Archive for lolita

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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The Rule Book

Lolitas have a reputation for being one of the most elitist, rule-bound subcultures on the internet, and this reputation is perhaps not entirely undeserved. If you visit any lolita website or community, what are you likely to see? Extensive categories and sub-categories of styles. Endless guidelines about everything from skirt length to lace quality to the thickness of your shoe heels. Advice over how to wear your hair, how to do your makeup, and whether to tuck in your shirt. For the uninitiated, the world of lolita is a dizzying change from hyper-casual mainstream fashion.

What any seasoned lolita will tell you, though, is that the longer you are in the fashion, the more likely you are to bend, break, relax, and challenge those rules which we so greatly pride ourselves upon. You become less concerned about categories: after all, lolita is lolita, even if an outfit may be punk or classic depending on who you ask. You are less afraid to introduce elements into your outfits that are unexpected. You are less afraid to act “un-loli.”

I frequent a number of lolita communities, and the tone of those communities is dramatically different depending on the “age” of the majority of members (that is, how long they have been lolitas). Almost without fail, the communities in which the members are newer will be the most stringent, rule-bound communities there are. They are the ones who are most concerned about whether their hair is lolita. They are the ones who worry about whether their outfit can be classified as sweet or shiro.

I often see newbies warning each other over “purists” possibly attacking them for their ideas about lolita. What is funny is that the things they often warn about are those very things which most experienced lolitas are less concerned about. Crazy hair styles. Unusual shoe choices. Ironically, they worry about older members condemning them for breaking rules, when they are the ones who are far more likely to condemn each other for breaking those rules.

The reason for this is easy to see, of course. Newbies are still finding their way in this fashion. They are still grasping new concepts, still working out what looks good and what is better avoided. For a newbie, the easiest possible way to navigate lolita fashion is by following those rules to the letter. That is, after all, why so many sites go to such great lengths to set out as many guidelines as possible: it is simply the best way to explain the fashion.

Lolita will never be as relaxed as most other subcultures. There is simply no way to construct a lolita outfit without navigating a specific set of requirements such as skirt shape and length. But obsessive? Rule-bound? Elitist? Maybe those stories about us are just a wee bit exaggerated.

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Changing Tides

Various events have been preventing me from making a lot of updates to this blog recently, and for that I apologize. The good news is, one of those big events is that I have moved in with two of my very good friends–friends who are both lolitas.

Yes, I have infiltrated their natural habitat, all Steve Irwin-style, so that I may better understand the lolita’s elusive habits. Long has the academic community debated over such questions as, “What does a lolita eat?” “How does a lolita attract her mate?” “What are a lolita’s nesting habits?” and “How does she make her hair do that?” I feel that this is a most thrilling opportunity to find the answers to these questions, and report them to you, the reader.

On that note, this blog began primarily as a place to more formally discuss my thoughts and opinions, but I wonder whether it’s missing a more personal element. Perhaps I should be posting more about my regular lolita excursions, my outfits, my hair woes, and things of that sort. I don’t want to bore anyone with my mundane life, but I do think this blog might benefit from being able to put a face to my name. Any thoughts on what you would like to see here?

And just so this won’t be a text-only post, let’s talk about Polyvore. In case you have not yet discovered this piece of procrastinating fodder, Polyvore is a site that allows you to make collages from pictures you find around the internet. Specifically, it is intended to create outfit collages from store stock photos. This makes it, needless to say, lolita coordinate heaven.

The upside of Polyvore is that it does most of the work for you. With a few clicks, you can copy (or “clip”) the item photo, and with a simple drag and drop, you can place it in your new collage (called a “set”). If the photo has a neutral background, Polyvore can even delete the background color, allowing your item to float free. You can layer and arrange things however you like, something people like to take advantage of.

The downsides of Polyvore are the clipping limitations and the frustrations of poor stock photos. Some sites are blocked from clipping (such as the Jesus Diamante site, oddly enough). Polyvore also does not allow you to clip from image hosting sites such as Flickr, Photobucket, or Tinypic. As such, you may have the perfect item for your coordinate, but no way of getting it into the clipper. As well, some brands are notorious for their lackluster stock photos, which are small, blurry, and set on an overly-busy background. Sometimes, I find that my set looks better with a poorer item using a better stock photo, than an amazing item with a poor photo.

Still, one of my favorite aspects of Polyvore is the community part. There are various lolita-related groups to be found, including Sweet and Gothic, Pour Lolita, Gothic, Victorian, and Lolita, and my personal favorite, The Lolita Fashion 50, a group that challenges you to create a coordinate for each of 50 prompts. In addition to the communities, people can comment on sets and favorite them. The favorite system works as a sort of rating system on communities, allowing “popular” sets to rise to the top of the list.

My own sets can be found on my profile, but here is one of my personal favorites.

LF50: 9. Pirate
LF50: 9. Pirate by Ellorgast featuring All Saints accessories

Cheers!

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Beneath the Frills




Kamikaze Girls

Originally uploaded by Loving Bryan Adams

There is a reason why I don’t end up writing a lot of lifestyle articles on this blog. I’m not one of those people who thinks that “lifestyle” is a dirty word in the lolita world, but I do feel that the concept is somehow overblown. I guess you could say I sit somewhere in the middle of the lifestyle debate. After all, any lolita who claims not to be somehow changed by their fashion–whether it’s in how they act, in their interests, or simply their makeup and hair care habits–probably wasn’t all that devoted in the first place. You would not be here if something about this fashion did not get under your skin.

On the other hand, I think it would be a shame to completely form one’s own identity around a single interest. Isn’t that the very definition of “otaku” in the original, derogatory sense? Why limit yourself so much that you must eat, sleep, and breathe lolita when there are so many other wonderful things in the world?

And what is a lifestyle lolita, anyway? I have seen lots of interesting articles related to the topic, but never a firm definition of “a lolita lifestyle means this.” In debates, I have often seen lifestyle lolitas claim that the anti-lifestylers have the wrong idea about things, but my requests for an explanation were never answered by any.

The result is that I often hear mixed messages. Should all lolitas listen to classical music or to J-rock (and does this mean electric instruments are only okay if the lyrics are Japanese)? Should lolitas never work, or should they be completely independent? Should she act like a little girl or like a demure young lady? Should she be confident or helpless? Should she sew her own clothes or be a complete consumer?

And who decides these things, other than a handful of bloggers who are every bit as human as we are, who buy the same brand and follow the same trends? Novala Takemoto? I often see lifestylers quote Novala to me, but have they already forgotten that his character Momoko was anything but a role model? Momoko begins the story as selfish, shallow, and bitchy. Her personal lolita “rules” are over-the-top and ridiculous–such as refusing to work or eat anything other than sweets. Her growth as a character throughout the book and movie is marked by a relaxing of her rules as she learns to value friendship over her ideal image of herself. And in the end, it is not Momoko who becomes a model for Baby the Stars Shine Bright, but crude, violent yankee Ichiko.

But in their own personal lives, people can and should do what they want. If following a lolita lifestyle, however you define it, makes you a better, more fulfilled person, then that can only be a good thing.

I do, however, feel that there is a more insidious consequence of pushing lolita as a lifestyle. The moment you begin to say “lolita is about the person, not about the clothes,” you are opening up a Pandora’s Box of questions about who this person is meant to be. Not only how she should act, but what about everything else about her as a person? What race is she? How tall and how thin? What sort of hair must she have? Must she be rich, educated, and privileged? Must she be a (biological) female and heterosexual (or asexual)? Must she have perfect skin, lacking in glasses and visible disabilities, with the voice of an angel and the manners of a saint?

The fact is, the vast majority of lolitas agree that people of all shapes and sizes and colors are worthy of their frills. And in the end, isn’t it better to be welcoming than exclusive, to accept people no matter who or what they are, or where they come from? This may be a solitary fashion, but it’s a community, too, and I would pick an interesting, diverse one over a boring, clonelike one any day.

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A Lolita Auntie’s Musical Despair




Totally Lolita Bands

Originally uploaded by spirit_seraphim

Those who watch Lolita Secret may recognize the photo to the right (click to see the fullsize version and read the text). Am I now in the habit of stealing secrets to make my point? Absolutely not, because I am going to come clean: this was my secret.

It all started last summer, when I took a trip over to Vancouver, B.C. where the local lolitas happened to be holding a meetup. It was a pretty nice get-together, as far as meetups in a mall with several strangers can be. We chatted, we did some purikura. Everyone felt friendly, accepting. We took over a ring of seats in the food court and just chatted for a while.

It was during the chat that I started to feel a little bit awkward. Bands like The Jonas Brothers and Hannah Montana were heavily discussed–underaged Disney Channel kids who I only knew of from the overflow of merchandise oversaturating my local Wal-mart. I understood The Jonas Brothers to be something like the new Hanson (for whom, in 1997, I was also a couple years too old to be among their target audience). In fact, the last time I had ever fallen for a boy band was when New Kids on the Block was the hottest young group alive. It was 1990. I was six years old. They were my first concert. I had a white sweatshirt and a pair of sweat socks with their neon pink logo screenprinted on. Hangin’ Tough was the most badass thing that I had seen or heard in my young life.

This wasn’t about music, though. This was about a social divide. I suddenly began to feel like a stranger in a foreign land. As we went around the circle, giving our name, favorite brand, and–horror of horrors–age, my sinking suspicion was confirmed. I was the only person present who was not in my teens. As the circle closed in on me, I had no choice but to confess with intense embarrassment that I was five years older than everybody else. In fact, I was more than ten years older than at least one of them. The girls graciously swooped in to reassure me that I did not look it.

I suppose they assumed that I feared looking old, but as somebody who has been mistaken for a middle school student well into my twenties, this was not my concern. At the time of the meetup, I had been out of high school for five years. I had a university degree. I had been a teacher for nearly a year. I had been of legal drinking age in my province for six years. I made insurance payments. I had investments. A car. A credit card. A cheque book.

These girls still did chores and received allowances. Drinking and partying were exciting, taboo experiences. Shopping online was done under the close supervision of Mom and Dad.

There were, thankfully, a few 18-year-olds among the 13-year-olds. Somebody made a joke about us “lolita aunties” taking off by ourselves, and I said we should go to a bar. Then I remembered that the drinking age in B.C. is 19, and I would therefore be drinking on my own.

“Auntie,” I thought. That’s what my 5-year-old god-daughter calls me. I’m now an auntie to these teenagers.

I think I fled pretty quickly after that. When I went home, I ran into the workplace of my fellow lolita and practically blurted, “they were so young! And I’m so old!” My local lolitas are all much closer to me in age. Though I’m the oldest among them, the only time I ever feel the gap is when I make mention of some 80s cartoon that they did not have the privilege of watching when they were little. My friends tried to reassure me, but I was greatly disturbed: was I too old for lolita now? Is that what this meant? Was I like those people who still wear Care Bears t-shirts into their 30s?

It seemed unfair. I was already out of high school before I started seriously wearing lolita. My “lolita nieces” got to discover it almost a decade before I did.

And yet, never have I had to ask my mother if I could buy myself a new skirt. Or worse: ask her to buy it for me. From the very beginning, lolita has been mine, and only mine. I worked and I saved for it. I wore it where and when I wanted to. I don’t need my mother to drive me to meetups.

Still, the experience has left me slightly shaken, and I believe, has changed the way I wear my lolita. I have never been a sweet lolita fan to begin with, always leaning on the gothic or classic or even punk sides of the fence (this is a very multidimensional fence, you see). Now, even my classic outfits are beginning to grow more mature than they were in the past. My skirts are getting longer (or sometimes much shorter!). The pearls are coming out more often than the bows and ribbons. The socks are being shelved, and my tights collection is growing. The heels on my Mary Janes seem to be growing higher with each new pair I buy. Sometimes, I wonder whether the young lolita community would even recognize me as one of their own anymore. But I am beginning to accept that maybe, I am not as much a part of their group as I once was.

More and more, I am noticing this influx of young teenage girls into lolita. And while I have nothing at all against these girls, their life is not my life. And by extension, their lolita–the way that they experience it and live it–is not my lolita.

There is room in lolita for everybody. But sometimes, the aunties like to move into the other room, sip their margaritas, and crank the Hangin’ Tough.

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