic novels from TOKYOPOP. This publisher of translations of Japanese graphic novels into English and English editions of the Gothic & Lolita Bible, has recently moved into commissioning original works in English. Princess Ai is attributed to Misaho Kujiradou, Courtney Love and D.J. Milky. The Gothic Lolita references are clear from the cover, which is black, grey, purple and deep pink, with lettering in Gothic script, and decorated with lacing. The character of Princess Ai on the cover has some similarities with Courtney Love herself: dyed blonde hair and girlish, but sexy dress. The plot involves fashion, music, romance, supernatural and fantastic elements, and the mystery of a lost mother. The text quotes from pop songs by Courtney Love and D.J. Milky.[62]
  40. Singer Gwen Stefani, at one stage of her career, appeared on stage with four female back-up dancers known as the 'Harajuku Girls.' The women were dressed in a variation of the Lolita fashion style. Each woman's skirt was embroidered with one of the words of Stefani's slogan: Love, Angel, Music, Baby (LAMB). More recently, Stefani has issued a range of perfumes called 'Harajuku Lovers.' The bottles come in the form of cute character goods, five doll-like characters in subcultural fashion styles, each with its own brief narrative introduction. The blonde character 'G' (for Gwen) is surrounded by the four dark-haired figures of Love, Lil' Angel, Music and Baby, with the slogan 'A Fatal Attraction to Cuteness.' The relationship between the blonde 'G' and the other characters reprises the relationship between Stefani and her Harajuku Girls. Stefani seems to have learned all about 'cross-platform' marketing from the Japanese producers of toys and character goods.[63] The Harajuku Lovers website sells t-shirts, handbags and accessories.[64]

    Figure 6. Poster for 'Harajuku Lover' fragrances, Sydney, November 2008 (photograph by author).

    Figure 7. Display of 'Harajuku Lover' fragrances, Sydney, November 2008 (photograph by author).

  41. Stefani has been accused of a new form of Orientalism, in treating her back-up dancers as mere decorative props, little more than dolls, never given an opportunity to speak for themselves.

      She's taken Tokyo hipsters, sucked them dry of all their street cred, and turned them into China dolls.[65]

    This suggests that there are limits to the imagined community which can be forged through the adoption of transnational subcultural styles. While the dress of the 'Harajuku Girls' has much in common with Tokyo street fashion, their placement as voiceless decoration for the blonde rock star means that they will be read quite differently from their Gothic Lolita 'sisters' in the streets of Harajuku. The goods associated with the Harajuku Lovers fragrance complete the process of turning the Harajuku Girls into dolls. The exoticisation of the European past in the adoption of the Gothic Lolita style in Japan is paralleled by the Orientalist exoticisation of the 'Harajuku Girls' in the United States.

    The transnational political economy of Gothic Lolita
  42. In common with many other contemporary examples of youth culture, the Gothic Lolita style is characterised by generic profusion, whereby motifs and narratives appear across a range of cultural products. Gothic Lolita refers to a particular fashion style which references other cultural forms such as manga, anime, cinema, music and fiction. These cultural forms, in turn, start to quote and make reference back to the Gothic Lolita style.
  43. For fans, this means that the pleasures and desires associated with the subculture can be enjoyed in various ways: through wearing the clothes and accessories, through sewing and shopping, through reading fiction and manga, through watching anime and cinema, through participating in chatrooms and blogs, and through promenading through the streets to see and be seen. These activities are supported by mail order catalogues, magazines, guide books, how-to manuals and internet sites.
  44. In economic terms, this generic profusion is expressed through multiple commodification. The commodities include clothing, accessories, publications, multimedia products and services. A host of industries has developed in order to produce, distribute, market and comment on these products and services. There are also shadow economies where second-hand products are swapped, bought and sold, or auctioned on e-bay style websites.[66] The desires of the members of such subcultures as the Gothic Lolita fashion style can thus ultimately be linked to economic processes on a local, national, regional and global scale.
  45. As the consumption of these products and services takes on a transnational character, industries have sprung up in order to produce, distribute, market and comment on these products and services around the world. In this transnational frame we need to add the processes of translation and adaptation, new forms of publication, mail order services, buying and selling through the internet, import and export industries, international distribution through mail and courier services, the credit facilities which facilitate shopping transactions which cross national borders, and the travel industries which take voyeurs and shoppers to the streets of Harajuku.[67]
  46. This is also reflected in the changing meaning attached to a place like Harajuku, which is identified as the site for the production, consumption and dissemination of street styles on a local and global scale. When Gwen Stefani refers to 'Harajuku Girls' and 'Harajuku Lovers,' she is not simply referring to a physical location in Tokyo, but rather to a style which is associated with the global flows of commodities, representations and styles.
  47. Godoy and Vertanian's comments on Harajuku suggest the complex multidirectionality of the flows of influence involved in the adoption, adaptation and glocalisation of fashion styles.

      While the Harajuku district has long been a spot for a domestic audience to come into contact with foreign culture and style, today the influence has reversed: foreign fashion leaders are taking notice and being influenced by what's happening on Harajuku's streets. Japan's top designers are now being invited to collaborate with the Western vanguard: Fendi collaborates with Nigo, Prada parties with Hiroshi Fujiwara as DJ.[68]

    Or, as Anne Allison has commented.

      For it is not Japan in some literal or material sense that is captured and transmitted in the new global craze of Japanese cool, but rather a particular style. And it is as trademark and producer of this distinctive style that Japan has acquired new notoriety in the global marketplace of popular culture today.[69]

  48. The young woman in Gothic Lolita style on the streets of Harajuku wears commodities ranging from hand-made accessories, expensive designer clothes and imported Vivienne Westwood shoes. Her clothing and accessories reference cultural forms from European rococo and romanticism to contemporary Japanese cartoons, novels and animation. The style is then disseminated internationally through art books, catalogues, how-to guides and translated fiction and manga. In a process of 'glocalisation'—local adaptation of globalised cultural forms—this style is then adopted and adapted on the streets of New York, Berkeley, Paris, Melbourne, Sydney and Auckland.
  49. It would be naïve, however, simply to read this as a matter of culture, subculture and individual identity. The transnational bricolage of the woman in Gothic Lolita dress can also be linked to a transnational bricolage of economic activities of varying scale. I refer to this range of economic activities as a 'transnational bricolage' because of its uneven and patchy nature. Unlike the products of the Sanrio corporation or the Disney corporation which are directed by massive global corporations which exercise tight control over copyright and licensing, these street styles are disseminated through a range of sites and routes in both mainstream and shadow economies.
  50. The Gothic Lolita style is disseminated through such elite and mass publishers as Yale University Press, Kodansha International, Thames and Hudson and Phaidon. The exhibitions of the style prompt tie-in editions of glossy fashion magazines such as Vogue and Harper's Bazaar, which make reference to the haute couture of élite Parisian designers. While elements of the style are
    characterised by the aesthetics of home dressmaking and bricolage, the style is also a major contributor to the success of such department stores as Marui in the major cities of Japan. There is a flourishing export trade of Gothic Lolita fashion styles from Tokyo to the world, and the import of such products as Vivienne Westwood shoes from Britain to Japan. Furthermore, there is a shadow economy of second-hand trading and swapping. Even the handmade elements of the style may depend on the purchase of fabrics, trimmings, threads, sewing implements and pattern books. Transnational style and transnational fandom, then, are ultimately matters of transnational political economy, demonstrating the infinite capacity for the appropriation and commodification of difference and identity under the systems of transnational capitalism.[70]

    Figure 8. Baby, the Stars Shine Bright dress on display in the Black Alice shop in a Singapore shopping mall (photograph by author, March 2009).


    [1] Derren Gilhooley, 'Night fever,' Harper's Bazaar, October 2008, p. 115.

    [2] Research for this article was completed as part of an Australian Research Council Discovery Project on 'The Cultural History of the Body in Modern Japan.' An earlier version was presented as 'Gothic Lolita: transnational and transtextual style' at the Biennial Conference of the Asian Studies Association of Australia, University of Wollongong, June 2006. This version has been informed by my participation as discussant at the workshop on Japanese Transnational Fandoms at the University of Wollongong in July 2008. I am also indebted to comments from the audience of my public lecture at the University of Newcastle-on-Tyne on 'Gothic Lolita and the politics of fashion,' in September 2008. Mark McLelland and Allison Holland kindly suggested useful secondary reading.

    [3] Janice Breen Burns, 'People like us,' in The Age A2 Culture and Life, 12 April 2009, pp. 12–14; Stephenie Meyer, Twilight, New York: Little, Brown, 2005; Stephenie Meyer, New Moon, New York: Little, Brown, 2006; Stephenie Meyer, Eclipse, New York: Little, Brown, 2007; Stephenie Meyer, Breaking Dawn, New York: Little, Brown, 2008; Catherine Hardwicke, Twilight, Summit Entertainment, 2008.

    [4] On these exhibitions, see: Roger Leong et al., Black in Fashion: Mourning to Night, Melbourne, National Gallery of Victoria, 2008; Ashley Crawford, Alison Kubler, Louise Martin-Chew and Lisa Slade, Neo-Goth: Back in Black, Brisbane: University of Queensland Art Museum, 2008; Valerie Steele, Gothic: Dark Glamour, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008; Harper's Bazaar, Back to Black Fashion Special, October 2008. See also the Museum of Auckland's 2007 exhibition dedicated to the Gothic Lolita Style and its local adaptations: online:, date last accessed 7 January 2009; and the FRUiTS: Tokyo Street Style exhibition at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney in 2002–2003 and the Dowse Museum in New Zealand in 2004.

    [5] 'Lolita, Gothic and Gosuloli's [sic]' online:, date last accessed 7 January 2009; Kyshah Hell, 'Elegant Gothic Lolita,' in Morbid Outlook, online:, accessed 7 January 2009; Mel Campbell, 'Eats, shoots and blogs,' Sunday Age M Magazine, 4 January 2009, pp. 12–13.

    [6] In Japanese, see Goshikku & Roriita Baiburu, Tokyo: Indekkusu Komyunikēshonzu, 30 volumes, 2000–2008, and the street fashion magazine, Fruits. See also English editions of the Gothic Lolita Bible and Fruits; Philomena Keet, The Tokyo Look Book: Stylish to Spectacular, Goth to Gyaru, Sidewalk to Catwalk, Tokyo: Kodansha International, 2007; Patrick Macias and Izumi Evers, Japanese Schoolgirl Inferno: Tokyo Teen Fashion Subculture Handbook, San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2007; Tiffany Godoy, Tokyo Street Style: Fashion in Harajuku, London: Thames and Hudson, 2007.

    [7] Such publishers as TOKYOPOP and VizMedia disseminate translations of Japanese manga and these are readily available in Australian bookstores. Those with gothic themes include: Peach Pit, Rozen Maiden, trans. Yuko Fukami, Los Angeles: TOKYOPOP, 2003; Shuri Shiozu, Eerie Queerie!, trans. Heidi Yamaguchi, Los Angeles: TOKYOPOP, 2004; Tsugumi Ohba, Death Note, trans. Pookie Rolf, San Francisco: VizMedia, 2003.

    [8] On toys and character goods, see Anne Allison, Millennial Monsters: Japanese Toys and the Global Imagination, Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006. See also Frances Atkinson, 'Purrfect storm,' The Age A2 Culture and Life, 16 August 2008, pp. 12–13.

    [9] On fashion as a semiotic system, see, inter alia: Malcolm Barnard, Fashion as Communication, London: Routledge, 2006, second edition.

    [10] John Frow, Genre, London: Routledge, 2006, p. 128.

    [11] FRUiTS has also been reissued for international readers by the art publisher, Phaidon. Aoki Shōichi, FRUiTS, New York: Phaidon, 2001; Aoki Shōichi, Fresh Fruits, New York: Phaidon, 2005.

    [12] Tiffany Godoy and Ivan Vartanian, 'Introduction: Harajuku made me do it,' in Godoy, Tokyo Street Style,pp. 1–13, p. 13.

    [13] Cintra Wilson, 'You can't kill it,' in New York Times, 17 September 2008, online:, date last accessed 7 January 2009.

    [14] Valerie Steele, Gothic: Dark Glamour, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008, cited in Wilson, 'You can't kill it.'

    [15] On glocalisation, see Allison, Millennial Monsters, pp. 20, 120, 275.

    [16] Takahara Eiri, Goshikku Hāto, Tokyo: Kōdansha, 2004, p. 1.

    [17] Tim Burton, director, Edward Scissorhands, Twentieth Century Fox, 1990; Tim Burton, director, The Corpse Bride, Warner Brothers, 2005. When The Corpse Bride was released in Japan, there was a special tie-in display in Marui's Shinjuku store, the home of a whole floor of Gothic Lolita fashion boutiques.

    [18] Crawford, 'The goth within,' in Neo-Goth: Back to Black, pp. 15–17.

    [19] Louise Martin-Chew, 'Neo-Goth shadow looms large,' in Neo-Goth: Back to Black, p. 20.

    [20] Wilson, 'You can't kill it.'

    [21] On the genealogy of black dress, see: Leong et al, Black in Fashion: Mourning to Night ; on bohemian style, see Virginia Nicholson, Among the Bohemians: Experiments in Living 1900–1939, London: Penguin, 2003, pp. 128–63.

    [22] 'Women in Black' is a loose coalition of women's groups who stand in public places dressed in black, in a silent vigil in order to protest against militarised violence. See Vera Mackie, 'Globalisation, localisation and civil society: women in black,' unpublished paper presented at the Conference of the International Studies Association, Honolulu, February 2005.

    [23] 'Whiteface should create the illusion that you really are that pale, and not that you have a bunch of makeup from Walgreens caked all over your face. Done badly, Gothic makeup can look painfully stupid. After spending money on a decent base, take the trouble to apply it evenly. It's appalling how many Goths overlook something so basic and vital to their entire aesthetic. Equally bad and unfortunately just as frequent is the tendency to overpowder and the tendency to end one's pallor at the jawbone. I can understand someone having difficulty with liquid eyeliner, but some mistakes are just inexcusably stupid. Don't make them.' Danielle Willis, quoted in Wilson, 'You can't kill it.'

    [24] Siri Hustvedt, What I Loved, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 2003, p. 190.

    [25] Valerie Steele, quoted in James Y. Lee, 'Gothic: dark glamour,' in Time Out New York, Issue 675 (Sep 4–10, 2008), online:, date last accessed 7 January 2009.

    [26] Louise Martin-Chew, 'Neo-Goth shadow looms large,' in Neo-Goth: Back to Black, p. 20.

    [27] On gan-guro and yamamba, see Sharon Kinsella, 'Black faces, witches and racism against girls,' in Bad Girls of Japan, ed. Laura Miller and Jan Bardsley, London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005, pp. 143–57.

    [28] Takemoto Novala, Shimotsuma Monogatari, Tokyo: Shōgakukan, 2002, trans. Akemi Wegmüller, as Kamikaze Girls, San Francisco: Viz Media, 2004, p. 116. Shimotsuma Monogatari concerns a friendship between two young women, one a devotee of Lolita fashion, the other of the Yankee style. The novel and associated manga and movie could be said to have contributed to a wider interest in the subcultural style of Lolita fashion. For a close reading of this novel and related texts, see Vera Mackie, 'Reading Lolita in Japan,' in Girl Reading Girl in Japan, ed. Tomoko Aoyama and Barbara Hartley, London: Routledge, in press.

    [29] Hel, 'Elegant Gothic Lolita,' accessed 7 January 2009.

    [30] Macias and Evers, Japanese Schoolgirl Inferno, p. 117; Mariko Suzuki, 'Gothic Lolita, visual-kei: first Kansai then the world (via Harajuku),' in Godoy, Tokyo Street Style, 134–37, p. 135; Keet, The Tokyo Look Book, pp. 86–90.

    [31] Suzuki, 'Gothic Lolita, visual-kei,' pp. 142–43.

    [32] Godoy, Tokyo Street Style, pp. 135–36; Keet, The Tokyo Look Book, pp. 92–93. 'The Baby, The Stars Shine Bright' brand has recently gained notoriety because a former shop assistant, Iwagami Ai, who had been unlawfully fired from one of their retail outlets has become a figurehead for demands for fair working conditions. See Norma Field, 'Commercial appetite and human need: the accidental and fated revival of Kobayashi Takiji's Cannery Ship,' in The Asia-Pacific Journal, 22 February 2009, unpaginated, online:, last accessed 17 March 2009. Iwagami Ai's website is at, last accessed 17 March 2009.

    [33] Honda Masuko et al., Shōjo Ron, Tokyo: Seikyūsha, 1988; Honda Masuko, Ibunka to shite no Kodomo, Tokyo: Chikuma Gakugei Bunko, 1992; Tomoko Aoyama, 'The peach girl views: appropriating the gaze,' Proceedings of the 15th Biennial Conference of the Asian Studies Association of Australia, 2004 <>, last accessed 17 January 2008.

    [34] Takemoto, Shimotsuma Monogatari, trans. Akemi Wegmüller, as Kamikaze Girls, p. 50.

    [35] Takemoto, Kamikaze Girls, p. 211.

    [36] Sharon Kinsella, 'Minstrelized girls: male performers of Japan's Lolita complex,' in Japan Forum, vol. 18, no. 1 (2006):65–87.

    [37] Takemoto, Kamikaze Girls, p. 42.

    [38] Matsuura Momo, Sekai to Watashi to Roriita Fasshon, Tokyo: Seikyūsha, 2007, pp. 39–42; Keet, The Tokyo Look Book, p. 63.

    [39] This is argued in more detail in Mackie, 'Reading Lolita in Japan.' My interpretation differs slightly from that of Theresa Winge, who is interested in attributing individual identity and agency to the members of this subculture. I am more interested in tracking the circulation of meanings in the Japanese and transnational cultural fields. Theresa Winge, 'Undressing and dressing Loli: a search for the identity of the Japanese Lolita,' in Mechademia 3: Limits of the Human, ed. Frenchy Lunning, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008, pp. 47–63, pp. 50–52.

    [40] Takemoto, Kamikaze Girls, p. 8.

    [41] When I presented photographs of this style at a recent public lecture, several audience members reacted to the style with the description 'scary cute,' reinforcing this interpretation of the distancing effect of the style. See also Winge, 'Dressing and undressing Loli,' p. 54.

    [42] David McNeill, 'Novala Takemoto: Lolitas' bard is sitting pretty,' in Japan Times, 21 November 2004, online:, accessed 7 January 2009.

    [43] Kinsella, 'Minstrelized Girls,' pp. 65–87. See also the photo-essay on Mana which focuses on gender ambiguity in the name of the brand Moi-Même Moitié (literally 'Myself-Half'), in Gothic & Lolita Bible, volume 1, Los Angeles: TOKYOPOP, February 2008, pp. 27–31. ('Half' [hāfu] in colloquial Japanese can refer to either racialised hybridity or gender ambiguity, as in the phrase 'new half.')

    [44] Macias and Evers, Japanese Schoolgirl Inferno, pp. 144–45.

    [45] Gothic & Lolita Bible, volume 1, pp. 14–15. See also the delineation of the generic features of the different Lolita subgenres in Winge, 'Undressing and dressing Loli,' pp. 52–56; and 'Lolita, Gothic and Gosuloli's.'

    [46] Takemoto, Kamikaze Girls, pp. 12-13.

    [47] Macias and Evers, Japanese Schoolgirl Inferno, p. 126.

    [48] A similar kind of transnational bricolage is demonstrated in Melbourne Goth Katie Buitenhuis' description of her outfit: 'I am wearing Demonia boots and stockings from Victorian Gothic, a skirt from a charity shop in Frankston, a top made from an old pair of stockings and a pentagram that a friend gave to me…My favourite designers are Demonia for bags and shoes, Lip Service which has great goth/alternative stuff and Tripp, which is an American label. Vicious Venus also has a great range in their Smith Street store.' See Katie Buitenhuis, 'Street Seen,' in Sunday Age M Magazine, 29 June 2008, p. 11.

    [49] Gérard Genette, Palimpsests: Literature in the Second Degree, trans. C. Newman and C. Doubinsky, Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1982/1997.

    [50] Takemoto, Kamikaze Girls, pp. 39–39.

    [51] Akiyuki Shinbo, director, Kozetto no Shōzō (Le Portrait de Petite Cossette), Tokyo: Cossette House, 2004.

    [52] Goshikku & Roriita Baiburu, Tokyo: Indekkusu Komyunikēshonzu, 30 volumes, 2000–2008.

    [53] Gothic & Lolita Bible, volume 1.

    [54] Laura M. Holson, 'Gothic Lolitas: demure vs dominatrix,' in New York Times, 13 March 2005.

    [55] ~curiosityv's Deviant Art gallery, 2009, online:, last accessed 17 March 2009.

    [56]Twinkle Lam, quoted in Holson, 'Gothic Lolitas: demure vs dominatrix.'

    [57] See also Momoko's grandmother in Shimotsuma Monogatari, who is unable to distinguish between the Lolita style and the Yankee style of fashion. Takemoto, Kamikaze Girls, pp. 117–18.

    [58] Queenie Chan, the dreaming, Los Angeles: TOKYOPOP, 2005; Joan Lindsay, Picnic at Hanging Rock, Ringwood: F.W. Cheshire, 1967. Picnic at Hanging Rock depicts a group of schoolgirls at a Victorian boarding school who disappear into the 'bush' in mysterious circumstances. See also Peter Weir, director, Picnic at Hanging Rock, Sydney: Australian Film Commission, 1975.

    [59] Hiromi Tsuchiya Dollase, 'Early twentieth century Japanese girls' magazine stories: examining shōjo voice in Hanamonogatari (Flower Tales),' in Journal of Popular Culture, vol. 36, no. 4 (2003):724–55; Sarah Frederick, 'Not that innocent: Yoshiya Nobuko's good girls,' in Bad Girls of Japan, ed. Laura Miller and Jan Bardsley, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005, pp. 65–79; Honda Masuko, Ibunka to shite no Kodomo, Tokyo: Chikuma Gakugei Bunko, 1992; Kawasaki Kenko, Shōjo Biyori. Tokyo: Seikyūsha, 1990.

    [60] Crawford, 'The goth within,' in Neo-Goth: Back to Black, pp. 15–17.

    [61] 'Courtney Love is a fan, apparently, and whenever she visits Japan she goes to Baby the Stars Shine Bright's main store in Daikanyama to stock up on Lolita clothes.' See Takemoto Novala, 'Afterword,' in Kamikaze Girls, p. 215.

    [62] Misaho Kujiradou, Courtney Love and D.J. Milky, Princess Ai, Los Angeles: TOKYOPOP, 2004.

    [63] Gary Cross, 'Foreword,' in Allison, Millenial Monsters, p. xvi.

      As early as the 1920s, toy and children's-book producers had learned the art of sliding characters and stories across 'platforms' of fantasy…Japanese manufacturers were influenced by American innovation in children's fantasy by cross-marketing characters from comic books and illustrated stories in the form of dolls, toys and games.

    [64] Harajuku Lovers Official Store, online:, accessed 16 January 2009; The World of Harajuku Lovers Fragrance, online:, last accessed 16 January 2009.

    [65] MiHi Ann, 'Gwenihana,' in Salon.Com, 9 April 2005, online: , last accessed 16 January 2009.

    [66] Matsuura, Sekai to Watashi to Roriita Fasshon, pp. 70–72.

    [67] TOKYOPOP, the publishers of the English editions of the Gothic & Lolita Bible, have also advertised Gothic & Lolita fashion tours. Gothic & Lolita Bible, vol. 1, pp. 62–63.

    [68] Godoy and Vartanian, 'Introduction: Harajuku made me do it,' p. 10.

    [69] Allison, Millenial Monsters, p. 22.

    [70] The political economy of fashion has also become apparent in the abovementioned case of Iwagami Ai (see note 32) which has brought to attention the precarious working conditions of many workers in the fashion industry. Young women in 'Gothic Lolita' fashion may now be seen at demonstrations and May Day rallies. Field, 'Commercial Appetite,' unpaginated.

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