Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Shell Valentine

Went to Oz this year, hadn't been for ages! I had a sneaker related job in Melbourne and added a few days to catch up with friends in Sydney and see a bit of Melbourne. Did a story for Tatowier as well on Shell Valentine, a tattooer working out of Dangerzone tattoo,  who is a purveyor of super kawaii tattoos. 
Kawaii culture in the west is often co-opted with already existent subcultures, and her interview is a mix of her feminist beliefs, body positivity, PMA and all things sweet. 
Had a really, really nice time hanging out, getting inked and dossing around this fantastic city. 

PS It is in the December issue if you happen to be in Germany, Switzerland or Austria, check it out!

this is a donut….

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

HK snaps

Some pix from Hong Kong…
Hit the Road with Hong Kong lolita quartet Kat, Clare Sammi and Angela. 

Sheema Sherry, a Muslim kawaii fashionista from Jakarta. OMG such a sunny personality, completely loved meeting this ray of sunshine, and her wonderful husband. Sheema is now back in Jakarta to have her baby! 
These are Sheema's insta pix, she uses kawaii fashion to subvert negative stereotypes about Muslims. 
She integrates Harajuku sensibilities to fit her own culture (not just copying the fashion from Japan). Harajuku fashion is comprised heavily of layers, and focuses on how various components are put together to create an ensemble. Somehow all these layers really suit the hijab, as well as the muslim requirements for modesty. 


South China Morning Post

Wrote an article for South China Morning Post, the most widely-read English language newspaper in Hong Kong on kawaii culture. It'll be out in the Post Magazine as well this weekend. 

thanks so much Mark for editing the story! 

Elegantly dressed and opulently coiffured, four girls sit around a table eating dainty pastries and sipping tea. They giggle coquettishly in their puffy dresses embellished with lace cuffs, tulle accents and oversized bows. The scene could be from an animated version of 18th-century Versailles but, in fact, we are in the Hit the Road café, in Causeway Bay, and these girls – blond wigs and vivid contact lenses notwith­standing – are most definitely Chinese.

Kat Wong, Sammi Wong Kwok-yee, Clare Lau and Angela Leung Yuen-ting are devotees of kawaii fashion. Their signature style, known as “Lolita”, hails from the Tokyo youth-culture hub of Harajuku.
The brands and magazines that gave rise to Lolita fashion knew that the Vladimir Nabokov novel from which the style takes its name featured a young, pretty Western girl, but perhaps not that it contained themes of paedophilia. The book itself played no role in informing the look, the aesthetic of which is inspired instead by the 18th-century French Rococo movement.

Having made its mark on the international fashion scene, the style can be found from Los Angeles to London, and even Paris, where captivated girls buy dresses from Japanese labels such as Angelic Pretty and Baby, the Stars Shine Bright.
Angela Leung hosts “Lolita tea parties” in Hong Kong. Picture: Paul Yeung
“I love the details,” says Leung, who first came across Lolita fashion on the internet a decade ago. Since then, she has been an active member of Hong Kong’s Lolita community, hosting events known as “Lolita tea parties” in a range of venues, including The Cityview hotel, in Yau Ma Tei.
“It is really beautiful and gorgeous,” she says. “Before I knew about Lolita, I dressed in trousers and shorts, but then I started to wear dresses – it’s very pretty.”

There are some 500 Lolitas in Hong Kong, according to Leung, a surprising number given that the fashion remains niche even in Tokyo. “But some of them are active and some are inactive,” she points out. “I know some Lolitas and they will dress up one or two times in a year. For me, it is one or two times a month.”

LOLITA FASHION IS JUST one aspect of kawaii culture being embraced in Hong Kong, which has seen installations by Japan-influenced artists in its shopping malls and a proliferation of kawaii characters.

Similar in meaning to the English word “cute”, kawaii references physical characteristics common in babies and animals that provoke feelings of love and the instinct to care for and protect. In Japan, the aesthetic’s influence has been felt across creative disciplines, from fashion and art to design and typography. Its distinctive qualities of roundness and soft, pastel colours are present in archi­tecture, food and, of course, the country’s ubiquitous saccharine cartoon characters.
Clara Lau poses for a photograph in Causeway Bay. Picture: Paul Yeung

Since the post-war period, popular manga has portrayed a female ideal that is sweet and endearing but at the same time strong of spirit. With the boom in cute idols from the 1980s onwards, girls not only wanted adorable products, they wanted to be kawaii themselves. In Harajuku, a centre for alternative style, independent labels sprang up to meet the demand. Many in Japan today would rather be described as cute than beautiful or elegant.

As frivolous as a strawberry-shaped bus stop might sound, in Japan, cuteness can determine the success or failure of almost any product. According to the Bank of Japan, Kumamon, the gormless bear mascot for Kumamoto prefecture, generated an estimated 124.4 billion yen (HK$8.7 billion) in tourism and merchandising revenue for the region in 2013-14. Kawaii mascots have been adopted by organisations as unlikely as the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Force and the Hamaoka Nuclear Power Plant. 

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has even appointed Lolita models as kawaii ambassadors – the most well-known being Misako Aoki – to tour the world promoting Japan at expos and J-pop events. Alongside sushi, samurais and ninjas, kawaii is one of Japan’s most recognisable cultural exports and the term was entered into the Oxford English Dictionary in 2011.
Kumamon, Kumamoto prefecture's popular mascot, makes an appearance at a Japan-themed festival in Paris. Picture: Kyodo

A stroll through Causeway Bay confirms the popularity of Japanese street style among young Hong Kong girls. Tokyo brands such as Liz Lisa and Cecil McBee are well represented, and bookstores carry a range of Japanese fashion magazines aimed at teenagers, such as Popteen and ViVi. Japanese cosmetics on offer include fake eyelashes and pastel blushes, sold at stores such as Sasa and the aptly named 759 Kawaiiland.

For Kat, Sammi, Angela and Clare, who all travel frequently (each visits Japan at least twice a year), Hong Kong is one of the best places in the world to be a Lolita enthusiast.
“Most Hong Kong people are looking down and playing with their mobile phones,” Leung says. “But they are also opened-minded to other fashions.”
Hong Kong Lolita Kat Wong shows off some of her accessories. Picture: Paul Yeung

This is not necessarily the case elsewhere. At the 40th anni­versary celebrations of Hello Kitty, held at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles over a weekend in late 2014, enthusiasts complained they often experienced verbal abuse when dressed in kawaii costume. And when Kumamiki, a popular YouTube personality from Harajuku, was asked at the event why kawaii culture is so prolific in Japan, she answered, “Maybe it’s because Japan is … safe?”

“When I travelled to Canada wearing Lolita,” says Leung, “I thought the people would be more open-minded than in Hong Kong, but it is not so. Most of them dress in just trousers, and if they see you in Lolita they will take your photo without permission. It’s the same in China.
“I am lucky to live in Hong Kong.”
Hong Kong Lolitas (from left) Clara Lau, Angela Leung, Sammi Wong and Kat Wong in Causeway Bay. Picture: Paul Yeung

ALONGSIDE THE FASHION, just as it is in Japan, kawaii design is one of the most visible aspects of cute culture in Hong Kong. The K11 shopping mall, in Tsim Sha Tsui, is one of several to feature character installations; themed restaurants such as Pompompurin have appeared; and Gudetama (the popular egg-yolk cartoon character) have popped up promoting super-cute café cuisine.

By far kawaii’s most popular character, Hello Kitty’s bulbous white head can be spotted on everything from shopping bags and pyjamas to toasters and laptop computers. The cute kitten’s appeal has been attributed to both its lack of a mouth – expressionless, the face offers a wide range of emotions – and a simple design that licensees can use on everything from aeroplanes to aerobics equipment.
Hello Kitty dim sum by Hello Kitty Chinese Cuisine restaurant in Jordan.

Perhaps the best known of Hong Kong’s kawaii-themed eateries is the Hello Kitty Chinese Cuisine restaurant, in Jordan, where the kitten adorns chairs, lanterns and bamboo baskets. Even the food cleverly integrates the feline design, its mouthless visage depicted on a variety of buns and dumplings.
“I spent a lot of time and a lot of money,” explains owner-manager Maurice Man Kwong. “It took 1½ years, because we are not just talking about one piece of merchandise, we are talking about a whole dining concept.”

Hello Kitty has had a presence in Hong Kong for almost 40 years and it’s not uncommon for three generations of a family to dine at the restaurant. “The kids like Hello Kitty because their mothers like Hello Kitty,” he says.

Talking to Man, it’s clear a sense of escapism plays a big part in the appeal of kawaii. “In Hong Kong, people are so tense – most are not happy,” he says. “Everything is so expensive in Hong Kong, they work all day long and there is so little resting time.” Man believes Hello Kitty’s simple design imparts a sense of peace.

“Luckily, I have this chance to do something for the Hong Kong people,” he says. “I can help people have a short moment of happiness.”

In Japan, the psychological and therapeutic benefits of kawaii are widely recognised. Cute robots resembling baby harp seals, known as Paro, are used in day-care centres for the elderly across the country and were deployed in rescue centres in the Tohoku region after the 2011 tsunami.
“Humans have a lot of memories,” says Paro designer Takanori Shibata, talking at his lab in Tsukuba Science City, about 50km northeast of Tokyo. “Interacting with Paro is like going through an old medicine chest with various drawers. The brain is invigorated, and the process is close to remini­scence. Not all memories are good, but by remembering things, the soul may be calmed.”
Paro robots interact with patients in hospitals. Picture: AFP

The desire to unwind is a motivation for Hong Kong’s Lolitas, too, Leung included.
“Dressing as a Lolita releases pressure from work. My work as a project executive is very serious, I need to work in detail, and rush the timeline for every project. When you dress as a Lolita and walk in the street, you feel more relaxed. There is a different dimension. It is a different personality to my work life.”

Leung’s three friends all lead double lives. Each has two Facebook accounts – and all agree it is their Lolita identity that represents their “real” self. Their colleagues are mostly unaware that they dress as elaborate marionettes at the weekend. Sammi Wong, a civil engineer who wears typical work attire during the week, says that just thinking about her make-up and coordinating her dresses provides an “escape from reality”.
Hong Kong “kawaii hijabi” Sheema Sherry. Picture: Zenkih

FOR OTHERS IN Hong Kong, kawaii offers more than a diversion; it is a way of challenging the status quo.

Sheema Sherry, 25, arrived in Hong Kong from Indonesia with her engineer husband two years ago and the couple have settled in Tuen Mun. What began with her husband encouraging her to start dressing in pastels eventually led to her integrating kawaii fashion into her everyday dress as a Muslim. Today she describes herself as a “kawaii hijabi”

Through her blog, www.sheemasherry.com, which details her love of what she calls “powerful and indepen­dent” char­acters, such as Japanese anime’s Sailor Moon and “girly princesses”, she has become an unlikely role model for Muslim youth.
Sheema Sherry has become an unlikely role model for Muslim youth. Picture: Zenkih

Sherry dresses in pinks and purples, her hijab – the headscarf worn by Muslim women – accessorised with flowers and ribbons framing her pink-blushed cheeks.
“What makes me happy is that people even interview me on radicalism, because they see me and say, ‘You are a Muslim and you look so warm, kind and cheerful. You don’t represent anyone’s idea of radicalism,’” Sherry says. “I didn’t know I could make people see Muslims in a better light.”
Sheema Sherry has more than 5,000 Instagram followers. Picture: Zenkih

Her sweet ensembles are presented on her blog while her Instagram account, which features photos taken by her husband, has more than 5,000 followers. It’s a humanising window into the life of a regular Muslim millennial who enjoys fashion and make-up. Comments left by visitors are almost entirely positive. “You’re so cute and inspirational,” writes one fan.

Sherry says that dressing kawaii has ultimately made her life better. “I have been more positive and I have started to care more than before. I have started to know more about myself. I learned to know myself – what people want to see from me and what makes me happy, too.”

Saturday, 29 October 2016

HK dim sum!

Working on a story in Hong Kong... Ill post later, but first some pix from the Hello Kitty Chinese Cuisine resto, SO GOOD. 
Most of the themed restaurants in Japan I've been to look cool, but the food is absolutely dreadful (the only exception being the ninja restaurant in Akasaka, which was pretty good) 
Basically you go to take photos, and it's a bit of a joke as the target demographic in most cases is little kids, or otaku men in Akihabara who clearly don't care if they are eating a cold omelette covered in ketchup. 
So, I was really pleasantly surprised at both the design and the food at the Hello Kitty Chinese Cuisine dim sum restaurant. Seriously, what a feast, and SO cute!! 
I really recommend visiting here if you are ever in Hong Kong, the attention to details is impeccable. 

Saturday, 15 October 2016

Swiss quote magazine

Did an interview recently for Swiss Quote magazine, a banking mag (!) about kawaii culture. They called me a "he" despite the fact I did a phone interview -- I will admit I have a ridiculous accent, but I truly do not sound like a guy. And not too sure about the quote (I have never used the term "Generation Y" in my life). But anyways…if you want to read about the kawaii phenomena from the perspective of a finance journalist check it out.  Thanks for dropping me a line Swiss Quote!

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Bustle Magazine

The awesome thing about making books is that you have NO idea where they end up!
Found Kawaii, Japan's Culture of Cute on a book recommendation list on Bustle magazine based on the readers favorite Neko Atsume Kitty. Apparently if you like Sassy Fran, the maid cat, you should read my book!

Check it out here. 

According to Nako Amtsume wiki:
  •  Sassy Fran's waitress outfit seems to be that of a French maid.
  • Sassy Fran's English name is from a song by Danny and the Juniors, which is about a Cat (a 1950's term for a hip woman) that everyone loves and wants to be with. 
thanks Kristian Wilson for the shout out xxxx