Archive for July, 2009

Interview with Rillystar of Innocente Seraphim

Innocente Seraphim, or InnoSera for short, aims to be the first North American convention centered exclusively around ball-jointed dolls and Japanese fashion. With only a few weeks to go before InnoSera opens its doors, I thought that it was high time that I caught up with one of its primary organizers.

I first met Rillystar when she hosted a joint lolita/BJD tea party, held in Vancouver, B.C. At over thirty attendees, it was the largest organized lolita meetup I had attended, but it was also the most thought-out and organized meetup I had ever witnessed. When I heard Rillystar was in charge of the upcoming InnoSera, I knew the con would be in good hands. Rather than simply report on the upcoming InnoSera, I thought this would be a great opportunity to learn about it from Rillystar’s own perspective.

M. Could you please tell us a bit about InnoSera?

R. Sure! InnoSera is a brand new convention being hosted Aug 7-9 at the beautiful Bellvue Westin Hotel in Washington state. Basically much like how many anime and other similar fandom conventions started, we’re bringing together the community to celebrate Japanese street fashion as well as asian ball jointed dolls. Since Japanese street fashion is pretty broad, we’re focusing more on the lolita, aristocratic and similar styles you’d see in places like Harajuku.


M. Although this is the first convention of its kind in North America, various cons and other events in the west feature lolita-centered events. As an actual con, what do you think InnoSera brings to the lolita community that past events have not?

R. While other cons may feature one or two lolita events (typically a fashion show and perhaps a meetup), con goers really don’t get a chance to delve any deeper into fashion than a really very cursory overview – think of it as going to the movies to see something like “Mission Impossible” and catching a 2 minute trailer for say “Harry Potter”.

Fans of the fashion or even those just wanting to learn a little more don’t get much of a chance at other conventions simply because it’s not within the their scope. A convention of this kind gives attendees not only the chance to dig in deeper, share their thoughts and love for the genre but also a chance to meet designers and guests specific to their interest. Hand in hand with that all the programming is centered around Lolita fashions and ball jointed dolls. While not everyone may be interested in both, there’s plenty of things to do while at the convention to keep con goers entertained. Tea parties, fashion shows, workshops, panels and more!

Not only the programming but the exhibitors hall is also highly tailored to the demographic to suit their tastes. We’ve kept the lolita community close to heart as we planned out the convention, from the location and overall feel and look of the convention space to the types of guests and panelists that have been invited this year.

M. Speaking of ball jointed dolls, some people find it controversial to combine lolita with BJD. I gather that you don’t feel that there will be a conflict of interests when these two subcultures are brought together.

R. The way I look at it, we’re not trying to force the two communities together. While many enjoy both we’re very aware that not everyone may enjoy one or the other which is why the programming has been intentionally kept very separate. There is specific programming that targets one or the other genre which gives people the freedom to enjoy Lolita, dolls or both.

Looking at it from another standpoint, for the type of convention that lolitas would expect, and the level of quality of the space, amenities and events, there’s a reason why for the most part lolita themed events have only shown up as a small part of other larger conventions. Bringing two relatively small but in some ways connected communities gives us a lot more flexibility to be able to deliver on those expectations.

In some cases there is overlap – particularly when it comes to sewing techniques and accessory craft making (among other things). It’s handy to be able to bring in panelists and guests that can appeal to both sides of the equation and provide great workshops and oppertunies to both communites.

For example Baby, The Stars Shine Bright, is one of our headlining guests this year. A very popular lolita brand but what some lolitas may not know is that Baby has also designed and created dolls clothes for Volks, a popular Japanese ball jointed doll company. If both the lolita community and the doll community can have overlaps like this, it’s a great oppertunity to be able to provide fans the chance to get to meet them in person.

M. How did you get on board with this event?

R. I’ve been involved in event planning convention work for many years now. I’ve also been a part of both communities in one way shape or form for a good number of years. I’ve toyed with the idea of starting a new convention specific both lolita or dolls for probably just over 2 years now having taken a break from the convention planning circut after starting up Anime Evolution and completing my advisory stint with them. I’d actually mentioned the idea to limu and odanata in depth a few times in early `08 but it wasn’t until late last year that limu came to me and wanted to create a new convention with both.

To be honest I’d hesitated previously on holding a lolita or doll only convention for a number of reasons, especially having taken a look at the community base sizes and statistics from similar type events. However I’d not even realized that a lot of my worries came from looking at each as a separate entity. With the support of both communities, the outlook for a brand new convention looked much better. So I took the leap of faith and agreed to join the team when limu asked.


M. So I understand that you’re located in Vancouver, while the con itself will be held in Washington. Do you find it difficult to organize an event so far away from you?

R. Not really. I have a track record of doing so. I used to be heavily involved with Sakura con from 99 through to `04. I served my last year there as Vice Convention Chairperson (limu was incidentally the Con Chair at the time) so I’m used to the trek down south – though I have forked out for a Nexus pass because I’m impatient at the border and I hate having my car searched.

M. So InnoSera recently announced that in addition to Baby, the Stars Shine Bright having a table, Baby’s Chief Fashion Designer, Kumiko Uehara, is attending Innocente Seraphim as a Guest of Honor. How did you approach Baby for this collaboration?

R. We actually approached Baby quite some time ago through a formal inquiry. Because we’ve dealt with Japanese guests, companies and other firms before we decided that the more formal approach would be better. Sending a formal letter of invitiation with details about the convention and whatnot is generally the norm in this sort of situation. Also sending it in Japanese helps as well since much can be lost in translation, or delays when dealing with translators on their end.

While the process can sometimes be lengthy, we’re very happy to be able to bring Baby, The Stars Shine Bright to InnoSera this year. I personally enjoy their fashions very much and they’re one of my favorite brands. I hope that the attendees this year will also enjoy the chance to meet them in person.

M. Lastly, what do you see for InnoSera in the years to come?

R. Oh that’s hard to say. Of course there are many things we wanted to do this year but couldn’t, but I can say that from responses this year, that next year’s convention will be even more promising. I think we can expect a much larger exhibitor’s hall at the very least and a different lolita brand designer.

I’d like to give the community as many oppertunities as possible to meet many of the brands that they’ve fallen in love with over the years.

If InnoSera could one day rival something like Japan Expo or grow to be as powerful an event as other well established conventions I’d be extremely happy. As the convention grows I also hope that it will strengthen the community further and bring more people to love lolita fashion.

M. That would certainly be a dream come true for many! I wish you the best of luck for this year’s InnoSera, and I can’t wait to hear reports about how it all goes.

To find out more about InnoSera and register for the con, take a look at the website.

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Penis? In MY Lolita?

I admire boys in lolita. Actually, I admire any boy who is not afraid to put on feminine markers, whether it’s a skirt or a bit of eyeliner. But lolita, in particular, takes feminization to a whole new level. There is so much girlishness in lolita that even I sometimes feel like I’m dressing in drag.

As we all know, lolita has a long history of gender-mixing. How many Gothic and Lolita Bible ads have you admired for years, only to discover later that the lolitas you’re admiring–all of the lolitas you’re admiring–were male all along? This is one fashion in which one should never take gender for granted.

There are many possible reasons for why this may be. The ties to Visual Kei are an obvious one, of course. Mana notwithstanding, there are a variety of male artists who prefer the lolita look, such as Aya, Kaya, and others. But beyond the big artists, lolita’s ultra-feminine style exemplifies girlishness in a way that most mainstream fashion does not. For a boy who wants to play at being a girl, there is no better fashion style. If you’re going to be a girl, you may as well go all the way.

Mana

I find that lolita fashion, in many ways, caters to those who wish to soften their masculine features. Just look at how Mana layers his socks and tights to obscure his knees. The way that he uses gloves and long sleeves to hide his arms and hands. The way that his throat is always covered, and how his platform shoes give the rest of his body the illusion of being smaller. The giant bell shape of the skirt perfectly creates the hourglass silhouette that his body does not naturally take, while the lack of shaped bust on his dresses makes his lack of breasts less noticeable. Regardless of the body you started out with, lolita is designed to give you a super-feminine appearance when it is done well.

It is of no surprise that there are some naysayers against our lolita brothers. Of course, there are naysayers against everybody that is perceived as different or a minority in lolita, as would be expected in any fashion subculture, and such people are best ignored. Although one of these people once asked, why is it that whenever a boy shows up in lolita, girls practically trip over themselves trying to be nice to him?

I can’t speak for other girls. I know that many people love the idea of a girl who is a boy who is a girl. But for me, it comes down to the same reason why I prefer to be nice to someone who is just starting out, or someone who is a little overweight. Because they are probably going to have a very hard time of it when they walk out their front door into the real world. Because they are braver than I am. Because they could very well be threatened, hurt, beaten, and humiliated for doing what they are doing. Because maybe, nobody else will tell them that they look beautiful. I believe that every lolita, girl or boy, deserves to feel a little bit beautiful.

There is one nagging blight on my love for the brolita. One thing that tarnishes them in my mind. And that is the brolita who takes a superior attitude. I see it everywhere: in a predominantly female group, one token male walks in and feels the need to act as though his opinions, his experiences, his observations, are better than everyone else’s. Maybe he feels threatened. Maybe he doesn’t know how to communicate in such a situation. But whatever the reason, nothing will kill my sympathy for a boy in lolita faster than self-righteousness.

If you are a boy in lolita, or a boy who wants to be a lolita, or even a boy who just admires lolita, be humble. I know it’s hard, when you’re used to being the one in charge. I know it’s not easy to be the odd one out. But know that lolitas respond infinitely better to somebody who is a little bit humble, who is open to advice, who says “please” and “thank you.” You’ll find that many of your sisters will, quite literally, trip over themselves to help you. If you are a girl in lolita, be nice to your brothers. Know that it took some true bravery to like what you like, and to wear what you wear.

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Are We Asking The Right Questions?

As Bodyline’s popularity continues to rise in the lolita community, so do the debates over its validity in the community turn increasingly more heated. While the general idea of the argument–brand versus non-brand–is essentially the same debate that has plagued lolitas for the past decade, it does give rise to several new questions that the community as a whole must ask ourselves.

Are Replicas Okay? Does the price tag matter? Do you care where your clothes come from? Do you care whether they were factory produced or sewn by hand? Do you care about whether your clothes were produced in a sweatshop or by happy, well-paid employees?

What concerns me is that this argument is almost always eclipsed by the first question. Why do we talk about the moral responsibility of a buyer to purchase the original Angelic Pretty Fruits Parlour print rather than the Bodyline knockoff, when what we should be discussing is whether or not the Bodyline Fruits Parlour skirt was produced by child labour? Why does a person who denounces Bodyline always cite “replicas” as a reason not to support it before they cite “sweatshops”? Why are pretty designers like Maki and Asuka more likely to be defended than the faceless factory employees who may be working in poor conditions? Why is the fact that Bodyline began as a sex shop more often discussed than the fact that they charge $33 for a full dress–a fraction of what any seamstress could charge and make a living wage from?

I don’t claim to be an expert on labour practices around the world. I don’t claim that the t-shirt I am wearing complies with fair trade standards, or that I have never purchased from Bodyline myself. I cannot even claim that I have any legitimate perspective on this issue.

What I do know is that, to our knowledge, the majority of lolita brand clothing is produced in Japan. And knowing this, I have always been a little proud to support it. The knowledge that the clothes are made with love, by people who are doing what they want to be doing, was one of the many things that set my lolita clothing apart from my non-lolita wardrobe. I want to believe that my precious garments were not tarnished by unsavory origins. I want to believe that nobody was harmed in the making of my outfit.

Maybe we will never have all the answers on what goes into our clothes. But I would like to see us at least asking the right questions.

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