ivan vartanian


“In the works of Takato Yamamoto, there is a fertile field of themes that evokes references to hedonism, bondage, cruelty, and gore entwined in erotic displays. While his style of drawing seems to have a close allegiance to fin-de-siècle artists such as the floridly illustrated foregrounds of Gustav Klimt and the use of contour and gesture of Egon Schiele, it is more appropriate to consider the work of woodblock prints, specifically shunga (erotic woodblock prints), and their depiction of erotic scenes. These traditional forms faced few of the modern limits, such as religious or social prohibitions, that may now influence an artist’s imaginings. Rather, bondage, rape, beastiality, and crucifixion were common motifs, appearing less as actual depictions and more as entertaining, bizarre scenes built from a network of metaphors. In the prewar are, there were many thriving movements in arts and literature in Japan, including a fascination with ero-guro (an abbreviation of erotic and grotesque), a genre of literature suffused with tales of passion and the corporeal.” 

-Tiffany Godoy and Ivan Vartanian, from the “Eros” chapter in the book Japanese Goth.

The series of six illustrations that comprises “Yoh’s Monochromatic World” is a mise-en-scene of sorts. Each portal or door opens to another room. The reduction of the palette to contrast emphasizes silhouette and contour, as is also the case with Mukuro’s photographs of his clothing designs. Both artists make a thematic link through this visual trope, fusing the figure in each image to her environs. So while there is a sense of perspective, we are left with a flattened, graphic quality. Centuries ago, clothing with a deep indigo blue, practically black, was a very traditional colour associated with farmers and lower-class samurai. At the same time, a contrasting high-fashion sensibility is created with the use of black, which has its roots in fashion, first influenced by designers such as Comme des Garçons and Yohji Yamamoto. The early work of these fashion pioneers was exclusively monochromatic and continues to be characterized by warped forms that are themselves a deconstruction of traditional silhouettes. - Japanese Goth - Tiffany Godoy, Ivan Vartanian


In the book Japanese Goth, Tiffany Godoy and Ivan Vartanian write about what influences the lolita subculture. Of course, Alice in Wonderland is indispensable in such a book. This is what they write:

Compared to Western dress, clothing heavily embellished with frills and lace may seem outlandish, but when considered alongside the Japanese tradition of wearing kimono, the hyperbolically cute and matronly attire seems no more garish in its presentation. In other words, an outré silhouette is not shocking to a Japanese public accustomed to elaborate dress. What is particular about the style here, however, is the strong reference to Victorian dress, or more specifically, victorian dolls, as well as the influence of Lewis Carroll’s character Alice. In terms of form, there is a consistency in the clothing: a knee-length ruffled dress, white tights, and a headpiece are compulsory. In its own way, this attire is a kind of uniform, which in itself an integral part of the Japanese sartorial vocabulary. But this is less an adherence to rules than an appreciation of established forms (known in Japanese as kata) and a pleasure in seeing their many varieties. As an archetype, Alice represents a young girl whose inquisitive nature leads her down a rabbit hole, where she encounters talking animals and anthropomorphized objects in a nonsense world. Amid absurdity, we are enticed by the duality of a sweetness that carries dark undertones. Similarly there is also an awareness of the more primal urges of children, as intimated by the term “Lolita,” which is used to describe this type of dress in Japan, while also being overt to reference to the temptress title character of Vladimir Nabokov’s novel about a man’s obsession with a sexually precocious girl.

Informative, but I have two issues with this short essay. About kimono vs lolita, I’ve actually heard Misako mention it before when she was referring to the busy prints. But I think the authors forgot to take into consideration the space lolita fashion takes up, which is quite the opposite from wearing kimono. Or maybe they didn’t think it was important enough to mention. Secondly, I absolutely do not think Nabokov’s lolita was precocious, and usually only ‘outsiders’ connect lolita subculture to the literary character. It’s not an inspiration and influence to us like Alice is. In fact, there’ve been futile efforts to rename this fashion alice kei or otona (adult) alice. To quote Caro Dee:

in a similar way that other subcultures such as Goth and Punk were not necessarily named by the people who were part of the subculture and were maybe not intended to paint the most flattering picture. For whatever reason, it became a thing and people rolled with it and generally took the name and made it their own. This happens time and time again in alternative subcultures, and most of them manage to shake the connotations of the original definition of the term and make it their own, but for whatever reason, although possibly due to the massively widespread popularity of Nabokov’s book, those within the Lolita fashion have never managed to entirely separate themselves from the book, at least in the eyes of outsiders.