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Affinities: Harajuku Heads West

The theatrics of J-Fashion bring living, breathing dolls to Japantown.

Gloria Do

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Meilyne Tran

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Shannon Meissner

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Amanda Lim

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Brittany Brown

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Mary Taylor Ryan

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Kim Kolbe

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Shirley Tran

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See all the Affinities photo shoots here.

Hang around Japantown long enough and you’ll spot a gang of living dolls tottering down the street on platform shoes, their chiffon miniskirts and hair bows fluttering in the breeze. The girls—some of Japanese lineage, some not—are lovers of what is broadly known as J-Fashion, a theatrical street style born in Tokyo. “We get stopped a lot on the street,” says Kim Kolbe, owner of J-Fashion boutique Maruq. “People ask if we’re performing in a show.” Local stores Harajuku Hearts, Angelic Pretty, Maruq, and Baby the Stars Shine Bright are among the few spots stocking sought-after labels outside Japan, turning the Bay Area into a J-Fashion hub.

Though the aesthetic is split broadly into two groups—Shibuya-kei and Harajuku-kei, named after Tokyo districts—the look encompasses such garb as tartan jumpers, Victorian-inspired frocks, and girly dresses heavy on florals and frills. (No matter the subset, short skirts and long faux lashes prevail.) The gyarus (“gals” in Japanese) usually meet for tea or metal shows, but this month they’ll converge in Union Square for the J-Pop Summit (July 19–20; Despite the uniform look of the J-Fashion elite above, the proclivity is wide-ranging. “We’re really popular with people who do drag,” says Kolbe.


Originally published in the July issue of San Francisco.

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