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Scene in SF: Moshi Moshi Nippon

Over the past few years there has been a lot of discussion in the U.S. media about  the popularity of emulating Japanese fashion  and pop-culture, specifically all things "harajuku" among westerners.  And while some of the opinions are critical (see: comments on Katy Perry in Geisha-dress,  or Avril Lavigne's Hello Kitty video) the fact remains that Harajuku culture is making it big in America, in a very big way. 

But what is Harajuku culture all about? We wanted to find out for ourselves. So, during the annual J-Pop Summit Festival in San Francisco, Style Wylde sat down with some of the biggest stars, and biggest influencers in Harajuku Kawaii culture today: model Ayumi Seto, model/singer Una, model Misa Kimura, model/singer Akira and Hiroshi Yamamoto, Director of Moshi Moshi Nippon, the culture 'tour' these models and performers were part of.

First we spoke with Hiroshi Yamamoto.

SW: What is Moshi Moshi Nippon? Can you explain the concept, and the inspiration?

Hiroshi Yamamoto: Harajuku and “kawaii style” are at the root of Moshi Moshi Nippon. Asobisystem, my company, is based in Harajuku, and so we developed the program Moshi Moshi Nippon, with the idea to show the world our fashion, music and culture.

SW: Are American’s ‘getting it?’

Hiroshi Yamamoto: Well, because Kyary Pamyu Pamyu {an ASOBI artist} has toured the U.S., there is some understanding of it. But we don’t expect everyone to understand it completely right away, it’s more like we want to teach people, and enjoy seeing them learn about it.

SW: There has been a lot of critique U.S. media of western performers, especially Avril Lavigne, who try to ‘adopt’ kawaii culture. What do you think about western performers like Lavigne putting their own spin on Harajuku, and using it to create their own music or fashion?

Hiroshi Yamamoto: The concept of Harajuku is a blank slate. It’s about expressing yourself, and it can be anything you want it to be. So, I think it is great that performers like Avril Lavigne are inspired by Harajuku and want to make their own version of it.

SW: But is she doing it ‘right’?

Hiroshi Yamamoto: There is no right or wrong. Harajuku is what you want it to be! That is what we want to show with Moshi Moshi Nippon.

After getting the background on the Moshi Moshi Nippon program, we wanted to get to know the participating Asobi models and performers a little better so we sat down with each of them for a quick one on one. First up, model and singer Una who went on to do a knockout performance in Peace Plaza directly after our interview. (Photos of that performance below; click on any image to view larger)

SW: What do you think about the J-Pop Summit Festival? Are you surprised at the popularity of Harajuku style and culture in San Francisco?

Una: I think the festival is great! I think I'm mostly surprised by how San Franciscans are embracing not only fashion and music, but also Japanese food culture. I didn’t expect that.

SW: You mean the Ramen? {ed note: the Ramen Street aspect of J-POP drew literally tens of thousands of people who waited on line for hours at time to sample a bowl}

Una: (laughs) yes the ramen.

SW: Let’s talk fashion. What inspires your personal style?

Una: I love American fashion and culture, I take a lot of inspiration from Hip Hop and 80’s and 90s fashion, and movies!

SW: So what is your favorite movie?

Una: Back to the Future 2!  But actually I love a lot of American movies too.

SW: And who is your favorite designer?

Una: Karl Lagerfeld. I love Chanel.

SW: What is it about Chanel that you love?

Una:  I have so much admiration for the brand, it has a lot of history. I have some vintage Chanel handbags that are very old, and from then until now the brand has always been beautiful, I never get tired of it.

SW: Okay, so your performance is in just a few minutes, how are you feeling about it?

Una: Excited! I am very excited about it.

As Una left for sound check, we caught up with Ayumi Seto, the designer behind Aymmy in the Batty Girls.

SW: Ayumi, it’s been a few months since we talked at the launch of your pop up shop here in the New People Building. Since then, I've noticed a lot of San Franciscans wearing Aymmy pieces. Are you surprised at how popular your brand is becoming?

Ayumi Seto: I am surprised! I actually did not know the sales numbers before I left Japan, so I thought maybe no one liked it. I did not know if anyone came into the shop! It was so nice to get here and see people wearing my pieces, and to hear that they are actually popular.

SW:  So, now that you have seen your American fans wearing Aymmy in the Batty Girls, how do you think we are doing with “Kidz Rock” style? Are Americans getting it?

Ayumi Seto: The way Americans wear the pieces is very different from how the Japanese do it. Instead of wearing the pieces exactly how they are designed to go together matching color and print, Americans seem to make their own style, putting pieces together in a unique way. I like this so much, and I am very inspired by it!

SW: On Saturday you judged the street style competition. How did you think the contestants did overall? What did you think about how San Franciscan's showed off their Japanese or Harajuku style?

Ayumi Seto: I think they did very well. I thought it was so interesting to see how they understood Japanese culture. I noticed one of the contestants had shoes that had a cherry blossom print on them! I thought this was interesting because Japanese people in Japan wear clothing that is their understanding of American culture, like jackets with American flags on them and things like that. Americans wearing Cherry Blossom prints is just like that! At the same time, Japanese people sometimes feel shy, or maybe that it is embarrassing to really embrace Japanese culture by wearing symbols of it on their clothes. But seeing that cherry blossom print, and seeing how Americans want to wear Japanese culture just like Japanese people want to wear American culture, it was a really proud moment for me. It made me feel really proud.

SW: Okay, one last question for you. What is next for Aymmy in the Batty Girls?

Ayumi Seto: Seeing my brand accepted here in San Francisco, through the pop-up shop at New People has given me a big confidence boost.  Now I really want to have a permant store here, and maybe in Los Angeles or New York, so that people who are interested in Japanese fashion can come!

As Ayumi Seto moved on to her next interview we welcomed model Misa Kimura, who had walked in the Aymmy in the Batty Girls fashion show the day before.

SW: So Misa, yesterday you both walked in a runway show as a model for Aymmy in the Batty Girls, and you judged a street style competition. What was your overall impression of the events yesterday?

Misa Kimura: For the street style competition, it was so interesting to see how people interpreted Japanese culture! I liked how people embraced it in their own way. As for the fashion show, it was my first time ever walking in a runway show in America, or anywhere overseas so I was very very nervous. But people gave me such a warm welcome, and they were so accepting it made it a lot of fun.

SW: So, scary but fun?

Misa Kimura: (Laughs) yes! 

SW: I understand that you have spent some time in Virginia studying before you came to San Francisco with Moshi Moshi Nippon, so you are a bit familiar with American fashion. What are your favorite aspects of it?

Misa Kimura: When I was in high school I always wore American brands like Abercrombie and Fitch, I was inspired by how American high school students dressed. I also love the American fashion that is the inspiration for Aymmy in the Batty girls, Diner Style, 1950's, like in Back to the Future.

SW: Everyone at Asobi loves Back to the Future!

Misa: (Laughing) Yes, we do!

SW: What is it about this era of fashion that appeals to you?

Misa Kimura: I love the colors and the cut of the clothes. I love things like bowling shirts, and the full skirts.

SW: Poodle skirts? 

Misa Kimura: Oh yes I love the poodle skirts!

SW: You seem to have a good handle on American fashion, as well as Harajuku fashion. For your American fans, that maybe don't have such a good handle on Harajuku fashion, but want to develop the style what would you suggest as a starting point? Let's say for the fan that loves Harajuku style but maybe is a little afraid to wear it themselves. How should they get started if they are scared to go 'full harajuku' out of the gate?

Misa Kimura: They should be brave! They should go to Japan, and to Harajuku and get inspired to wear what they want!  Be brave!

And with that Misa Kimura moved on to her next interview and we welcomed model turned pop mega-star Akira, of the group DISACODE into the room. The day before, Akira had blown fans away with a solo performance at Peace Plaza during the Moshi Moshi Nippon Kawaii Fashion show and street style competition.

SW: Okay, first of all I gotta ask about your outfit, who is the designer? 

Akira: I am wearing Alice and the Pirates,  it's boy style.

SW: What is it about Alice and the Pirates, and "boy style" that appeals to you?

Akira: I love to dress in these pieces, they give a feeling pride, I feel like a strong woman when I wear them. 

SW: Does your style change when you are onstage vs. at home being comfortable?

Akira: I always were boys-style, but I have so many different pieces within boys style, so I do change a lot between what I would wear onstage and what I wear at home, depending on how I am feeling that day, and if I want to be more comfortable or more of a fancier style. But's it's always, always boy-style.

SW: What is your impression of fashion in San Francisco?

Akira: I love the sporty style here. Yesterday I looked at the Pink by Victoria's Secret store, I liked all the athletic inspired styles, the tees and the cute sweats so much!

SW: For your fans in the U.S., that are inspired to try boy-style out for themselves, but feel shy, can you give some fashion advice on how to create a boy-style look?

Akira: I see a lot of women wearing stylish pants, but tops are very figure-fitted. So I would wear the pants but try bigger tops, more baggy, and then be courageous and go for it!

All images: C.Hope/S.Whittle for Style Wylde.  Special thank you to Kiyo Hayasaka of YKS Services or for acting as a translator for these interviews.